Tuesday, February 06, 2007
The Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) are an interesting phenomenon here in
- Do the NGO’s really help to alleviate the poverty?
- Do Saloneans think the NGOs help?
- Is there any co-ordination between the organizations?
- Do they fulfil their aims?
- Are they wasteful?
- Have they overstayed their welcome?
- Is their motivation always well directed?
- Should they be here in such multitude?
Whilst I do not have the answers to these questions and I certainly have not studied the subject in any detail it seems from my observations that the questions may not have the best of answers.
One has to bear in mind that this is a small country with about 6 Million people in an area about the size of Ireland. It is difficult to travel around the country due to the poor state of the roads. Much of the population is rural where towns are small but with
The civil war from 1991 to 2001 was quite brutal and although sparked by diamond riches it was fuelled it seems by extreme poverty and the despair of youth. The result of the war has been to further impoverish an already poor population, break down social and government structures and destroy institutions. It is heart warming that the world organizations both Government and non-government provided massive aid once peace was declared. However one wonders whether after 5 years the welcome is overstayed. Certainly the people are still desperately poor in terms of food, health care and infrastructure but it seems to me that people have slumped into apathy and the question of whether this is prompted by the acceptance that services will be provided almost entirely by the international community then renders any Salonean effort worthless. One personal example is my question of the community as to why they were reluctant to pay local taxes. A common refrain is that the NGO community will provide the service, so why pay for local government to supplant them. This came as a complete but understandable surprise.
It is important for me to describe a typical set up of the NGO here. From my vantage point on the ground in Makeni and traveling to urban areas
I hate to dwell on the NGO vehicles but they really are striking. The cost of the vehicles must be well north of $100,000 and to put this into perspective, the popular lottery in
From the normal Salonean’s point of view the NGO is a very detached and almost inhuman force come to invade and supposedly help them. Instead the average person on the street sees very little advantage apart from the economic stimulus of the money that is openly spent in the bars, provisions stores and withdrawn from the bank. These occasions seem to be the only times that the NGO personnel will dare to mingle at a distance with the population. Unlike western countries most people here move about on foot and much of the social interaction is done on the street. By withdrawing from this in such an obvious way the NGOers draw much ire, although not publicly spoken. The NGO vehicles, the compounds and the detached opportos inside only serve to highlight the huge and obvious gulf of disadvantage suffered by the local population. Moreover if the NGO people are the masters and the epitome of success, no wonder that the average Sierra Leonean rice seller feels disenchanted, third class and apathetic about the prospects of advancement.
There is obviously a need for some help in this country but one wonders how much and to what extent. From what I have seen there are the more serious and well organized NGOs like Action Faim and War Child that impress me and there are the “softer” organizations that are often local in nature and seem less focused in their objectives. Certainly the organisations and their responsibilities overlap; they sometimes admit this even to me. However they all compete vigorously for donor funds for their own survival and rarely talk of closing down or merging. The search for funds seems to me to be a major driving force and is talked about more than the needs of Saloneans. Then I wonder about the front line people like Medicines Sans Frontiers who normally operate MASH like in warring countries. Their presence here seems exaggerated in what appears now to be a relatively peaceful country. Overall there is little co-ordination, certainly not in Makeni and one wonders whether the donor funds are used to benefit Saloneans or
It must be remembered that my perspective is very limited and I can just see things from the ground rather than with any hard information. Perhaps there are greater benefits. The VSO organization that sent me here has I think a good model. Share skills and then leave to let the local people take over. The volunteers live among the population and walk the streets and thus there is an attempt to be part of the community. Importantly my project, as an example, is an attempt to get the community to stand on it’s own feet from a tax revenue perspective. I think it will succeed as long as people feel a need. If international donors and others continue to provide a never ending stream of everything from schools to houses, health care, well digging and goats then what incentive is there for the Saloneans to do this for themselves? Admittedly life is unpleasant, dangerous and quite miserable for many but people have to be encouraged to take charge. Instead what I see is a lot of apathy especially among the huge and growing number of unemployed youth. Let’s remember that this section of the community fuelled the war for 10 years and could be a tinderbox for further similar discontent.This is a large subject and perhaps many have studied the problem. I’d be interested to read more. Perhaps Suzanne can give me a few hints.
My name is Emily and I'm living and working in Freetown at the moment. I found your blog through Judith Muster, who is friends with one of your children...I think...at any rate, this blog entry of yours got me thinking as well and I like the pictures. There are so many NGOs here...and what do they all do??