Friday, May 12, 2006

Helping People Help Themselves in Tanzania

"Helping People Help Themselves" sums up best KIRF's philosophy and method of disaster relief and sustainable development. We aim to develop long-term self-sufficency that enhances natural resources in the communities we assist.

Our humanitarian aid is an act of compassion to alleviate suffering. We know how to help because we ask the recipients what they need. It's pretty simple. Our careful listening to their wishes builds trust. Pretty soon we have an ally to help us help others in need in the same area. Listening to these people also aids the recipients by enpowering them to define how they will be helped or what their future will look like. After a traumatic and chaotic disaster, they are in control of their life's journey during the recovery process.

Relating to our philosophy of "helping themselves": I have read a interesting book about the downfalls of humanitarian relief in Africa called "Famine Crimes: Politics & the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa" by Alex de Waal. Mr. de Waal is a long-time self-described member of the "international humanitarian aid elite. He has worked for the Peace Corps, Save the Children and various other ngo's with a presence (and a large expense account) in Africa. The book's depiction of corrupt "NGO economies" that support a few elites at the expense of the poor seem to be similar to the situation Mark witnessed in in Phnom Phen, Cambodia. The NGO economy or dual economy has one set of prices for Westerners and tourists (at least 100% more expensive that local prices) and another set of prices for locals. I am experiencing a similar situation in Tanzania now.

The book's thesis maintains that famine relief coupled with no local or national government accountability or support, has helped ruin some of the nations of Africa. It has in fact, created more famines and poverty and violence. The author maintains that by giving aid to people who are victimized by their own government's corrupt policies, actually prolongs unjust rule and the suffering of its victims. Chronic poverty is a political problem and can only be solved by political solutions and social change among the local stakeholders.

Humanitarian aid to Africa has increased over the past generation, sanctioned as the morally right thing to do and used as a tool of diplamcy, tax right offs for donor corporations and means to subsidize American agriculture. It is used by both the recipient nations (if you concede to our demands and turn a blind eye to corruption we will allow you to save lives and publicize your efforts so you get more donations) and the giving nations (if you concede to US oe UN demands we will send shipments of aid that will enrich your administration and ensure short-term political stability) but the famines and suffering seem to have gottern worse. Why? I believe it is because not all of the humanitarian aid's stakeholders are outcome-orientated. According to de Waal, the sincerely caring humanitarian individuals who disperse aid, often do so without the will or support from their organizations to end the dependency on their aid. It's an unsavory fact that often journalists gain access to the worst areas only through NGO contacts who they are beholding too. In return for the career assistance, journalists take photos of of the aid's most pitiful and helpless recipients brings publicity which brings in increased revenue and are loath to critize their NGo hosts practices.

This July KIRF will be exploring how best we can help in the east African country of Tanzania. Through my consulting work for the Jane Goodall Institute I have been been introduced to several citizens of Tanzania who are making a difference for good in their country through their own volunteer efforts. In many of the drought afflicted communities in northern Tanzania near Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti Game Preserve, long-term quality of life improvements like sustainable farming techniques and habitat conservation are taught already in the community through youth groups like Roots & Shoots. Through these respected locals in the community, "bridges" between me and my culture to their culture, I hope to be able to make a difference in Tanzania.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Mark is off to Thailand May 10th for tsunami relief

Mark Kirwin (co-founder of KIRF) is off to Thailand in a couple of weeks. He will meet with several colleges to see about delivering our educational scholarship funds into a scholarship account for Tsunami Orphans at one of the local colleges. Since, the young tsunami victims who lost one or both of their parents are from predominantly working class and impoverished villages along the Thai coast north of Phuket, we will most likely choose one of the local colleges. We were told that these kids would not be able to afford to live in Bangkok and go to one of the universities there. While in Phuket Mark is considering the viability of visiting another Moken village to assess if some of these poor people are still in need after the tsunami hit. The Moken are nationless sea gypsies who live aboard their boats and for short periods stay at one of the numerous small tropical islands dotting the Andaman sea. We have seen that the many non-Thais in the country illegally--Moken or, most commonly, illegale immigrant Burmese migrant workers, are either afraid to ask for assistance for fear of being deported (a death sentence for many Burmese) or have asked for help and have been refused.

Mark visited an island of Moken in May of last year--5 months after the tsunami hit, and the situation was desparate. The head of the village told Mark that the Thai Navy put them on the island and they had only one boat left after the tsunami hit and it wasn't enough to support over a 100 people in the village. His people were hungry and children were dying of malaria and other treatable illnesses. The villagers were surviving by scrounging for edible items they could find on the island and swim to like mussles (the areas between the living platforms and wooden decks were covered with broken and sharp mussel shells). They were also being supported with bags of rice and some old clothing from a local church community in Ranong. The Moken children Mark saw seemed thin and listless. They showed signs of malnutrition (bloated bellies and reddish hair color). No sanitation in village, no electricity and people seemed in general depressed and hungry.

KIRF was able to deliver a large fishing boat to this village with nets, an engine, petrol, rain water catch basins for drinking water supply and living supplies like cooking utensils, sarongs, and healthful food staples like rice, cooking oil, spices and fresh vegatables. The village people can now provide more nutritious food and an income from fishing to sustain themselves.