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.

Angela

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