I didn’t come here already a self-professed cynic, but I am aware that anything I do isn’t going to result in the way things are done to change radically. Perhaps I’m just here to observe, impart whatever little use or skill I have, and antagonize a whole lot of people.
Fact: Uganda is the third most corrupt country in the world, after Nigeria and Bangladesh.
Fact: This applies to all levels, and everyday life.
Fact: If you want to do any form of work in an NGO here you need to
a) Give them lots of money and they run away with it (also known as briefcase NGOs)
b) Not give them any money, see them as honest people (who are so inefficient that no work gets done)
c) not give any money but time, effort, resources, fundraising etc, and they get work done (at their own pace of course), and they find ways of manipulating the system in order to live a very nice comfortable life.
Can you take a wild guess at which options I’ve either dealt with or am currently dealing with?
a) and b) are obvious enough to discern, but c) is by far the most conniving and perhaps the last resort if you want to come here and actually do something with some form of local assistance. So we grin and bear it (for now).
Without going into details, there’s a reason why I’m staying in a dorm that sleeps 18 instead of allowing myself to be paired up with a host family. I know for a fact that the host families invite guests to their homes for any length of time, give them their best food, water, shelter, room – especially when they themselves don’t have much to offer or have to go without at the expense of said guest. The guest, who misleadingly and innocently believes that host family is actually receiving some of the hard-earned money she’s put towards said NGO, has been told by host family that said NGO gives some sort of fund or stipend for the upkeep of the volunteer.
I’ve heard this story many times. And the truth is – no, the host family gets nothing. Absolutely nothing but the pride and honour of hosting a foreigner. And although that sounds nice in theory, I think I can do without the thought of having my own room at the expense of the rest of the family.
NGOs don’t give host families ANYTHING. Please understand this. I know because I have spoken to many different groups of volunteers from all different types of NGOs in the country and not a single one gives a penny or shilling for the maintenance. It’s a facade.
Many other things are facades as well.
– If your NGO tells you that they have done a) HIV awareness days in slum areas b) support 600 orphans with school fees and own several orphanage schools c) own a bakery d) are setting up a youth conference with 500 international participants e) have organic farms that export vanilla, coffee, pineapples at fairtrade prices to places like Canada f) have bee-keeping farms
See this with your own eyes before you believe the wonderous tales of miraculous support.
Talking big and making promises of grand ideas and plans and executions is a prerequisite of being a) a Ugandan Male b) dealing with foreigners
At some point I would like to deal with a woman in charge of an NGO. I’ve not known a woman to have this sort of hyperbolic story-telling as yet. When I meet such a lady, then perhaps I will be fully skeptical of everything anyone in the aid world says here.
Two weeks: I have heard a lot of talk. And seen a lot of meetings that plan other meetings. Inaction is a weapon of mass destruction.
But, having said that – the children are real, they genuinely want to learn, they soak up knowledge like a sponge. They’re very well behaved (For 9 year olds!) and they actually look glad when you turn up and force them to do boring things like pronounce words over and over again. They love it when you mark their books. And when you leave the classroom, you realise that there aren’t enough teachers to even be present in the classroom, so they share a teacher between two grades and actually quietly sit still in the classroom, writing whatever is on the board.
Their needs are real. And anything you can do that directly impacts them makes for real effort.
Perhaps they’ll grow up to become smart enough to decide to start up an NGO and live the good life of walking around having meetings to discuss meetings all day long, have your lunch paid for you and generally hang out with relatively affluent foreigners and somehow procure land and become a landlord and collect rent and increase the size of your house and buy a generator and then supply it to your tenants and collect money off that.
Perhaps they will.
As it is they are being inculcated early to follow the tenets of the most virulently exploitative kind of evangelicalism – the kind of self-righteousness combined with complete deference to the (usually white) pastor or priest of their denomination. Colonialism is well and alive, and it comes in the form of your spiritual leader who blatantly tells you that he needs your money (yes you, the one who can’t pay school fees for your kids) in order to build the Kingdom of God. You, he tells you, are poor because you have not paid your tithe to him. You pay so you may receive. How, one asks, does one reconcile oneself to this sort of logic? You are poor because you have not paid enough to a rich man.
I have seen the answer and it starts in school at a young age.
And yet I teach kids how to read and have nice handwriting.
I hope that if they are lucky they will get to read alternative view of life, read about logic and both sides of the argument.
But in the classroom I see that the nicest (and only) books they own, all brand new hardcovers – are copies of the New Testament.
And yet I teach them how to read.