Eileen's Blog

Eileen is Programmes Co-ordinator for the overseas development agency World Vision Ireland. Based in Nairobi in Kenya, she supports programmes funded by Irish child sponsors and the Irish Government. Here she reports on her experiences, living and working in East Africa.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Eileen's Blog has moved home!

I'm no longer updating this site but don't worry I'm still blogging. You can read all my news from East Africa by clicking here

Friday, June 18, 2010

My sponsored child Davis

Reading the article in Cork News about child sponsorship with World Vision this week made me think about my own sponsored child. As a World Vision employee, it may seem strange that I’m a child sponsor, perhaps even self-serving to some. The truth is that sponsoring Davis in North Rukiga ADP in Uganda is one of the most rewarding and cost effective ways I can use my money to make a difference. I know that only a fraction of my donation (22%) is used to cover the Irish office fundraising and programme quality costs and the vast majority goes to benefit Davis’ community. Unlike most charities, with World Vision I get to see exactly how Davis benefits from my donation and I have even visited him and met his family. The school that he goes to was seriously overcrowded with ramshackle buildings, but thanks to World Vision and partly thanks to my contribution, Davis’ school now has three classrooms. We occasionally write and he lets me know how his life is going and how World Vision is assisting him and his family. My relationship with Davis is a great window into life in rural Africa and one of the most transparent and accountable ways my money can be used.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Understanding Poverty

By Evelyn World Vision seeks to understand and address the root causes of poverty and injustice but like most things in life, this sounds easier than it actually is. The causes of poverty are incredibly complex and involve historical injustices, current oppressive systems and sheer greed. However, the complexity and challenge of understanding and addressing poverty is no excuse for shoddy development work. It is not enough to claim ignorance and good intentions. Too often, Africans have been the recipients of poor development efforts. As a result, we have become either dependent on hand-outs, which encourage paternalism and further disempower us. Or we become sceptical and even –to be frank- cynical towards the intentions of those who want to ‘help’ us, as most of these efforts end up doing more harm than good. We know how to fish already! Muthoni Wanyeki, the Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, said it best in her commentary about the role of the civil society and private sector in promoting development in Kenya: "The question is not then the old conundrum about giving a man (sic) a fish versus teaching him to fish. It is about first assuming that s/he knows how to fish and addressing what’s preventing her or him from both being able to fish in the first place and from benefitting from having done so in the second place." Working with the Poor & Oppressed May is partnership month within World Vision and staff all over the world came together to reflect on their commitment to our call to ‘work with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation’. Our call is a pretty tall order, but an important one. What attracted me to World Vision in the first place is our unwavering dedication to good development work. We work with the communities and not for the communities. This means recognising the poor as active participants and leaders of their own development and not merely passive recipients of development efforts. It means addressing the interwoven intricacies that perpetuate poverty and oppression. In practise, this means reflecting on past experiences, learning from mistakes and ensuring they are not repeated, while always keeping in mind that our aim is to empower people, restore hope, self-esteem and dignity. During this month’s reflection session, one statement really hit home for me: "If development does not restore people’s sense of self-worth, little will be accomplished." I absolutely love that this is the way we are thinking as an organisation.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Donating t-shirts to Africa won't solve poverty - aid needs to empower people

Poor Jason Saddler - it's not easy being the victim of a growing wave of spleen towards bad development work.
For those of you not familiar with the story, Jason decided to collect a million shirts to send to Africa. As the Time article http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1987628,00.html#ixzz0nnqz07Hj) points out, it seemed pretty harmless and well-intentioned as an idea, but in reality these shirts will not only fail to address poverty: they will actually contribute to it by undermining the already struggling local textile market.
Not to mention, it is condescending to Africans to think that their problems can be solved with a t-shirt. Yes, clean, good quality clothes give people confidence and self-respect and often when I visit families in communities here, it is the first thing they wish for and spend money on when they have a little extra.
But it is a hundred-fold better to empower someone to earn their own living so that they can go out and buy a shirt themselves. A shirt that they like and are proud to wear, rather than one that bears a slogan like "sister for sale, will take any offer", "Proud Jewish Grandmother" or "I’m with stupid" (I’m not joking here, you want to believe the t-shirts that end up in refugee camps and remote villages in Africa).
Good Intentions are not enough
Back to Jason - I'm sure he's going through a rough time and feeling a bit disillusioned and hard-done by, however he has played an important role in raising public awareness of the need to be intentional and informed when doing development work. And even better, he has listened to his critics and decided to change his approach.
I’ve talked about the danger of naivety and good-intentions when trying to help before ((http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1987628,00.html#ixzz0nnqz07Hj)) and we all need to be aware that the reasons for poverty and injustice are deep, complex and – as they are often manmade - very unpleasant. As history has shown, we can’t just fix Africa’s problems by chucking money or hand-outs at them.
Say you spotted a naked 10 year old child on the street in January in Ireland. Would your first instinct be to give him some clothes and then send him on his way? What if you saw fifty naked children that day? You would probably be concerned and want to know what is going on. It’s unlikely you’d be able to clothe them all and you’d know there must be a bigger problem at stake.
In both cases, you would most likely stop and ask – why are you naked? Where are your parents? Should social services or the police be informed? If the worst thing you see when you look at these children is that they have no clothes then you’re not seeing the real problem.
This is a serious child protection issue that you are witnessing here and you need to address the cause of it, not just the symptoms.
Dumping handouts on developing countries
Jason’s critics, although harsh, make a valid case - hand-outs have been dumped on developing countries for decades but have made no inroads on stemming systematic poverty.
While gains have been made and aid does need to continue (I do not agree that community based aid should stop, although I do support many of the arguments made against direct budget support for governments), it also needs to be strategic and address the root causes of poverty.
Aid needs to empower people
Aid needs to empower people and treat them with respect. Before we start writing policies or projects that impact on African’s lives, we need to ask them what they want and we need to dig deep to understand the issues affecting their communities.
Maybe they do want the shirts, but if they were given a choice between shirts and livelihood opportunities that would allow them to buy their own clothes, as well as an end to the trade barriers, corruption and the decimation of local markets by careless aid, I’m pretty sure they would choose the latter.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Water for dignity

By Evelyn in Kenya
I recently read an interesting, yet rather disturbing, statistic which stated that millions of women around the developing world spend up to a third of their lives fetching water. This made me think of how much of our lifestyle (e.g. my 30 minute long showers) is made possible by a reliable supply of clean water.
It also made me think of how much clean water and sanitation can do for the freedom and dignity of people, especially women and girls. Fetching water is a backbreaking household chore that usually falls to women and girls in many parts of the developing world. This is the case in Busia, Eastern Uganda, where Irish Aid has supported the construction of 8 boreholes, which provide a supply of clean water for 2,100 households. Community Groups in charge of Water In a recent trip to Uganda, Eileena and I visited these boreholes and got a chance to speak with the community members. Each borehole is managed by a water users association made up of elected members from the community (both men and women) that have received training on how to manage and maintain the water source.
They collect a small fee from each community member, which is then saved up to pay for future borehole repairs.
What's great about this set up is that the community have control over the borehole and know how to fix it when repairs are needed. A 10k walk for water Prior to the construction of these boreholes, the women and children, mainly girls, were forced to walk up to 10 km to fetch water, often from dirty streams or ponds. It was no surprise then, that the women were the most vocal when it came to articulating the benefits the clean water of supply has brought to their lives. Rose Naja, who had a family of 9 children, told us how she could only collect 2 or 3 Jerri cans of water per day because the distance was too far for her to carry back any more water. When the needs of collecting water got too much for her manage, her daughters would be forced to drop out of school to help her collect enough water for the family. Lives changed for the better These boreholes and the clean supply of water they provide has had a significant impact on the lives of these communities, especially that of women and children. The women can now collect enough water to meet all their household needs in 30 minutes. Time spent fetching water can now be spent on performing other household activities, farming or going to school. Also, their children are no longer constantly sick with diarrhoea and dysentery. Through the support of Irish Aid, these communities can now enjoy the freedoms and dignities a clean supply of water can offer- better hygiene, less illnesses and more time to engage in productive activities.
By Evelyn in Kenya