Archive for March 2009

How to Help Street Children when Traveling Abroad

March 30, 2009

Street kid, originally uploaded by mysaliva.

I remember my first experience dealing with street kids. Although I acted with the kindest of intentions, I made a huge mistake and perhaps a common one among people traveling abroad who encounter children begging for food or money.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. It was a bone-chilling late winter night, and I was being followed by a street child begging for a loaf of bread. Since she wasn’t begging for money (and since I had little money myself as a PCV), I caved in and went to a road side kiosk to purchase a loaf. I gave the packaged bread to the tiny, freezing little girl who actually thanked me before running off into the night.

Not 10 seconds after she vanished into the darkness, I heard yelling, scuffling and then a high-pitched scream of agony. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the poor soul I had given a loaf of bread to was getting beat up by other street kids who were just as cold and just as hungry as she was and wanting her food.

Since then, throughout my travels, I have never, ever given anything to a begging street child.

Still, it’s such a difficult situation to face. You see these poor children enduring the worst of conditions and you just want to do something. As a traveler, you often don’t know what to do – giving away money or food is the first thing many of us think of, but as I learned the hard way, it’s not the best thing to do.

There are other options though and with the exception of #3, this list of “10 Ways You Can Help Street Children Without Giving Money” is a great guide for travelers faced with the conflict of how to help the needy faces we see in the streets overseas.

Really, what it all boils down to is giving your time, whether it be to local organizations that are in need of short-term volunteers or supplies, or a little one-on-one time with the kids themselves. You can even help long after you leave the country you are visiting. Read “7 Ideas for Helping the Locals You Leave Behind” for inspiring ideas on how to help from your own hometown.

Street children, poverty and overt begging can be just a few of the many culture shocks those of us in developed countries witness during our travels, and of course we want to help – immediately. But as I learned, there is a wrong way and a right way to do this. When you help a street child responsibly, you’re helping them ten times more than you would by simply giving them food or money. And I believe that is the kind of difference we all want to make.

Lessons to be learned in international development

March 27, 2009

I truly do believe that international donors and aid workers have the best intentions in mind when they embark on aid and development projects. Unfortunately, it sounds like many of these people are going about it the wrong way and as a result, money is wasted on unsustainable aid projects that fail because donors/aid workers did not consult with locals first.

The latest victim of such lack of foresight are clean water projects in rural Africa which, according to a report, amount to a loss of hundreds and millions of dollars:

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) says up to US$360m has been spent on building boreholes and wells that then become useless because they are not maintained or fixed when they break down. As a result, 50,000 water supply points are not functioning across rural Africa.

According to the report only one third of water points built by NGOs in Senegal’s Kaolack region are working and 58% of water points in northern Ghana are in disrepair.

The report’s author, Jamie Skinner, says that water points are often built by donors, governments and NGOs without fully consulting local people and finding out just how much it will cost to keep the boreholes clean and functioning over a sustained period of time.

While doing some investigative work before starting a project may sound simple, it seems to be a commonly overlooked task as evidenced by these findings. However, there are lots of lessons to be learned from such mistakes and anyone who has been involved in aid/donor/development work of any kind could list for you volumes of advice on how to better approach a project based on past experience.

Project Diaspora has a great write-up all aid and development workers/volunteers should read. One of the best ways to learn is from our mistakes – the sin and tragedy is when we repeat our mistakes over and over again. May the distribution of information prevent that from happening – spreading the word is a good first step.

Peace Corps Philippines Volunteers Tout Women’s Rights

March 25, 2009

Ever since I lived in Jinhae, Korea and would stay up late at night listening to my neighbor beat the crap out of his girlfriend (and be told by Korean friends and co-workers not to call the cops or interfere because it could make the woman’s life even worse – a kind of sick reasoning that was fully backed up with common scenarios as to just how worse her life would be if I budded in), women’s rights has been a personal crusade of mine. (And a big part of the current thesis I am writing for my M.A. in East Asian Studies).

Even though March (Women’s History Month) is almost over and despite the fact that International Women’s Day (March 8th) has come and gone, that doesn’t mean that the issue should be put to rest. If anything, such a time should only serve as a reminder to us that the topic needs constant addressing.

For a very inspiring post about what is being done to deal with the issue in the Philippines, read this post from the blog Amanda in the Philippines. Amanda is a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and just recently conducted a women’s rights workshop with fellow Peace Corps volunteers in the country.

The whole experience was really eye opening. On Sunday we met with the women’s group that we were working with to facilitate the workshop. They are called Buklod ng babae (Women bonding together) and are based in the downtown area of the city that we were in. For two days we were to meet with around 25 women and girls (I say girls because some of these girls were “18” and I refuse to call them women) who work in GRO bars or on the street. I have mentioned GRO bars before, but to clarify, GRO stands for Guest Relations Officer here, it is the term that they use, for lack of a better word, for prostitutes. There are GRO’s that work on the street, but mostly there are bars where there are varying levels of entertainment involving the girls there for sale.

The workshop did not criticize the women’s line of work as clearly it was seen as the only available means of supporting themselves and their families. Instead, the seminar dealt with issues of rape, self-respect, HIV/AIDS and served as a source of information about women’s rights.

To get a better idea of what kind of environment the women they were interacting with worked in, Amanda and her colleagues visited some of the bars the women and girls entertained in.

We started in the city where there are ordinances which affect GRO Bars. The first bar we went to, Mangos, had (as expected) a bunch of old nasty white men scamming on the young-looking girls that were working. There were about 10 or 11 girls, many of which were in short shorts and bikini tops. There was a small stage at the front where at least one was dancing at all times. It was not like the dancing that you see in the movies, the girls were swaying slowly and looked uncomfortable, they stared only at their reflections in the mirrors and did not look around at the onlookers as though they were pretending to be somewhere else. We stayed for a little while and spoke with a girl who is a member of Buklod and also a GRO at the bar. She looked like she was about 4 or 5 months pregnant, but we did not bring that up. The next bar was the bar that was owned by the woman that came to the workshop. Here there were a few more old nasty white guys, but there was no stage or dancing, the girls had on little black dresses and tags. They were tags like they wear at my LGU with the girl’s picture, age, etc on it. The owner says that they wear them to show that they have been certified by the government as ok for GRO work.

We have added Amanda’s blog to our sidebar for those wishing to continue following her Peace Corps experience and her updates, and have also put her blog in our “Editor’s Pick” category.

Why the Daewoo-Madagascar Deal Would Have Struggled Anyway

March 23, 2009

women in Madagascar, originally uploaded by Zé Eduardo….

A while ago I wrote about the issue of food security and the ethical implications that have arisen in relation to it, using the Madagascar-South Korea Daewoo deal as an example. The now failed agreement will serve as a text book case study for large conglomerates and nations seeking similar partnerships in the future, especially as they relate to issues of conflict-resolution.

(For background details on the issue, please click here.)

Over the weekend we learned that the tenant farming deal is now null. Due to political unrest in Madagascar, the island has brought into power a new leader who has scrapped the deal with Daewoo, much to the pleasure of the country’s citizens.

Says the BBC:

Correspondents say Malagasy people have deep ties to their land and some had condemned the deal as “neo-colonialism”.

While there is no denying that such a deal had the potential to bring about positive change for the impoverished nation, even if the agreement had gone through to implementation, Daewoo and Madagascar’s government would have faced an uphill battle from the start.

If the people such changes are meant to benefit aren’t on board with the plan, conflicts are sure to arise. Judging by the reports I have read, there was little support among the domestic population for this agreement.

This isn’t to say that over time, the domestic population would not have gradually accepted the agreement and would have come on board with the plan, especially if they were seeing immediate positive change. Of course, that is such a big “if” when they are resisting the proposal from the get-go.

A great book that deals with issues of development, the environment and indigenous peoples (although in the context of Southeast Asia) is The Politics of Environment in Southeast Asia: Resources and Resistance, edited by Philip Hirsch and Carol Warren.

While the tone of the book did tend to have me on the offensive (as I am a strong believer in development and the good it can bring impoverished populations), I did take away one important thing and that was the realization that there is a wrong way and a right way in terms of dealing with the web of relationships involved with international development, relationships that include the physical development itself, the environment, the people who will benefit and the people who will not (in many cases indigenous communities whose land and resources are affected by the changes).

While it’s not my place to point a finger at any one party in relation to the failed Daewoo-Madagascar deal, I will say that the approach taken in introducing the plan to the domestic population seemed to lack citizen participation in the decision-making process. (At least based on the mainstream media reports I have been reading). And while citizen participation may not have necessarily saved the deal, it could have perhaps lessened the feelings of antagonization that developed further down the road.

In Memory of Slain Peace Corps Benin Volunteer Kate Puzey

March 20, 2009

Some of you may have heard about the recent death of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey who was serving in the Republic of Benin.

Originally from Georgia, Puzey was recently found dead outside her home under what seem to be suspicious circumstances. An investigation into the cause of her death is underway, and while there have been talks of murder, no one from Benin or the U.S. has confirmed it to be murder.

A wonderful piece has been written about Kate, her death’s impact on her community of service, as well as what the local villagers living in the vicinity of her site had to say about this tragic news. The post has generated several moving comments as well.

Sincere condolences go out to her family, friends and Peace Corps colleagues.

[H/T to PeaceCorpsConnect.org via Twitter feed.]

BRAC: Empowering the poor (and self-financing 80% of its work)

March 20, 2009

A constant theme on this blog is the idea that aid is especially valuable when it can empower the recipients and help them become self-sufficient. Many international organizations do this but there is one in particular that has caught my attention – mostly because it has been able to self finance 80% of its work.

BRAC works with people whose lives are dominated by extreme poverty, illiteracy, disease and other handicaps. With multifaceted development interventions, BRAC strives to bring about positive changes in the quality of life of the poor…

Active in Asia, Africa, the U.S. and United Kingdom, the organization’s main areas of focus include economic development, education, health, human rights and legal services, social development, agriculture, environment, knowledge and capacity building, governance and finance and social enterprises.

From the organization’s blog (which we will link to our side bar), we have re-posted an interview with Ian Smillie, the author of Freedom From Want, who talks about what makes BRAC so unique. (And while visiting their blog, be sure to check out the story about Asiya in Bangladesh who has done amazing things with her BRAC loan.)

[H/T to Global Voices Online.]

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “BRAC Blog: Have you ever heard of an …“, posted with vodpod

The Story Behind the Bicol Clinic Foundation Inc. in the Philippines

March 18, 2009

Philippines, originally uploaded by jakub wittchen.

When it comes to health care in the Philippines, the country’s system operates on a “cash first” basis, meaning there are few health care options for the poor, who make up a significant proportion of the population. Family members must buy their own medical supplies and the death rate, especially from curable diseases, is alarmingly high.

Recognizing the need to cater to a struggling part of Filipino society, an American physician trained in the Philippines started a free clinic in the Bicol area devoted to caring for the region’s sick and dying.

His story can be found here.