Making the pennies count

Dec 10th, 2008 | By | Category: International

Considering giving money to overseas’ work this Christmas?  Ask questions about the work; ask how much is spent at home; ask how long the agency has been in a country; ask detailed questions – and if you get vague answers, don’t part with your money.

It’s not just a question of doing greater or lesser amounts of good, it’s a question of doing possibly some good, or possibly a great deal of bad.

A story from Rwanda should make everyone ask questions:

Towards the end of 1994 the mass murderers fled Rwanda into eastern Congo. Whole families, communities, towns – hundreds thousands of men, women and children with only what they could carry – arrived in Goma to be fed by the UN in refugee camp, A whole nation fled out of its borders.  By then the media and the ­NGOs had latched onto the Rwanda story. The mass migration made wonderful television, and the story became one of pity for the huddled masses in these camps who had been forced to flee their homes to avoid the war.

Drawn by these images, the aid agencies piled into Goma in huge numbers. Their competition for media coverage turned to greed and lies. They plastered the town with their logos. . .  The logos were of course not for the refugees – they were to catch a cameraman: a flash of your logo on News at Ten could bring in hundreds of thousands of pounds.

At the joint press conferences every day, the aid bosses competed with each other over the death toll in the camps, knowing that: highest figure would make the news bulletins and bring in the money. And cash poured in to ‘save Rwanda’ appeals.  But the people in the camps were not the passive victims of genocide. They were the perpetrators. The aid agencies ignored the survivors of genocide across the border inside Rwanda. Instead, they swamped the camps with so much food that the defeated genocidal army encamped nearby was able to gather it up, sell it and buy guns and ammunition. The aid industry contributed to the continuation of genocide.

The writer?

Not a journalist with the Daily Mail, but Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society, writing earlier this year.

The best projects are the smallest ones.  The religious sister labouring away at some mission station for years; the little groups of people raising modest amounts for local projects at the other end and looking for an account of how every cent was spent;  the missionaries who talk about people and not projects, about things and not ideas.

Who says so?

Dowden. “In most of Africa the Churches have delivered more real development to people than all the governments, the World Bank and aid agencies combined”.

Still uncertain where to send the money?

Send it to the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal for World Development and I, personally, will tell you where it has gone, because I am currently secretary, treasurer and projects co-ordinator (for which the total pay is zero!).

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  1. I do personally try to encourage people to give to the Bishop’s Appeal for the very reason that i feel I know where the money is going.

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