Guest post by our roving Asian correspondent Suzuki Samurai, who woke up this morning in Cambodia realising he worked for an NGO.
NGO is not a term I like. To call an organisation "non-government" suggests that government is the natural first point of call for those in dire need. I could look at it positively I suppose and say that NGO Non Governmental Organisation actually shows that people outside of government know the government will do a shit job – so we best do it ourselves. NGOs, such as the one I work for, face a number of difficulties that I’d not cared to think about before. The securing of funds through donation is pretty straight forward, as it turns out; it’s how to effectively make that money work that makes things much less so.
Take for example my NGO: one way they help is by giving $12 per child, per month directly to families considered the poorest, on the condition that the child attends their local government school (and can demonstrate that with an appropriately completed attendance record). Unfortunately, many parents like the money, but they keep their kids working in the fields instead of going to school. They play the system to keep getting the money.
Another factor is the cultural influence of continuing to breed. The NGO's German country manager and I were visiting a family the other day--the mother and her four children are living in what could only be described as a tree-house; she was all of 24 years old. Upon being asked if she intended having further children she said, “I hope not." Now in Cambodia there is a pretty good education program about contraceptives, including booklets about the pill, injections, condoms, and some other thingy-me-jig. Turns out her husband doesn't like condoms, especially when he’s pissed, and she keeps forgetting to get the other ‘free’ alternatives. I suspect she will be pregnant again in no time - a fifth mouth to feed.
The NGO is duty bound not to put ‘less breeding please’ as a condition of receiving payment, though in our culturally sensitive times I don’t think they’d say so even if they could.
Another example is that of the NGO funding a family of a working mum and her four kids (dad’s dead) to the tune of $48 per month + a bag of rice – next thing, mum quits work as that was near-on the money she was bringing in when she was working. (I remember Jake Heke making the same observation)
Then there are examples of other NGOs funding and managing sewing shops, craft manufactories etc to enable locals to make products for tourists. Once these things are up and running & successful the NGOs hand them over to local managers to continue the good work--only to find that six months later the factory has been embezzled, run into the ground and left to rot.
There are many more examples like this I’m sure among the other 1000 NGOs operating in Cambodia, just as I’m sure there many success stories. But it demonstrates to me what welfare does to people.
It is one thing to build a water treatment plant or a well, or a school house, or provide some teachers – but to simply dole out money is often a dead end, except for the opportunity to learn anew the Law of Unintended Consequences.
What’s required is for good people to demand an end to corruption, to bring about the rule of law, to institute property rights; by doing so it will encourage much needed foreign investment to bring about the work that will enable the locals to fix their own problems themselves.
Until such time as these things happen, not much in the lives of the ordinary folk will really change at all.