Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Aid charities: A receiver's perspective

The following was forwarded to me from Maneka Gandhi from India.

It is unedited, and a personal opinion, not that of the WLT, though there is much in it that I personally believe needs serious consideration.

Unfortunately not many of the people actually involved in receiving aid of this sort have access to the internet, so their views are not easily obtained. But it does strike a chord -- I know one of the smaller organisations marketting goats does pay its director around £80,000 a year -- which is pretty galling when you know what that could achieve if it was paid direct to Indian charities.

Nothing irritates me more than the charities abroad that collect money and purport to give it to women or children or for animals in Asia or Africa. Very little reaches the country or the cause for which it is meant - I have seen this happen in the animal world so many times. Most of it goes towards their own "infrastructure", which means rent, staff, travel and "investigation".One organization ran a campaign for many years for saving bears in India . It came to India six times a year to see the situation of bears. It hired consultants from Australia and Argentina. No money came to India. I complained to Charity Commission of that country and it was discovered the fine print said that the organization could do what it wanted with the donated money. Finally, the head of the organization was investigated and removed. A little money was sent to us and a small bear sanctuary was built.

A horse care organization came to India after running a campaign abroad on how badly Indian horses were treated. They brought money, gave it to a lawyer who bought a house and car with it and disappeared. Now it teaches about five farriers a year and that's it. But their international campaign for money continues.

Yet another organization came in to keep donkeys. In 10 years they have kept 70 donkeys in their enclosure and treated another 50. They come from Europe at least once a month, three days at a time, and stay in five star hotels to check whether their Indian doctors are working.

Recently, a watch company held an elephant polo match. The company gave half a million pounds to an international organization that collects money to save Indian elephants for a foreign charity. The Indian elephant NGO that had been reluctantly roped into this illegal and unhappy venture got 8,000 pounds with a promise of 25,000 more. That's it.

Now Oxfam and Christian Aid have come out with their own scam. For anyone who wants to feel good by giving a present to someone who has everything already, you can buy a goat in their name or a donkey, pig, chicken, calf or rabbit. Once the donor pays, the animal is sent to a "developing" country. The scheme is sold by describing it as a "real statement to world development and poverty alleviation". There are 750 Oxfam shops in England. These charities are wooing the ethical shopper with pictures of goats wearing Christmas hats and promises of helping the poor in developing countries. According to environmentalists, it is madness to send goats, cows and chickens to areas where they will add to the problems of drought and desertification. Goats have a devastating effect because each goat eats all the grass and shrubbery on two hectares of land a year. A goat destroys the fertility of land and any milk or dung it may give is very little compared to the havoc it wreaks. Within two years, the people who have goats have an even poorer lifestyle - there are village quarrels on community grazing; the children are taken out of school to graze the goats, water becomes even scarcer.

All farmed animals require proper nourishment, large quantities of water, shelter from extremes and veterinary care. Such resources are in critically short supply in much of Africa and Asia . These programs are irresponsible and misguided. Instead of helping impoverished communities in the developing world flourish it is spreading disease, damaging the environment and wiping out vital water supplies. Two goats can reduce the amount of farmland available to local people and result in villages becoming deserted while a cow, at £750, will drink up to 90 liters of water every single day.

Oxfam and Christian Aid now say that its critics have misunderstood its program. The purchase of a goat, the charities said, did not necessarily mean that a goat was bought! The money goes into a farming and livestock fund to be distributed by local project managers. This means, basically, that more staffers will be given money. If people have paid money for 5,000 animals, less than 200 will actually reach - I can bet on it. This is simply cynical exploitation of animals and poor people. There is a huge appetite for ethical gifts - it has trebled in the last three years. It is easy to use India or Africa as a way to raise money. But basically it is a fundraising mechanism for charities - with about 10 per cent reaching the designated country.

I don't know if this 10% figure is correct for aid charities -- it certainly is not true for the WLT -- we aim to get over 85% of our restricted funds to the actual projects, and the spent in the destination country. It would be interesting to know more about the actual figures. And I certainly would not endorse the descriptions of Oxfam running fundraising 'scams'. I only publish this because it does give a sense of how some people living in recipient countries perceive aid. Normally we only see pictures of happy smiling recipients -- well you would wouldn't you -- and the voices of the critics are rarely heard.

1 comment:

  1. Your correspondent certainly raises serious questions from a local perspective about a topic that you, and others, have commented on in the past. From my limited knowledge of charity law: if you ask people to donate money for goats, surely that money has to be spent on goats?
    Bring back the ffps 100% fund!