Saturday, May 23, 2009

The problem with bleeding hearts...


If this blog has taught us nothing else I believe it is that relief and development is an amusing way to fill one's day, problematic to its crunchy-hard-currency-filled core, and so chock full of contradictions that describing it is like trying to nail jello.

And aid workers, as a group, get painted with the 'saint' brush a little more often than necessary when most of us are paid quite well and find our job difficult but also engaging, important and fulfilling. It's really not very sacrificial when you get right down to it.

This makes it difficult to come up against real need. Real need outside the bounds of the $10 million projects that donors pony up the cash for without blinking. Here in Juba there are a couple of women working with the government to work with some street kids - 45 street kids to be exact - who they have managed to get into school by day and a shifty government building at night. However, they can't feed them. And, by next week, they need $5,400 or the kids will take off to the streets again because they aren't getting fed. Can't say I'd blame them. I don't stay where I'm not fed. They need $27,000 to feed them for the next six months. That's $5 a kid for six months.

Herein lies the ridiculous dilemma, while I could easily get a million or two for a water project somewhere in Jonglei I have no idea how to come up with $33,000 so that these kids can keep eating for six months. And with all the NGOs and donors and UN in this town it really shouldn't be that difficult to get 45 of us 'mercenary' aid workers to give up 10 Sudanese Pounds a day for the next six month but - read previous article on cooks - I expect it will be like getting water from stones. I suspect that, when the rubber meets the road most of us think that we're doing our good by just existing here and shifting other peoples money around. It reminds me of the Indigo Girls song, Money Made You Mean:

So money made you mean and that's not how it's supposed to be.
You're ready to challenge and defend,
yeah, but for all the wrong reasons.

How much do we really need?
a question, if you have to ask
just means what it means-
the question that says everything.

Right and left it's all the same conspiracy
just cause you ask, doesn't make a difference to me.

You could keep it all or give it away
but where did it come from in the first place?
Robbing Peter to pay me, and I'll just be
giving it back to Peter to feel free.

Now you have to fix everything that's broke
cause it'll never leave you alone.
Reinvent the wheel, be the butt of a joke,
take the long road to charity.

Right or left it's all the same conspiracy
robbing Peter to pay Paul
or robbing Peter to pay me.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
or robbing Peter to pay me.

Yeah it's just too hard, oh well, jump in.
Forget about the sharks and swim,
cause now you're one, now you're one.
You can't deny it anymore.

Right or left it's all the same conspiracy
robbing Peter to pay Paul
or robbing Peter to pay me.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
or robbing Peter to pay me.

You can't deny it anymore.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A day without cooks...

I don't like to think of humanitarian aid workers as a bunch of soft, spoiled, whinging whiners but, more often than not, I think that just might be what we are. Yesterday was a public holiday and therefore, in accordance with - oh THE LAW - we gave all our national staff the day off. Including the cooks. This doesn't seem to me to be all that big of a deal. We're a bunch of grown ups. Surely we can hunt-and-gather our own food for a day...surely we won't waste away to nothing and be found by the cooks when they return (THE FOLLOWING DAY!) as a heap of corpses in front of the refrigerator our cold dead fingers having to be pried from the door that we were unable to open. Apparently, I was wrong. And I was told so in no uncertain terms in our senior managers meeting for at least half an hour. HALF AN HOUR discussion about whether we should pay the cooks overtime to come in on a public holiday. Seriously, the higher I am in senior management the sillier the discussions become.