My early stages in development aid

18 Nov

When I started working for development of tribes in Jharkhand, it was in collaboration with a local NGO. Although I was quite happy to see how they could empower women’s groups, I disagreed on their approach. I strongly felt that, being the beneficiaries of development aid program, the villagers were not the master of their destiny.

After my assignment with them being completed, I decided to launch my own program in selected villages where I could build ties with the people. I did not know how to start. So I relied on what I learned at university and I decided to try improving education of children.

I did it informally and on a very small scale. A circle of donors was formed in Belgium to financially provide for the cost of admission of selected children in a private school. But quickly I realized that the program was not adequate.

Firstly, the program was offered to a certain number of children leaving apart those who were not selected due to the limited resources. It gave rise to jealousy among the villagers. Because of its exclusivity, our program was source of social tensions.
This taught me that any development aid program must be inclusive.

Secondly, the attitude of the parents of the concerned children towards me indicated that something was wrong at family level also. During the program’s evaluation most of the parents were begging our team to ensure further support. Somehow they had lost dignity and were transferring their parental responsibilities onto us. It appears also that they lost their capacity to take initiatives. Education of children is the primary responsibility of the family, and they should do their best for it even in difficult time. Instead of that, they became dependent on our aid.
This taught me that development aid cannot be associated with charity.

Thirdly, many children benefiting from our program were dropping out of school. Indeed, in the morning, children are traditionally involved in some important household works, mainly grazing livestock in the forest, which is a crucial activity to learn about nature. Being involved in household work should not be automatically considered as child labour. Often this is for the children a very important way to learn about village life and their environment. The school schedule was not planned taking this cultural aspect into consideration.
This taught me that the culture of the supported community must not only be considered, but is the soil in which the program has to take root.

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