I spent most of last week in Kigali helping an internation NGO run an event there. I am not going to mention the name of this organization because this post is about to get slightly negative. Lets just say they help children with cleft lips and pallets. The organization needed PCVs help in the first place because they’ve suffered – as almost all institutions have – budget cuts in recent years and were attempted to stage this event at a lower cost. PCVs, since we can’t accept money from any outside sources, are free. Also, we’re already here, already the kind of people who volunteer and speak the language, it makes perfect sense and many of us were happy to be of service. The trouble became clear when we got their and realized that we were not helping so much as we were running large parts of the event. While the actual surgeries were taking place at the hospital pre and post opp patients were located several miles away at a church where they were staying for the week. This is where PCVs were . We had been told we would simply need to serve food, play with children, keep calm, and occasionally trouble shoot. This quickly proved false. I was at the church for four days and in that time never once met a representative of the organization we were helping. Here is a list of the absurdities of that week:
-When volunteers arrived there were no trashcans, no soap, no bowls/plates, no jerrycans etc for the people staying at the church to use and it took hours to get the organization to buy and provide them.
-We are not translators, we do not know complicated medical terminology and yet we found ourselves trying to explain these things.
-The post-op handbooks people were given which were meant to tell them the dos and donts post-op were written in French, English and Afrikaans – the language of South Africa not Rwanda – and this organization didn’t know it was the wrong language until we told them.
-Food was sent for post-op patients that they were not allowed to eat post-op and no replacement was sent forcing people to decide to go hungry or risk damage.
-Medicine was left which we were asked to distribute and the organzation got increasingly angry at our refusal to do so. It is strictly against PC policy to distribute meds and we could lose our jobs for it. No one was ever sent to hand out the medicine.
-There was often not enough food for the people present and no extra food to be procured.
-The one day organization representatives did come most of them women were dressed in a way that was very culturally insensitive and we made it very clear that these were not our colleagues – PCVs know how to dress.
Essentially we spent several days trying to manage people who sick, bleeding, unhappy, and scared with our limited Kinyarwanda skills and our hands badly tied by our jobs limitations – we literally can’t even hand out Tylenol .I agree fully with PCs policy of not allowing us to give out meds or provide care, the frustrating part of the situation was the fact that the other organization never sent a representative to carry out those functions after we explained we could not. And thus we were forced to watch people in pain suffer despite the fact that we had a box of pain meds on hand. The whole thing was a startling look how badly the best intentions can fail. NGOs not researching the country in which they are working and stubbornly sticking to their original course of action even after its proven flawed. I think it should be said that if an aid organization has limited funds it would be better to delay a project than to do it shoddily. Were this event to take place in America many of the things that went on would amount to no less than criminal negligence. Were anyone to have gotten hurt under our supervision they could have been sued. But this is not America, this is Africa, and the fact that different standards were adopted because of that makes me sick. So I have to research who you give your money, hope they are doing the job right, and don’t give to organizations who cut corners. I expect better from American organizations than what I saw here.
At the end of the day I just have to keep reminding myself that over a hundred people, mainly kids, got a surgery that changed their lives and that is the ultimate good. I met some amazing children and parents who were truly overjoyed at their luck from receiving these surgeries. Since my Kinyarwanda is on the low end of PCVs I spent my time entertaining the children and talking with their mothers which was a truly amazing experience.
As an addendum to this post, after this charity’s program was properly wrapped up they did contact PC senior staff to thank them for PCV’s involvement and state that they could not have been successful without us. Also PC staff was very responsive to our requests that PCVs not participate in next years event unless the organization agrees to have PCVs involved in initial planning meetings to ensure that things run more smoothly. Progress. Buhoro Buhoro