Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dead Aid

Despite the boredom caused by the fact that the vast of the trainees (22 of 29) have left town to begin their two week immersion stay with a current PC Volunteer (CHED, my group, is just next week), there has at least been some interesting things to think about. This week, we have been visiting a community vocational school for some field based training. The school has so many problems, and I worry that this is just an indication of some of the things I will see here in the next few years.

Nazareth Vocational School used to be entirely backed by an international organization called CFCA. This organization funded everything including all students' school fees. Last year, that organization made the decision to withdraw their sponsorship after 8 years. I have been told of the damages that arise from "dead aid" such as this, but this organization was my first real-life glimpse at exactly what the consequences are. Within one year the school has all but fallen apart. Enrollment has dropped from 90+ students to a mere 15 between final term 2009 and first term 2010. School fees have gone from 0 to 250,00 Ugandan Shillings, nearly double that of a traditional, academic-based institution (vocational schools are generally much lower than traditional). The school has plans to grow, but has no actual plan to achieve this. They teach their students technical skills, but give them no instruction whatsoever on how to use them sucessfully, basic business competencies, or how to compete in the marketplace. The students there have incredibly poor communication skills, low self-esteem, and no motivation to differentiate themselves from one another. The instructors are no better.

It is Peace Corps policy that all development should come from within the community. We are facilitators. When money or unneeded/unrequested help is given, that project may be underused, will never be sustainable, and, even worse, it creates a crippling dependence on handouts (see example above). That is why we aren't there to tell Nazareth what must be done. Of course we have ideas, and we ask pointed questions in the hopes that they may see the cause of the existing gap between how they want their organization to be and how it actually is. Almost all of our questions are met only with silence.

Thus far, that exercise has been rather fruitless. We have one more day with the school tomorrow, and I hope we can get some message through to some of them. This week we have each been partnered off with a student who has shown us the technical training they are being taught. My partner is a really sweet, young girl named Grace, and I'd like to think that we have helped her and her and at least some of her fellow students in some way before we move on.

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