Even if you follow this blog pretty closely, there’s a strong chance you have no idea about the work I’ve done in helping to establish a vocational school in my area. I don’t often mention it because, unlike the other work I do, this project is entirely under the control of foreign donors and the Italian Sisters that they’ve appointed to keep it up. Also, it should be said that I’m not altogether fond of the project itself. I’ve done my best to implement some of my own touches to the project to help make it both successful and sustainable. Some of my ideas have been used like instituting school fees to ensure that students take their classes seriously, though, much to my chagrin, foreign donations still cover about 80% of all costs. Most of my ideas, however, are considered to lack the charitable spirit that the donors were hoping for. When it was suggested that the sewing/tailoring students be given sewing machines for completing the course, my objections fell on deaf ears. I argued that we could not only not afford to run the school for more than a few terms under such a plan, but that the vast majority of the recipients were likely to sell off their free sewing machines, taking the instant cash as opposed to the promise of long-term, slower investment. We haven’t yet given away the machines because I am still trying to reach some sort of compromise on this point, but I cringe to think of what I’ll find when they send me out from house to house to check on the machines.
In addition to the sewing/tailoring course, we also offer a certificate in hairdressing. The first term, which just ended this month, was wrought with frustration. On top of the administrative issues I was having with the way the whole school was run, our only hair dressing instructor had proven to be unreliable at best. Materials went missing, students disliked her, and her personal attendance was hovering just over the 50% mark. When the first term ended, Sister Judith expressed her concerns. “What should we do about her?” she asked. “Just don’t ask her back. She’s terrible,” I responded. “But she’s already asked me about next term!” lamented Sister. “Okay. Then tell her honestly that we’ll find someone else. I’ll even do it if you want.”
Sister told me she’d think about it, which not surprisingly meant that the hairdressing instructor was back at it for term two. After the first two days of class, she showed up at my door at 6:30 AM. “I cannot come to teach for the rest of the week.” I don’t even try to act surprised. “Oh no… why?” “You see, I am passing through a situation which is not good,” she said as if in explanation. “Wow. That doesn’t sound good at all…” I silently cursed the fact that no one was there to bear witness to my wit. “What exactly does that mean, Erin?” I asked. “It means I am passing through a bad situation,” she clarified. I’ll spare you from the rest of the conversation, but it persisted along these lines for a while.
I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she had a funeral or something to go to and just didn’t want to talk about it. At any rate, she wasn’t going to tell me, and I wasn’t going to convince her to go to work, so I let it drop. I let it drop, at least, until I saw her later that day and each of the next 2 days working at her other job in town. “Erin! What are you doing working when you told you called off the rest of the week from your teaching post?! You told me you couldn’t work, and yet here you are working another job” I was really angry at this point. “I told you,” she insisted, “I am passing through a situation which is not good.”
This time, I was too mad for even my old friend, sarcasm. I stared at her for a few seconds, and then took off. I should have expected this. What else could happen you consistently pay a person in advance who consistently neglects her responsibilities? I know I shouldn’t take things to heart as much as I do, but I can’t help it. Her students have been paying for school fees (at my behest, nonetheless) without the benefit of actually learning anything. At the same time, my organization seems to only be benefitting this woman whose single proven competency is taking advantage of the system.
I want to point out that not all development agencies operate like this. Some are great, but if there’s one lesson I’d like to get across from this post, it’s that you should know where your money is going if you donate to development agencies like this. There are good programs out there. Two of my favorites are:
Kiva – (Kiva.org)
Peace Corps Partnership Program – (peacecorps.gov/contribute/ )
Both allow you to select the individual projects that you want to contribute to, and both have good reputations when it comes to responsible financing.