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Donor Fatigue

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Kibera slum - home to 700,000 Kenyans

I am battling with donor fatigue. Our ex night watchman’s wife is having a run of illness and it’s hard to know when to scrutinise and question what he needs money for, and when to just roll over and hand it out, whatever the sum may be. He ‘flashes’ me with his phone (v. common here, you dial a number, let the phone ring once, then wait for the recipient to call you back), and it’s another six or seven or eight or ten thousand shillings for medical bills please. We now meet at the matatu stop incognito, to prevent the house staff here from getting suspicious and possibly jealous.

The thing is; he is just such a worthy man! He has participated in countless ‘Living with HIV’ seminars and conferences. He and his wife are now trained HIV awareness counsellors in Kibera slums. He came into my husband’s office the other day in a bright red Amref t shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Living HIV Positively!’ the other day. That’s bravery!! To admit you are HIV positive is still social death in Kenya.

Apparently comic relief on March 16th was focussing on problems of sanitation, HIV, slum living and malaria in Kenya and Tanzania, and here I am taking my kids to and from school and employing a handful of house helpers. I owe my sister money, she said ‘please donate it to a worthy cause in Kenya!’ as she said the comic relief film footage was so moving. How humbling. When will I move out of my comfort zone and really do something to help around here??

There are major problems with ‘giving’ in sub Saharan Africa. So much money is skimmed off by administrators and even private enterprises looking to service aid contracts, that it’s easy to become quite cynical. There is a blind belief here in the often used Swahili saying; ‘Mungu atasiadia’ ‘God will help’. This can easily be twisted and means that if that ‘help’ one day comes your way in the form of a fat envelope that you are meant to be passing on to worthy cause (ie a school, orphanage or hospital), then maybe you have already half talked yourself into being justified in taking the cash for yourself (or at least a percentage)?! Unfortunately it's endemic, but it will gradually change, as long as people work harder on accountability.

Working for DFID in Tanzania as part of the local hire administration staff was a huge shock to me. When we sent money to Africa from England I assumed it would really help the fly blown children (as seen on TV documentaries). Instead, I watched as consultants employed from the UK on short term contracts jostled with each other for the best ‘package’ possible, newest car, best house (with swimming pool), business class flights, breather visits (ie funded holidays) and all at the expense of the British taxpayer. At the UN, you see the same scenario. Salaries are sky high and every ex-pat would love the chance of a ride on the gravy train. You don’t even need to prove your worth at work with profit and loss accounts, it’s just ‘spend, spend, spend!’

Training and nurturing employees through running a successful business is far more help in my view. At a recent pan African conference I went to held in Nairobi, employees were paying homage to a retiring uk chairman who had been championing African offices for 25 years. A Malawian delegate whispered in his ear; ‘thank you for enabling my three children to go to university’.

Back to the home front, I have found myself in the position of employing a very skilled and friendly cook who was out of work. Not wishing to take him on full time (I can be a kitchen control freak and frankly to employ another member of staff full time is bordering on outrageous), I committed to him coming to our house once a week thus filling my freezer with delicious home cooked food. In an attempt to help him cobble together a decent monthly wage, I’ve found myself becoming his ‘pimp’, in a manner of speaking. Whenever I see friends, I try to mention what a boon it is to have such help in the kitchen and have found him odd days at other people’s houses, for cash in hand. The poor (and not too youthful) man is bouncing all over Nairobi to different kitchens and is so efficient during his day’s work, that he’s producing enough food for two or three weeks and therefore never gets a weekly commitment from anyone else. He has school fees to pay in April. Each time I commiserate that his work is coming in so erratically he says to me; ‘Mungu atasaidia’.

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