At a Bar & Bakery in a mid-west town, a man I had just met declared, “Well, Kenyans like to form altruistic organizations with a money making agenda, I decided to form a money making organization with an altruistic agenda.” I laughed, then we debated which had more yeast – the bread or the malt. Later that night, I mulled over the paths of Kenyan Non-Governmental and Charity-Based Organizations.
I seem to have crashed against a few in my time. The one run by a rogue Catholic priest who was convinced that every female, young (too young) and old, wanted to have sex with him. Then the other, run by a woman who figured out a way to sell the craft items made by her group of teen mums to buyers abroad at quadruple the price she mentioned to her girls. Donated items sent to the group – clothes, money and food – never quite made it to the young mothers.
And here I was in a mid-west town with a Bar & Bakery and a Gym & Sauna, all in the same rickety-shake building, I had crashed into yet another altruistic organization with an agenda different from the one stated on its brochure.
Perhaps my discomfort was augmented by the discovery that the people we met, and the children we worked with, were completely convinced of their inability ever to find their way out of poverty and hardships. To them the NGO and the CBO was sent by the Lord from heaven. Praise the Lord. Amen.
And who was I to judge them? While I was never rich growing up, and was still not rich, I could never compare to the levels of poverty some of the kids we met lived in. I could not begin to imagine their parents’ despair. I could not understand the woman whose husband died of HIV-related complications and whose children would not go to secondary school unless a donor, an NGO, a charity organization, offered hope.
Perhaps what infuriates me is the knowledge, a confirmed knowledge, that while there are organizations out there that are truly endeavoring to help the needy, there are those that have been formed by unscrupulous individuals whose sole aim is wealth or power in the name of helping the needy.
Don’t get me wrong, they do help to a certain extent. The rogue Catholic priest helped kids, who would not otherwise have gone to high school, get their KCSE certificates and even join university. And the woman entrepreneur did train the teen mums in a skill that would help them either set up their own crafts business or find gainful employment. And the NGO in the Midwest town was not only assisting the women in the villages around set up business groups, but also helping young girls gain basic computer skills and special skills such as the one I was ‘contracted’ to teach, Creative Writing. All this for a fee, of course.
My ‘contract’ is in quotes. The manner in which some of these organizations will contract help is quite dubious. For you to run such an organization you need serious smarts, a gift I find several Kenyans have been born with.
Take, for example, a young Kenyan writer contracted to teach a 2-week Creative Writing Course. You would ask the young writer to tell you the basic requirements for a creative writing course for 16 young ladies. That would of course include writing materials, books, computers and an internet connection, food for the young ladies — since they come from poor families that would likely be breakfast and lunch. Your young writer would likely also quote payment for services rendered, food, board and transport.
Off you go, then, to the sponsor or donor for the event. There are people in this world who, if able to, will do anything to make the world a better place. And what are a few hundred dollars to assist young ladies in a very poor corner of the world gain skills for life? Once you have the few hundred dollars [notice the dollars are few], you need to minimize the costs. After all you do have a front to maintain, and it costs money.
First, you need to explain to your young writer that a sponsor fell through, but you must do this in a way that will appeal to an idealist heart. Explain that it will not be possible to pay as much as you had promised, and could your young writer also try and understand that there are beautiful young souls out there in a very poor part of the country who really need to see their worlds in a beautiful light, if only those who have it better than them would care to offer their services for free. If you do play your cards right, your young writer will be on a bus to your Midwest town so fast, it will put a smile on your face.
Next, you need to cut the course length. You know, feeding a bunch of kids for 12 days can be horrendously expensive. So bring it down to 4 days, and scrap the breakfast too. The little urchins never eat breakfast anyway, and you will provide lunch for them.
Then, make sure all the kids come with their own writing material; this is a creative writing course, not a come-and-get-free-stuff course. Don’t forget to ask your writer teacher to find her own books because the sponsor was supposed to buy books for the kids but failed and so…
Although you did ask the donor/sponsor for money to buy computers and to pay for the internet connection, it ain’t going to happen. The library is just a few meters from the Mission House, it does have those books and the internet connection, the kids will just have to ask their folks (yeah, the same poor ones) for a few shilling so mwalimu can teach them to do research on the internet. Better yet, that do-good mwalimu can pay for the internet costs.
Last, you must absolutely source some of – at least three quarters of – your Creative Writing Students from the better side of town. You know, not the side you claim to be assisting, but the side that does have the money to send their little girls to a fancy Creative Writing Course during the holidays. You can charge them, let’s see, how about a hundred shillings a day. If you multiply that by 60 kids — notice your ‘contract’ with the mwalimu was for 16 kids, but hey, you need the money and the idealistic mwalimu will be so sucked in by the young faces she won’t notice — you have the costs of the workshop covered by Day 5 and some left-overs. You don’t even need to touch the money from the donor/sponsor. At least, not on that Creative Writing thingy: what do they teach anyway?
That’s how you run a money-making altruistic organization. See, you have done good and made your money! Now all you have to do is get the photos of the kids and post them to your website. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure a future donor is present on the last day of whatever program you are running. Or at least on a day when something major is happening and no one is likely to be looking at the accounts.
If you can come up with a few of these projects, plus a religious connotation to the entire project, man you have an NGO made in heaven!
NOTE: Make sure your mwalimu is not a nosy, question-asking animal, the kind that might get information from your directors and coordinators, the kind that cares enough to get to know the kids. By the way, kids have a way of telling the truth, so be careful about how much information they get.
So, on that last day, just before my teacher assistant, the entrepreneur with an altruistic agenda (volunteers from Europe pay him to find them arrangements in Charity-based organization where they can donate their time and money) and I, hit the Bar & Bakery, this girl ran up to me and handed me a piece of paper. It had her name and her uncle’s phone number.
‘Teacher, majamani si ukirudiko Nairobi, unitafutieko Sponsor. Mjombangu aliniambieko Nairobi kuna wazungu wengi.’
© Juliet Maruru 2009. First published on www.kenyaimagine.com on Tuesday, 26 May 2009