Archive for January, 2010

How to Tell the Difference Between a Problem & an Inconveneince

January 31, 2010

I learned this when I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi, in the early 1990s.

I worked with  the Chewa speakers, who are very much like the Tonga described by Elizabeth Colson  and the Timbuka described by Monica Wilson.  Thewe people traditionally lived at the subsistence level, so they had very little in the way of material culture compared to the African ethnics living on the coasts of the continent.

However—they were known for their quick wit.  Their culture blended seamlessly with the overlay of the British Colonial elites.  Some became pseudo elites, people of a ‘false consciousness’ (as described by Karl Marx and Franz Fanon).  In fact, it was  chilling to live the prophesy that Fanon described in The Wretched of the Earth.

Malawi was a classic example of  the lack of oversight of foreign aid, but no matter.

I worked with 2  counterparts in the Town Planning Department for the City of Blantyre.  Loudon Luka & Anthony Nkoma.  They had known each other in school, and had been geography majors.

Our lives were pretty dull, but one day, Nkoma came in to work about  1/2 hour late. He came in, sat down  at his desk, and heaved a sigh.

“What’s wrong?”  I asked him.

He hesitated.  “Well, my roommates’s girlfriend’s uncle came into town, and they were up partying all night.  & I gave the fellow my bed, and got no sleep.”

“Why did you give him YOUR bed?”  I asked, wondering why the roommate & girlfriend didn’t give up THEIR BED…

“It would have been rude to not have. He’s an elder.” Nkoma said, & Luka nodded.  I did not understand, but no matter.

The next day, Nkoma was late again and clearly tired.  “When is the elder leaving?”  I asked.

“I don’t know. It would be rude to ask,” Nkoma said.

“Do you want to come to my place?  I have a guest room with a bed,”  I told him.

“No, it would be rude to not come home.”

The next day, Nkoma comes in late, again, & flops down in his chair, and looks at me.

“What? What?”  I ask.

“This guy. They were up all night partying, and when I woke up, the guy was passed out in my bed, and he had vomited all over my bed.”

I gasped.

Luka commiserated, “Ah yes, it’s a serious inconvenience when someone vomits in your bed.”


They both looked at me, and Luka said, “Why yes.  What would you say?”

I had to laugh at the horror. “Bummer!  Oh shit!  something like that.  What are you going to do?”  I asked, addressing Nkoma.

“I don’t know.  I’ll take care of it when I get home.”

The next day, Nkoma came in, on time, smiling.  “He cleaned it all up & he left.  I guess he realized that he had   his welcome.”

A couple years later, when I was back in the U.S., the water pump on my car  busted as I was traveling to house sit on the 4th of July.  No cell phones back then.  I walked to a gas station, that only pumped gas, and a customer offered to drive me to the police station.  The police were of no help, of course, but they let me use their phone.  The guy who gave me the ride said to me, “Lady, you have a problem.”

I thought back to Nkoma, & told the guy, “No I have an inconvenience, and not even a serious inconvenience.”

Because…now I know the difference.

Does Peace Corp REALLY want to ‘make a difference’

January 16, 2010

Every time there is a new Peace Corps  Director (we have a new administration, so  of course there is a new person at the helm), the National Peace Corps Association attempts to influence policy, as do the many ‘country-of-‘service’ groups. We are advocates for the  communities and countries we served in, and  try to do a better job of advocacy than paid lobbyists, but I wonder…

Peace Corps was in Haiti for a very long time. I  served with a woman in Malawi who had been evacuated from Haiti (Peace Corps does this) due to lack of security.  Haiti was a dictatorship of the Duvalier family for decades, and the U.S.  gave them money. Oh, sure, it was earmarked foreign aid, but there was never any accountability.  Part of the foreign aid package is often Peace Corps Volunteers. We don’t work for the State Department—we are totally separate, but when negotiations start for the foreign aid package—we are part of it.

For about the same  number of years, Peace Corps volunteers also served in Thailand.  People who should know better always talk about corruption in Thailand—but is there more corruption in Thailand than in India? or—Chicago?  I believe there is less.

A major industry in Thailand is tourism, and their infrastructure, including topiary in the boulevards–is amazing.  I told a guide that, after all the politicians steal whatever they can, there’s still enough left over to make the city of  Chang Rai look like Disney World.

The Cold War is OVER—yet our foreign policy has not been updated.  We are still sending foreign aid to countries whose elites  pay no attention to  government transparency, good governance, or respect for rule-of-law.  & what you get for all that aid is—failed states. No infrastructure, an illiterate population with no access to education, information, or health care.   In short, HAITI…but it could also be Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, Honduras (right next door to Costa Rica—which is very stable & developed) & look what’s happening to Zimbabwe after it has been a jewel of development for so long—even under  Mugabe.

Really, if Peace Corps—indeed–the U.S. Department of State–really cares about making a difference & not about enriching elites—they should insist on changes for government transparency and  respect for rule-of-law.  They should insist that Peace Corps Volunteers always  have counterparts, and support from their ministries. They should ask for accountability of funds granted to projects.

Peace Corps should stop  sending people who only have business school or accounting experience—and no real microbusiness experience—to work with small businesses.  Certainly  they should stop sending  English Lit & philosophy majors who have no community development experience to  do community development.  Peace Corps should stop partnering with ‘faith based’ in-country groups, which are not only as corrupt and inefficient as government agencies—but have a proselytising agenda as well.

It’s really sad what’s happened to the people of Haiti—but all the governments who are sending emergency relief, and all the missionaries could have been more proactive before this disaster  waiting to happen—happened.

Just Throw Money

January 15, 2010

I’ve wanted to address this topic for some time, but what really got me going was a front page story in the Chicago Tribune about nonprofit executive compensation how some are receiving over $500,000 a year with other benefits/

Uh, this is news?  It’s no secret, but I guess enough people fall for direct marketing mail & ‘image’ that it does seem shocking that so many make over $200,000 a year (in this case, they were pointing out an executive director who was paying herself over $600,000 a year for managing housing for low-income people, with  a good per centage of the units having housing code violations.

A long time ago, I realized it made no sense to  send money & support an organization where the  employees made more than I did.

I have to admit—I have worked for several nonprofits.   The difference between a  for profit, publicly held corporation and a non profit is—nobody sells stock in a nonprofit.    The similarity is—-they both have boards of directors, and  Americans  expect, it is understood—that there is a certain level of integrity. The board members are watching  both the  Chief Executive e Officer and each other. They aren’t supposed to waste money.  But they do.  The more money they have, the more money they waste.  It’s worse than sad. They allow  people and companies they contract with to rip them off and/or provide shoddy service.   Unless the public gets wind of this (as  happened to the American Red Cross several years ago),  they do what works for them, personally, and not what  they say they want to do in their mission statements.

What is extremely troubling to me is….the amount of foreign aid frittered away because there is no accountability.  I was at  an African Studies Association conference, where some people were speaking about Transparency International.  Seems  some World Bank and USAID officials were tired of the corruption they were funding. Their attitudes had been, “Oh, you squandered it?  Have some more!”    The idea was that  those governments that instituted  transparency & respect for rule of law would have more access to government aid.  Well, it’s been  about 10 years or so.  Checking the Transparency International it’s hard to tell if any progress has been made.  The  receiving governments are still getting money from donor countries.

I recently read Paul Theroux’s book,  Dark Star Safari:  overland from Cairo to Capetown. It’s his  overland journey (meaning no fly overs0  in  2002.  If you’ve been to Africa, it’s a great book.  If you haven’t been, it might be difficult to visualize what he is describing.  Theroux was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi (where I served) in the 1960’s.  He’s fictionalized his experience several times, but what he does NOT fictionalize is  the attitude of so many Africans.  They accommodated so many foreigners for a chance to  break out of tribal caste systems, to get any crumbs that foreigners might leave and give them  an artificial, superior status in their communities.  So much of what was built was misused, wasted, neglected—and has crumbled.  No foreign government ever demanded community support for  what they were delivering.  I saw schools, libraries, and hospitals vandalized and looted.  There was always the attitude that the foreigners—especially the Europeans and Americans, with all their white guilt would keep on throwing money.

Most Americans don’t  understand that many  governments of less developed countries, hire lobbyists, in Washington, to  insert  foreign aid into the budget—our federal budget —for their countries.  Of course, Israel and Egypt get the most—-for  arms.   So do India & South Korea.  That’s where a lot of foreign aid goes.  But what about aid for infrastructure  and  human development?  Very few people beyond academia keep track.  Initially  the leader of the country  looks good for bringing in a gift.  As deterioration occurs slowly, the benefit diminishes.

Having seen this kind of foreign aid go to waste so many times, I only support  community based organization.  Yes, they may waste as much money as American ones do, but if they have a track record, I send donations-in-kind and cash.  3  I am particularly proud to support are  Malawi Children’s Village, Sango Chicago, and Global Alliance for Africa.  I believe they are successful because they have partners in the U.S. to  provide technical assistance and insist on transparency.

Malawi Children’s Village is actually in Mangochi, Malawi is run by a physician, Dr. Sibale, & his wife.  Originally conceived as an orphanage by 2 Returned Peace Corps Volunteer physicians, the community asked for  technical support  for keeping HIV affected orphans with their extended families, and help with a school, library, a health clinic, vocational training, and school fees.  They’ve been in existence since 1996, and can bost many high school and college graduates among the orphans, thanks to  the assistance of supporters. The  money donated really does go  to help the entire community uplift themselves.  They have statistical proof.  The American address for donations is:  MCV. c/o Garry Prime, 20 Pond Park Rd., Hingham, MA 02043.

Sango, Chicago—is a group of Kenyan Nationals who  are trying to support needy students from their district in western Kenya.  Money donated goes to school fees, and  clothing and educational supplies for the students and their schools.

Global Alliance for Africa has also been in existence for about a decade.  The executive director, Tom Derdak, is a professor of philosophy in Chicago,  He originally conceived the organization to  provide  scholarships to nursing students in Africa—-as nurses are desperately needed. The problem was that nurses expatriated themselves to Europe and America—so their skills were not being kept in Africa.  With the approval of his board of directors, Dr. Derdak changed the focus  to  assisting community organizations providing vocational and business development training, and assistance with microloans, bicycles (via—another great organization), and books for their community libraries.

There are many, many small organizations doing wonderful things.  Range of Motion Project provides artificial limbs &  training to those providing orthotics in Central America, and is expanding.

In the Chicagoland area. I also support Blessed Bonds (P.O. Box 129, Palos Park, IL 60464) which  provides fostering for pet animals owned by the elderly. disabled, and those in crisis needing temporary shelter for their pets that they do want back once they are able to have them.  Also, CARE/Evanston Animal Shelter, which takes owner surrenders, and only euthanizes very ill or temperamentally unstable animals—& is transparent about it.

Keep in mind that —although  the  nonprofit organizations—the 501 (c) 3 orgs—-are supposed to be overseen by or at least accountable to—the government, nobody is paying attention.  It’s a matter of integrity that the organizations do what their missions  state they are doing.


The AKC & Integrity—clarification

January 8, 2010

I think that you will see, if you read the comments people made, that  many people think that  breeders should not be responsible for the many  unwanted dogs of their breed. They  claim there is a huge demand for PUPPIES and that people who buy puppies should be—what?  More mature?  More honest with themselves?

I made a claim that for every puppy sold—of some breeds:  Basenji, Shiba Inu, Jack Russell Terriers—one ends up in rescue.

What I should have said was: for every  dog  registered in some breeds (the ones I mentioned) an adult dog ends up in rescue.

One  responder  suggested that I  check out  The National Council on Population. They have a list of why dogs are surrendered to shelters.

I’ve heard them all:  moving, ‘no time for the dog’, child allergic, can’t afford.

I used to coordinate a rescue for a breed club.  Amazing the number of people who choose to move to a place where they can’t keep the dog. Do you really think these people every really loved the dogs they bought as puppies & bonded to them?  I sure don’t.  One reason that is not in the top 10 list at this site is: “We don’t like the dog’s personality.”

& that is the reason many breeds:  Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers, Afghan Hounds, Basenjis, & Shiba Iun end up in rescue.  Their owners decided that they really aren’t as cute as they look.  & breeders don’t tell buyers the adult personality fo the dog may be different than the dog’s puppy personality.  I also wonder how many   breedes have buyers sign contracts stating they will neuter their pets AND take them through  at least 12 weeks of novice obedience training.

Is it really just me?  Or am I really wrong to think that when you choose a breed, you are really concerned particularly about  the welfare of all those dogs of that breed?  I can’t believe the number of people who responded to me that if they sell a puppy (or a commercial breeder does)—that they should not feel responsible for that pup—that life they brought into the  world.

A guy who recently posted a litter of puppies on Craigslist in Chicago he claimed to have rescued (turned out he bred the litter—but I’ve addressed the lack of integrity of people posting puppies on Craigslist) asked me if I thought he should euthanize them.

That’s always a trap—but I am not falling in.   Hell—yes!  I’d much rather they be humanely euthanized than be crushed into a crate too small for them to stand up & turn around in, or kept is a dark basement, or a cold garage—or my very favorite—tied out in the back yard. Some people really think—“Well, at least they are alive!”  Having rescued dogs in these situations, and having had to euthanize many—I’d euthanize my own dogs before risking them be abused & neglected.

Many people have now seen the AP story of the L.A. area Chihuahuas being dumped at the rate of over 300 a week, and being transported to other  states.  Most are not housebroken & will not find permanent homes outside the rescues.  The backyard breeders who claim to not be breeders (they post every day in most cities on Craigslist) continue to add to the problem.  Mandatory spay/neuter will not stop them.  Hobby breeders with the attitude that they’d rather  euthanize pups they can’t find good homes for might.

I started doubting myself, & then I came across an article in the Sept./Oct 2009 BARK magazine:  ” The Cost of Perfection,” by Beverley Cuddy.  She was actually addressing a BBC (British television) expose on poorly bred purebred dogs (particularly the bracheocephalics—the dog pet buyers demand), called Pedigree Dogs Exposed.  It addressed the lack of genetic health and soundness of purebred dogs—en masse.  What interested me about  Ms. Cuddy’s take was her information about the Swedish Kennel Club, and how proactive they are d about not only addressing the integrity of purebred dogs, but also making  their breeders responsible—thus protecting consumers. What a concept!  I would bet the AKC would fold before demanding any such thing from the  fancier/breeders of purebred dogs.

I don’t intend to blog about this again for a while.