Although it is very easy to become disillusioned with NGOs, (I would recommend reading Giles Bolton’s ‘Aid and other Dirty Business’ to really make you wonder about it all) every now and then we come across a charity doing something that seems to be just right. A fellow volunteer works with Send a Cow and arranged an accompanied visit to three different groups they work with. All were small scale, up in the north of our area.
It was the way in which the aims were interconnected and how sustainability was contained at the heart of it all that was so impressive. So many of the aid efforts we see collapse once the donor has withdrawn – as they always do. Big shiny machines in the corners of college workshops for example that are unusable because no one has been taught to maintain them, or there is no budget to replace expensive foreign parts.
Send a Cow works, literally from the ground up, the first task is to establish good hygiene and sanitation, pit latrines and tippy-taps (water outside the loo in a jerry can that you can get at without using your hands).
Furniture made from clay is built into the huts so that vermin can’t get under them and so on. Next is vegetable growing for all the family, again to sustain health. They use a raised bed system and what are called Mandela Gardens,
which have a sunken centre to them to make compost and use water to feed the growing vegetables; it is all organic as well. The last strand is animal husbandry (The cow).
Each group has to demonstrate that it can look after the animal, build the sheds for it, train in husbandry etc, it is an eighteen month process.
Apparently most of the goats etc sponsored by Western charities are sold (or eaten) within hours of receiving them, because there is very little careful preparation before arrival.
We met groups that are self confident and articulate, mostly run by women, who do the majority of the agricultural work anyway, but the men have to be part of the training. All were starting to produce surplus, one was setting up a market store to sell products like soap and bread, another was selling seeds to a major supplier; all three were impressive.
The testimonies of the Child Mothers group were particularly harrowing; all had been abducted and used as ‘wives’ by the LRA, one as young as P4 which is about ten or eleven. They had escaped or been freed, but chose to live in a self supportive group of women who had been through similar horrendous ordeals rather than return to their villages. Unlike the compounds around them, these Send a Cow sponsored people lived in a notably clean and productive setting, we came to recognize them during the day, with their vegetable gardens, latrines and concrete furniture. The Hygiene and Health strand featured Family Planning heavily, as several of the women said, “now that I do not produce (give birth) every year I can save money and plan for the future”.
Sustainable, organic, interconnected and rooted in the people it worked with; our day with Send a Cow was so impressive that it restored some of our faith in what can be done.