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A strategy for NGOs to work without foreign aid

15 August 2014 08:05 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


It is not incorrect to work with foreign assistance if one is doing the right thing. So, we have to fight against any attempts to restrict such assistance. But there are advantages too in working with less or no foreign assistance. What are these?   If a programme depends on local strength, strength of the people and benefits of working with nature then the local people will monitor the work more carefully and there should be more answerability to the people. Planning and decision making will have to be done more with the people who will assist. People will assist such programmes only if they are confident of the benefits. It has to be simple and easily understood too.

Trees will absorb sunlight and convert them into food, timber, soil fertility, medicine, animal fodder, more water retention in the soil and less drought and fewer flood damage. These are simple, easily understood and easily implemented. Seeds have to be collected, protected and shared. To do this it is not essential that one has one’s own land. Working on any land this way will improve soil fertility and yield and make food, water and a healthy environment. But this requires some work, education and training work and people on how best to do it. These people will want salaries. How does one get salaries without any donations? Easier way would be to depend on foreign donations, but if this is not possible or not wanted, then we have to depend on local donations. The Buddha when he formed the Sangha wanted them to wander around and preach the truth, they did it and they were respected. They begged for alms and people gave alms because what they did was good and honoured. They had to lead simple lives since they did not have money for luxuries. They had to be clever, knowledgeable preachers, so they had to learn their religion well ( Dhamma in the case of monks ).

There are many cultural practices and religious practices that can be used for these, such as “Dana” ( alms giving), cultural festivals, birthday celebrations, weddings and funerals, temple and church ceremonies and so on

What is challenging and attractive in such a life is that it is based on sound knowledge, the truth which commanded respect. It was relieving to hear what was being preached, so they were invited. Can this be done in today’s context?  Yes it can be done. To begin with what is necessary is to formulate the subjects to be taught ( preached ) Then there should be some volunteers to begin the process, gradually there has to be demonstrations to prove that it works, those who benefit should be asked to do the same in return. There would be cheaper and better food available. To begin this there has to be seeds and planting material. This can easily be done utilising the seeds thrown away from the kitchen or using some from the seeds used for cooking, plant nurseries should be started, and plants can be shared /given free or sold for low prices.  If a sufficiently large number of people did this, almost in every household there would be enough.

There are many cultural practices and religious practices that can be used for these, such as “Dana” ( alms giving), cultural festivals, birthday celebrations, weddings and funerals, temple and church ceremonies and so on. This can also be done as political work, for instance political campaigns can be combined with such activities, money spent for election campaigns can be utilised for these activities. Schools and temples can play a big role by using school and temple gardens as demonstration plots, teachers and students can begin to teach this doctrine. There are some Government programmes such as Divineguma, Api Wawamu Rata Nagamu, Samurdhi Movement, Gemi Diriya and Gama Neguma which are directing work very similar. Preaching and teaching could include other aspects such as environmental education, development sciences, agriculture, Human rights, inter-ethnic relations, etc.

In Sri Lanka there are possibilities and opportunities for people to undertake planning. Planning could be from bottom upwards such as home garden level, village community level, GS Division level, Pradeshiya Sabha level, District and Province level and so on. These have to be built up until it becomes our culture and our process of development. This does not mean that All NGOs should undertake only agriculture. But this can be a part of their work while doing other work and it is a useful way of building a people’s base for one’s organisation and also for meeting financial needs.

It is also very important to understand what NGOs are and what they should be. NGOs are also called civil society organisations. These emerged since there were some things lacking in what the governments did. Many NGOs began after the war, these were efforts by various civil society organisations to assist those who were affected by war. Relief was the first initiative. These organisations collected funds and assisted those who were destroyed by the wars. This gradually evolved and relief to the poor was the next emphasis. Those in rich countries collected  money and other relief assistance and gave to the poor in poor countries. After some time there was the realisation that such relief could not solve poverty. There was the understanding that giving fish was not a solution and it was better to teach people how to fish. Thus development assistance became important. Years of such development assistance such as farms, industries and education in development was not enough.

There was the realisation that social justice is necessary for development. So, assistance in struggles for social Justice became important. In situations where government policies were unjust it became necessary to assist those who were struggling against such policies. Often Governments policies were governed by the rich and by those who had capital. These rich gave loans with conditions that necessitated adoption of policies as desired and advised by the lenders. These were often contradictory to the interests of the poor. In such situations civil society organisations had to oppose such policies and programmes. There were violations of rights so it was necessary to fight for rights based approaches. These tasks are essential. Some times such work is seen by Governments as anti–government. In  these situations governments try to prevent NGOs and CSOs from undertaking such tasks. Often governments make promises of policies, projects and programmes to get elected, but follow policies as dictated by lenders and the rich to get their loans. In such situations people have a right to oppose them and NGOs have responsibilities to assist them. If such work requires external assistance from like minded organisations which collect funds from their civil societies there is nothing wrong in establishing collaboration with them.

Many NGOs began after the war, these were efforts by various civil society organisations to assist those who were affected by war. Relief was the first initiative

In a recent interview with the media, the Defence secretary of Sri Lanka who is also the minister in charge of NGOs said that regulations that are adopted by the government about NGOs were regulations that were introduced by the previous government. But this is a wrong argument since the Governments are changed to change policies and regulations that were introduced by the previous governments. So, there is no responsibility on the part of any government to blindly follow those of previous governments. In fact their responsibility is to change those that are obstacles to people’s democracy. If the present government adopts the same policies because they are advantageous to them then they have to take responsibility.

NGOs are not an illegal phenominun. They are recognised world over since they play a very useful role. It is upto  NGOs to win confidence of the people by doing things that are useful and also by being accountable to the people. It is in the name of suffering people that funds are raised either locally or  internationally. Therefore such funds belong to the people and NGOs using such funds have to be answerable to people.

(The writer is the founder of Movement on Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR) and activist for social justice of the farmer  community in Sri Lanka.) 

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