Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Message from Abroad

I just received a message from a friend travelling through Ko Phi Phi island in Thailand, an island that was struck by the infamous tsunami in December. He believes that this island that typically has 10,000 people at peak season now sees only around 1500. As well, he talked about the Help International hospital Hi Phi Phi treating patients for free. All rebuilding has come straight from locals and volunteers of the organization. He states that Thai government has refused international aid money from donated relief funds.

I suppose this is a portion of the truth. We probably do not know whether the outpouring of support came with certain conditions for the funding. We probably do not know the large number of NGOs constantly arguing over control of relief aid distribution. We probably did not know that during this argument certain piles of emergency supply boxes sat guarded in the sun - no distribution. We probably didn't know that some children had at least 3-4 immunization shots when all they need is one.

It's a bit more of a sombre jaded note to relief and development. I still believe that the small things that we do count - sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad. Are these aid projects able to sustain administratively through the local people and without funding in the long run? One project comes to mind: I was doing my research in the rural markets and I was asked by a local whether my organization was going to fill the water tank in the middle of the market. I looked up and there was this green structure that was to provide water for the area - empty and unused since the project was dropped 3 years ago. The women looked at me for help as they told me how they send their children off to collect water to run their food business, some water sources being 3-4 hours away. They are disenchanted as they have lost trust in this organization and probably future projects to come.

What will happen when the NGOs/volunteers in Thailand are tired of paradise, had their taste of "feel-good" and leave? Is there a game plan of project continuity or do they wipe their hands clean without a second thought of the adverse effects on the children after 3-4 measle / hep / "supposed-cure" injections? Hands are not wiped clean for the locals.

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