Friday, July 17, 2009

This is not your house

A group of Austrians who donated money to the orphanage came to visit today.

We prepared for hours before their arrival. Changing clothes, brushing teeth and hair, mopping floors, and making beds. They walked in the door with their designer handbags and top of the line cameras and within a few minutes had picked up the kids and snapped a couple pictures posing with their shiny engraved plaque. They were given the tour of the house and then they left. All of them in one car. All of their luggage in another. They didn´t stay for more than 15 minutes.

I´m sure they gave a lot of money and I know that everyone under this roof is incredibly grateful. Without their donation Alalay would still be in a small cramped house and the girls deserve better than that. But their trip was about making themselves feel good. It wasn´t about the kids. After they left the kids quickly changed back into their play clothes and moved on with their lives. Just another picture with a rich white guy.

The donors didn´t know any of the kid´s names. Any of their stories. They didn´t even share a meal or a cup of tea with the kids. The kids became a commodity bought with the charity money of a very rich man.

That man has his name permanently attached to the side of the house. It will remain there long after the girls have grown old and moved into new houses and new lives. Yet, those who live here, those who have spent their childhood coloring and cooking and bathing and sleeping between these walls will never have their names etched on a plaque. Eventually they will all leave but his name will remain. It makes me sad. This is their home, not his.


  1. There are many levels of being rich. It's too bad they weren't able to (or chose not to) take the time to get to know the children. Knowing the children who are blessed by their generosity would be a gift in itself.

    The kids are lucky to have people willing to give of themselves on many levels - guess that helps the world go round.

    Love you Kari,

  2. very interesting post, kb. poetic, even.

  3. I have so much I would like to say about this. Their money actually means a lot for Alalay and Alalay really needs the money. And I understand and think it's a good thing that donors have a controll to check if their money is spent in a good way.

    But instead of giving a house, they should have given Alalay more controll over the money and asked them what Alalaly needs. Instead of just building a new house so that you can put your name on it. What happens to maintenance etc. When I stayed there there some years ago, there were so many buildings that needed maintenance, but you don't get your name on the building if you do maintenance...

  4. HI! I don't know you, but came across your blog and read it with great interest. I totally understand the points made above, and have many times lamented similar situations. But don't be too hard on the rich folks who want to buy houses and build schools for the kids. It is too bad that they didn't take the time - or perhaps din't want to impose - to get to know the children. But there is something amazing about a person who takes their hard earned money and gives it to unknown children on the other side of the world. I'm sure there were a million more self-serving things they could have done with their paycheques, and they did take the trouble to travel from Austraila. That is more than most of the world's population does.

    It is a frustrating challenge that not everyone understands the realities of nonprofits, and many mistrust NGOs. But we in the NGO world (volunteers, staff, fundraisers, board etc) are all a little guilty of perpetuating the 'feel good' charity show-and-tell mentality with marketing soundbites, sponsorship gimmicks, pretty blogs, volutourism and infomercials. Can we really blame the rich white guy when he accepts the simple - if unrealistic - solution he's presented with? And the reality is there are a lot of funds poorly managed by well meaning (and not so well meaning) NGOs all over the world. Have we as ngos earned the right to expect undesignated funds and complete trust from unknown donors? In the end, its not surprising that donors opt for something tangible, something certain like bricks and mortar.

    I know very well the trials of trying to raise funds for the less 'sellable' side of charity. And I know the challenges of dealing with high maintenance donors, and the unpleasant tinge of voyerism that goes with brief benefactor encounters. But it helps to remember that fundraising is a very important part of development work, and the children were given a chance to actively participate as agents of change by meeting and greeting their visitors. The rich guy is one of many equal players - beneficiaries, staff, volunteers, donors, communities. Though donors often come from a place of priveledge, it is still a place that offers another perspective and deserves respect.

    And in the end, the girls have a house, some austrailians gained insight (even if it is was just glimpse) into the lives of Bolivian children, and the Alalay community met some people who cared enough to reach out from across the world and try to do something for others. There's more work to be done - forever raising funds, forever volunteering, forever giving, forever educating people and forever learning...

    I realize this is outpouring of rambling thoughts - perhaps more a representative of my own mixed feelings than a response to your entries. All in all, i thank you for opening dialogue, for your work with children and for speaking honestly. I wish you and your group good fortune and blessings.