[permaculture] Waving not Drowning

Russ Grayson pacedge at magna.com.au
Mon Jul 14 03:08:05 EDT 2003

On Monday, July 14, 2003, at 11:13  AM, Bob Howard wrote:
>> A friend of mine in college really really wanted to go work offering 
>> basic
>> health services in '3rd world' countries.  As she looked more and more
>> into what NGOs and agencies and so on she might work with, she 
>> discovered
>> that in order to 'qualify' for actual hands-on work with almost all of
>> them, she had to be an M.D.!!!
> Having worked as a nurse in a "third world" situation I can actually
> appreciate why NGO'S would want an M.D. as opposed to a paramedic. The 
> main
> reason is that there are often local people on the ground with para 
> medic
> skills even in the most destitute of communities. Moreover these 
> people have
> essential local knowledge and even with minimal training are an 
> essential part
> of a health service.

This is really part of a bigger question regarding the sending of 
volunteers into developing country communities. As is suggested, there 
are often people with basic skills available in those countries. This, 
of course, is good. The downside for sympathetic people in developed 
countries is that they then find no avenue to enact their willingness 
to help.

As a Nepalese friend suggested, they could work in their own countries. 
But that doesn't happen to any great extent. Why? I think it is to do 
with perceptions, specifically the perception that people in developing 
countries are 'more needy' and because the supply of such services in 
developed countries has been professionalised. That is, you need a 
university degree or similar to do community development as a 
livelihood or in a structured way. There is always voluntary work with 
community-based organisations, of course, and I encourage such 
involvement. However, the impact they have is not always great because 
of limitations to funding and organisational capacity and because of 
lack of higher-level skills among voluteers.

Working in an NGO, we had quite a few people, many fresh from doing a 
PDC, who would knock on the office door and ask to be placed in a 
developing country. We could accommodate almost none of these because 
our policy was to train local people to assume control of the projects 
(this minimised the need for people from Australia) and because our 
need was for people with developed skills unavailable locally, such as 
community seed saving. Many PDC graduates had little training or 
experience other than the course.

Our other suggestion, of volunteering service in the office of an NGO, 
was seldom taken up because work in an office was not perceived as 
either valuable or of assisting directly. Yet, in our own office this 
is how people got to be given responsibility for projects and how they 
got to go overseas for limited periods to train people or for other 
tasks. It also provided knowledge of the NGO world, its constraints and 
opportunities, and valuable insight into relations with people and 
organisations in developing countries, with government and donors and 
it also provided valuable experience in administrative and 
decision-making skills that would prove useful in developing countries.

...Russ Grayson

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