Thursday, April 12, 2012

How can we be better helpers?

Hey y'all,

I've been away on a 1-week sabbatical (yea, oxymoron.  1 week is not sabbatical!) and now I'm back.  I caught up with a friend yesterday and she shared something with me about the state of orphanages in Malaysia that's appalling yet doesn't sound entirely alien to me.  Her company was embarking on a CSR project to help set up ICT capability in one of the orphanages in town and these are what I found really disturbing:

1) Most corporations treat orphanages like a dumping ground.  What they have in excess (products that require inventory - which is really more expensive to keep than to dispose of), corporations will 'donate' it to orphanages.  Now this should be a good thing.  But imagine, you run an orphanage and you have 50 boxes of FILES, STATIONERIES that take up space in your home and you have NO IDEA what to do with them.

2) Even perishable goods.  Look, we may be a little over imaginative when it comes to orphanages.  Oliver Twist is a musical.  Yes, it's important for them to have food but what's the point of dumping tens and tens of bags of rice (which does have an expiry date!) which they can't finish?

3) For the orphanage to 'redistribute' to other orphanages, they will need a network as well as manpower.  Without a proper system, the orphanages will then be redonating and redonating and redonating.  I've been to Sinthamani Ashram and the boys' room has a funky, stale, old-cupboard, 'moss-y' kinda smell.  The reason is because everyone's dumping their old shoes which the orphanage won't throw away even though the shoes don't fit.  So, pairs and pairs and pairs of worn shoes are stacked up on the shelves in the boys' room, thus contaminating the air.  C'mon guys... would you sleep in this kind of environment?

4) Why is this happening?  Because orphanages I heard, are not supposed to turn away donations.  They're NOT supposed to say no.  So even if they have hundreds of bulldog clips and files and crayons, mountain size of rice (which they need more fresh vegetables and fruits!), books that no one will ever read to the children (they need more tuition to pick up the love for reading!),

I found these facts really disturbing.  So I thought and thought and thought and really... I think some critical solutions are:

1) A proper network - one network to bind them all.  We have a HUGE opportunity for a 'distributor' (yea, I'm not saying you can't earn your dough.  If you can figure a business model which can make you a millionaire but doesn't compromise on the recipients, why not).  If I'm not mistaken, Xim Pou Moon (or something like that) sets up community bins to collect these old items and redistribute them.  We need more if a single network is unable to serve the entire 'waste' market.

2) Caretakers of orphanages should have proper training in organisational and resource management.  They need a voice.  They need an association which they can provide constructive input on what sort of help is needed to fulfil critical shortages and long term needs.  They need to have a vision, they need to run the home as an organisation.

3) Orphanages need money.  Yup, they need cash.  But of course this is rather sensitive because who do you bestow the cash to?  The caretakers?  To play the devil's advocate, are they are as trustworthy as they should be?  You and I know that some of the biggest swindlers that have been making shocking headlines are heads of NGOs.  So there is a need to have a proper financial system - a trust or something that protects the interest of the beneficiaries (in this case the children) for their future (education fund, insurance, etc).

Well... I'm not sure if it will make a lot of difference but seriously, at the rate we're going, no wonder our societal welfare is so badly governed.  People may be thinking they are doing their part but like I said, 'dumping donations' may be something that's effective a decade ago when even old items are scarce.  But today, in this age of abundance and over-production, these 'less fortunate' homes and organisations are being treated like dumpsters.  Please... reconsider your so-called help.  While it's much appreciated but if you're not helping in the right way, then maybe it's better you don't at all.  Extending assistance should be in accordance to the plight of the needy and not to the convenience of ourselves.  No?

Please, share your thoughts.

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