The Ladies on the front line…

The way in which money flows from donor nations and institutions through governmental and non-governmental organisations to finally end up where it was intended: the poor, the sick and the needy can be complex in the extreme and is certainly bewildering to the uninitiated. There are prime recipients, sub recipients, block grants, sub grants, twin track funding… the list is close to endless and I am only starting to get my head around it all.

As just an example, the NGO that I work for is a sub recipient for some of its funding from the Global Fund on HIV, TB and Malaria which in itself is a fund of funds put together by many different donor countries. We don’t use the money we receive to work directly with those in need (clients in the jargon). Instead we sub-grant (i.e. fund) and provide technical support (i.e. train) local community based organisations (CBO’s in the jargon) and faith based organisations (FBO’s or church groups in plain speaking) to do this work.

It may seem very complicated, and to be quite honest it is – but it is all in the name of ‘sustainability’. Sustainability is development nirvana – the concept that if you provide support for the right kinds of local structures in the right kind of way, you can (over time) withdraw or atleast reduce that support and the structures you have built will sustain. Well, this week was my first opportunity to spend a few hours with such a frontline organisation – the Home Based Care team of Ng’oma and Roma – to see this principal in action.

After being greeted by a traditional song of welcome, Sister Hope solemnly explained that HBC had grown out of the practice of local women meeting under a tree in the early 1990’s to discuss the mysterious wasting disease ‘slim’ that was beginning to be seen with frightening frequency in their community. At those meetings the ladies would share what little resources they had and provide home based care for those who were terminally ill.

Today, the level of understanding about HIV and AIDS not to mention TB and Malaria has increase substantially and the organisation looks after over 300 clients on anti-retrovirals, as well as over 100 vulnerable children. Its team of 41 voluntary health workers visit homes across the two townships who have a population of between 41,000 (census figures) and 90,000 (most recent estimate) inhabitants, the vast majority of whom live on less than $1 a day.

The organisation has received funding from a variety of donors but recently the team were told by its most important supporter, the Archdiocese of Lusaka, that funding for their efforts was no longer available and that they would either have to close their doors or find alternative means of support. To their immense credit, this remarkable group of middle aged ladies and one gentleman (elderly in Zambian terms as they are all over 40) have turned to whatever means available to them to raise the 51m ZmK (about $9,000) that they require each year to keep things going. So now there is a HBC vegetable patch, a stall selling aprons and some rather fine HBC peanut butter.

As commendable as these efforts are, they fall some way short of the amount needed to keep the organisation going.  I have promised to go back to the ladies of HBC and see if together we can write a proposal that helps them navigate the funding maze and source some more significant sums of money. I will be sure to let you know how we get on. But for now, it simply raises my understanding of the remarkable things these community groups achieve with relatively small sums of money. At the same time it raises some tricky questions for me as to whether  you can ever ‘sustain’ such great work in such a needy place without some form of support.

3 Responses to “The Ladies on the front line…”
  1. Jane Griffiths says:

    Hi Berkeley, Happy Easter.
    I was interested to read your comment on the ladies who met to discuss the ‘slim’ disease . When I went to kenya in the late 1980’s the people spoke of it then saying that it had been in their communities for years before HIV was fully described.

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