“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How effective are we?

As ASEAN pledges to manage the arriving aid, and large NGOs and media
gain access to the devastated Irrawaddy delta, things are moving along
in terms of the aid in Myanmar. For a while they were complaining of
not being allowed in, but the small cracks that were always there have
now widened and aid is getting through. Better late than never.

As I mentioned before, there are three types of aid: big agencies,
small NGOs and independent aid groups. The most aid I've heard about
has been from the third group--those average people like myself that
just want to help out and can't see an effective way of working
through the agencies, so hire a truck, buy aid, and do it themselves.
It's great to see everyone having such a helping spirit, but having
been part of several groups doing this, and observing others, it's
frustrating to see that so many willing and intelligent people cannot
do as much as they want to to help. We are all here, we do not need
visas, we are available and very willing to help. But how much can we
do, honestly? I've said before that one of the best things we can do
is raise money, but it's really hard to direct that to places that
will ensure the amount is spent in the best possible way, stretched
the furthest, and benefiting the most number of people for the longest
period of time.

Each an every group involved has had troubles and challenges, and
there is an enormous learning curve as we all figure out the best way
to organize, purchase, distribute and help. We are amateurs and we
aren't trained, but we want to help. The divide between the three
types of aid is frustrating, but even more is that we cannot be more

It's frustrating that the government of this country is not doing more
to help it's own people, and is also harming it's own people. I have
no doubt that the people of the delta will bounce back onto their
feet, but how much struggle and time will it take. How much should we
give that is not too much?

Aid agencies are saying the best thing we can do is stimulate the
local economies, particuarly the supply and demand lines. Instead of
buying fishing nets in Yangon, we should buy them in the village,
stimulating the supply line that was naturally there. So we're working
on this! I learned more about fishing nets today than I think I ever
did. Did you know a finished net costs around $30? Of is that the
foreigner price? That's another one of our challenges!

I am pleased to report, however, that the aid is definately getting
through in large quantities and in the two weeks since the cyclone the
people are now in a better situation than they were after it hit. How
much better could they be if more had been done sooner? Who knows? I
guess the only relief is that aid is happening!

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