To help people help themselves …

… should be the ultimate goal of each and every NGO. But this is not always easy, especially when you’re working in highly insecure areas – such as Aghanistan. Asuntha Charles, head of Oxfam office in Kabul, knows what she is talking about. In this interview she is referring to all of the more than 300 international NGOs in Afghanistan and she is trying to explain what are the challenges and what are the opportunities to build sustainable structures. The situation today in Afghansitan is a structure of dependencies which most likely will put thousands into unemployment when international help will step back from Afghanistan in the years to come. Asuntha argues that it is very hard for development workers in Afghanistan to design successful solutions because they have almost no direct contact with those the programs are designed for. (The obsession with) Security destroys many things … But security and how to deal with it is a different discussion.

Asuntha gives us some great insights into her daily work. For her – as for many others we’ve spoken to – education is key to improve people’s lives. The GREAT IDEA project is her first education project – she sees huge potential in the field of mobile learning.

Her over all outlook into the future of Afghanistan isn’t though really optimistic!

Assumptions to improve the status quo (from my naive point of view):

  • bridge the gap between locals and expats
  • decentralize
  • build “with” the locals, not “for” them
  • design communities, not just bureaucracies
  • avoid economic dependencies
  • provide max. transparency in all your activities
  • respect and accept cultural differences – the “western” model doesn’t necessarily work everywhere in the same way
  • work “for” the people and NOT for your own interests

6 thoughts on “To help people help themselves …”

  1. Ulrike, Thanks for the good points which I also had in mind. What should a NGO do when their funding depends on playing the “expert role”? Wouldn’t they play “their” game rather than playing “the community game”?

  2. There is really courage needed for saying what all people already knowing and thinking. Thanks to Asuntha for giving that interview. We really need feedback by the people which are engaged in such countries for getting better political decisions und processes. Such a feedback should be the basis for decisions made by NGOs and governments. We need more of this type of transparency at the international level of politics. Thanks again.

  3. I think it is great to hear what the people in the affected areas think about the support they are getting. If you’re not designing the solutions for the people who are affected, then why are you doing it in the first place?

    Also great to hear about mobile learning and how it’s used in practice.

  4. I adore Asuntha’s courage to tell the truth. Many organisations failed in Africa over many years before there was a change and real improvements happened. It’s encouraging to see that there is such a critical self-analysis. For me, this is the only way to drive change and establish trust – wether it’s in people and/or organisations.

    I understand it’s very hard for NGO´s to work in Afganisthan. Because of a long time terror and fanatism people trust in nothing but cash, fences and weapons. Corruption seems to be everywhere, transparency and trust nowhere. A few benefit. Many are left behind – or at least feel like they are left behind. As a result there are really different worlds within one country – no connectedness. NGOs and their environments and those who need the help. Afganisthan needs the power of its whole population in order to achieve freedom and economic growth. So if any NGO recognises that there is space for improvement and uses the lessons learned – I still have hope for the country, and even more for the NGO.

  5. Thank you Asuntha for your openess. I appreciate it. Helping people to help themselves is the core of development aid, isn’t it? Something every NGO should take care of. We know it cannot not always be achieved or somethimes the evironments are extremely difficult – but as long as it is the ultimative goal, we all should go for it! Thanks!

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