A sixteen-year-old girl named Veronique is the reason why I started Network for Africa. I met her on the first afternoon of my first trip to Rwanda in 2004. My colleagues and I were visiting an orphanage for children who had lost their families in the genocide, ten years before. The man running the orphanage spent what felt like hours boasting about his many saintly qualities. When he paused to draw breath, we asked what would happen to the children once they reached eighteen.
When they leave here the girls will do basket-weaving, I suppose, and the boys can get odd jobs on construction sites, he shrugged.
He was reluctant to let us meet the children, but we insisted.
On the floor of the squalid little dormitories were fetid mattresses which the genocide orphans shared like sardines, head to toe. The only decoration on the wooden plank walls was pages ripped from magazines. The orphans had one change of clothes each.
Veronique was a tall, slender girl with a high forehead and a serious expression. We asked her what her plans were.
I want to be a lawyer so I can prosecute the people who killed my parents, she replied.
A boy called Charles told us Rwanda needed doctors, so that was his ambition.
The Lessons We Learnt
They taught us our first lesson: have the humility to listen to the people you wish to help. Survivors told us they suffered frequent flashbacks which blocked them moving on with their lives. For this reason, we started working with a Rwandan group, Survivors Fund (SURF), delivering emotional first aid and talk therapy. This work is as relevant now as when we began.
Our second lesson followed swiftly: training and supporting local people to do the job is better than importing staff from the wealthy white world. We partnered with SURF to help genocide survivors in practical ways such as building homes for child-headed households and constructing a hospital in a neglected area. We also worked with reputable Rwandan groups to teach literacy, vocational and business skills, English and computing. At no point did we waste money setting up an office there.
To quote from an article written by Florence Adong who runs our project in Uganda:
Our relationship with Network for Africa shows how the decolonisation of aid and fundraising can be effective and is an example of a partnership that helps to increase efficiency in local NGOs, whilst enabling retention of power over decision making and the raising of funds.
Locally managed NGOs have more effective use of resources, lower admin costs and less bureaucracy in decision making, which often means that they can be more flexible in addressing the needs of the community and, crucially, they can make decisions in consultation with that community.
Celebrating 15 Years
This week, we will be sharing photos on our social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) illustrating our work. None of this would be possible without our supporters, volunteers and donors over the last 15 years that Network for Africa has been a registered charity.
My thanks go to the tiny but remarkable Network for Africa team: Annabel Harris who has been at the helm for 10 years; Thomas Doughty (who has previous experience working in Sierra Leone); Lesley Eaton and Michael Davies who help part-time; and past staffers Christa Bennett, Sophie McCann and Liz Prinz. In addition, thank you to so many volunteers like Carrie Braes, Dr Shelly Evans and Dr Barbara Bauer.
Sadly, I don’t know if Veronique and Charles achieved their ambitions, but I have encountered the same resilience and determination a thousand times since I started Network for Africa.
Thank you for staying with us. And please click on the button below to continue helping us.Celebrating 15 Years – Please Click Here to Donate