The Embezzlement of Hope-Aubrey Namakhwa10-03-2011
When faced with the challenge of thinking about the truth, I have personally been considering the phenomenon surrounding the orphanages and donor funds in poor countries, particularly in Africa. As this is an issue that has affected me personally, being an orphan myself, I will focus on my native country, Malawi.
Malawi being one of the poorest countries in Africa has for a long time been a targeted destination for donor funds. Obviously, due to the higher percentage of HIV/AIDS and health problems in the country, there are many orphans due to the death of their parents. There are therefore, many orphanages and community-based organizations in many villages in Malawi.
I am always motivated by the love, kindness and generosity that people from richer countries have shown to my country, Malawi. Having being born into a poor family and surrounded by drastic poverty in my life, I have grown to understand what it means to starve and try to live on a less than a dollar per day. I have seen too many orphan-care projects start and close. I have heard and seen many generous donors decide to boycott important orphan-care projects they were so devoted to. These were projects that were benefitting the lives of many poor and innocent orphans in the suburbs and villages of Malawi. These boycotts resulted from the embezzlement of donated funds by the people entrusted to manage the donations. One question that always lingered in my mind was why these donors whom I cherished and know to be so kind just give up on these poor lives like that? This question gave me the curiosity to search out the truth about the whole matter and I discuss it in this essay.
One thing that really puzzles me is that these donors do not just blame the people who are directly responsible for these embezzlements. Instead, they put the blame on the whole community as if everyone, from the project coordinator to the youngest infant benefitting from the funds, is crooked and untrustworthy. They hastily place blame on the whole community as if everyone is responsible for the embezzlement. “We are very disappointed in you people, you are too corrupt to be helped”, they say as they leave, “we had been so committed to helping you but you do not even care, all you want is to selfishly waste our money.” In reality, these claims are not true. They are the result of generalized thinking and a failure to analyze the situation in search of the truth.
The truth about what is going on here is not so simple. Not everyone in these communities is crooked and untrustworthy. There are many people who are faithful and good. These people are very eager to work with donors in helping the poor orphans in the villages out there. It therefore means that the generalized claims by most of the donors are simply subjective opinions raised in the midst of frustration and disappointment. It would seem that emotion has the ability to wreck havoc on our mind’s ability to search for that which is true.
A typical example of this rush to judgment happened in one of the suburbs in Lilongwe called Chilinde. There used to be an orphanage in that area known in our Chichewan language as ‘tithandizeni’, which means ‘help us please’. The orphanage took care of children between two and ten years old, small children. This orphanage was literally the difference between life and death for many children. The porridge they received every morning was the only food they could count on. They were really happy together and felt like a family, which helped numb the pain of losing their parents and being alone in the world.
This orphanage had been operating for less than a year, with things going normally. A new group of white people came to visit the orphanage. We learned that these people wanted to start funding a new project that would help those orphans as they got older. They would start a fund that would allow them to continue with their education so that they could become self-reliant. That idea was so welcomed as the children were now assured of hope for a brighter future. However, a month later this orphanage that stood as the source of hope for these orphans was nowhere to be seen. It was closed and the kids stood helpless again, literally on the street with nowhere to go.
While preparing the new project, the donors discovered that two employees of the orphanage were misusing the funds. There had been so much embezzlement that the funds that were been given to the kids were far less than they should have been. Consequently, the donors got very disappointed and disgusted and lost trust in everyone who was part of the committee. They left taking the hope for any kind of future for these orphans with them.
In this case, it is important to consider that it was the coordinator and treasurer who embezzled the funds and not the whole committee. The donors therefore, should have borne that in mind before turning their backs on the whole project. The other committee members tried their best to plead with the donors to let them explain but to no avail. Their plea was met with anger and words like ‘you people cannot be helped, we have been working so hard in your community and all this time you are just mere thieves and not to be trusted’. The truth, which the generous donors failed to consider, was that not all the people in the committee were untrustworthy and responsible for the embezzlement. There were other people in the committee who were really faithful and honest to the donors and were very transparent in handling the little funds given to them.
Now, are such honorable people unworthy to have funds entrusted to them? What about project coordinators in other orphan-care projects who have always been complemented by their donors for handling funds excellently? Is it right to disregard their hard work and dedication and generalize that the people or leaders of orphanages are thieves and embezzlers? Certainly not. But, it is easy. People are quick to believe their opinions to be widespread truth. Truly examining the situation from all sides would help these donors come up with important ways of facilitating the project while minimizing the risk of embezzlements.
It is also important to note that this inability to consider the truth of the matter here does not only affect the actions of the few donors who are embarrassed by the crooked ways of the coordinators of their projects. It also has the potential to negatively impact the thinking of other people who had been considering assisting orphans in poor countries. We are left with a potential ripple effect with far more damaging potential than drained bank accounts. For each of these children, it is the disappearance of the only spark of hope and light they had or will ever have.
But why have things turned out that way? The answer still brings us back to looking for the truth. People who are willing to start assisting these poor orphans get discouraged because they simply choose to agree with what they are told by other donors. This complacency and assumption clouds their ability to look at the truth. The worst thing about the acts of these embezzlers is the broad strokes with which their actions now paint a whole community in the eyes of those who fail to take the time to look for their own truth.
Again, what must be considered is the impact that lazy presumption rather than truth seeking is having on orphans. The famous pop star, Madonna came to Malawi with the idea of building a vast boarding school in the Kanengo area of Lilongwe to help poor girls. The project moved very quickly, and a large area of land was bought and soon leveled. The most unfortunate thing is that the project went no further. The cause was again, embezzlement of funds by those leading the project. The worst thing is that Madonna gave up the project and has moved on to whatever strikes her fancy at present.
Today if you look at that place, all you see is desolation. It is a visual representation of the barren future now left all of those girls whose hopes rested upon that school. Being deprived of their right to an education not only endangers their future, but the future of the world at large.
In conclusion, it is important that we start to think about the truth of every matter that concerns us in life and stop looking at things through the eyes and opinions of others. Pursuing our own search for the truth opens our minds and can bring positive change to a world in which everybody tends to look at things from a common point of view.