Saturday, July 9, 2011


For those of you who follow along about my life on Facebook, I feel I owe you all an update on the status of the NGO I am working for because I have made vague mention recently about some problems I have been facing. For those of you who have not heard yet, things are rather unsettled for me these days.

First off, I would like to start by saying that communication is a big issue in Botswana. People here do not like confrontation so they opt instead for omitting information, sugar coating, avoidance, and general passive-aggressive behavior. The reason I am mentioning this before I go into detail about my NGO's current situation is because the problems we are facing right now have been a long time coming and could have been navigated had they been addressed, or at the very least mentioned, when I came over a month ago. Additionally, I would not be quite as worried about the survival of the NGO if I could count on the staff to be upfront and proactive. As it stands, however, that may not be a reality here.

So here is the situation... About ten days ago I found out that the funding cycle for the primary funder of my NGO, Project Concern International (PCI), was coming to an end on July 1st. PCI would be supporting the NGO for the following two months to wrap up reports etc but that program funding was complete. Outside of one request that the outgoing PCV and I worked on with them in May, there had been no efforts made to secure additional funding. (Note: in following up about this proposal, I have learned that the funder made site visits a few weeks ago to the organizations they were interested in partnering with - we were not included in those visits.) What this means for the organization is that the staff would no longer be getting paid, the programs would cease, and the OVC (orphan and vulnerable children) Center at my NGO would be closing indefinitely. This means that the 78 children that are currently utilizing our center will not be getting fed (they eat two meals per day there) and they will not be getting psychosocial support (for either being affected or infected with HIV/AIDS - 21 of our 78 children are infected). (That does not even include the roughly 500 children that come in and out of the center for after-school care and homework assistance and the 109 HIV/AIDS infected adults that receive counseling and support through the NGO.) This is devastating for the children and for the Kumakwane community.

I have been vehemently working on a strategic plan and a resource mobilization plan and meeting with the board, the staff, and a number of consultants in an effort to find a viable solution and keep the doors open. As it stands, within two months the NGO will be out of money for rent on the facility, for staff salaries, and for continued programming. Efforts by the staff to thwart the problem have been negligible at this point, although I think the magnitude of the situation is starting to weigh in on the board chairman. At a board meeting yesterday, he begged the present board members (only 3 of 7 showed up - typical) and the Center Coordinator to take ownership of the NGO and recognize the need for the children to pursue partnerships and keep the organization alive.

It may be too little and too late at this point. The reality of receiving enough funding before everything dries up is dismal. Best case scenario is that we can put together some proposals and rub elbows with people that can help us in the interim so that the NGO only closes for a short time and not permanently. I don't even want to discuss the worst case scenario.

Now here is where I get even more unsettled... The potential for my organization to go under is impacting the permanency of my site placement. I have been meeting with my Associate Peace Corps Director (APCD) (basically a Program Director) about the situation and we have been monitoring it and trying to decide the best next step. I have two options: One, remain at the NGO and try to see this through, knowing that the organization will close for at least some time and that it will be a battle to get the necessary funding and that I will be doing the majority of the work and carrying a large part of the burden. Two, I can be reassigned and start over at a new site and a new NGO.

There are moral dilemmas riddled throughout either choice we make. If I stay where I am (at a site that I love, in a house that I love, and with people that I am finally becoming friends with) then I can potentially save an organization and help these children get food and care that they need. To do this, however, I will be taking on the workload and essentially running the NGO. This is not in accordance with Peace Corps principles. I am supposed to be capacitating people so that the work can be sustainable. This NGO has had PCVs in the past that have done a remarkable job in training and working with staff but the staff has not made an effort to continue the work on their own. The NGO will most certainly face this exact same situation when I leave in two years. The reason I came to Botswana was to help people and to make a sustainable impact - these two ideals are in contest right now with this option. (And that is if I am even able to secure funding to re-open the NGO in the upcoming months. If not, I would be reassigned.) However, if I leave Kumakwane and move forward with my Peace Corps service in another site, I may have the opportunity to work with inspired and involved Batswana who I can really work with and teach so that at the end of my two years they are able to continue helping people in their community. Peace Corps would have to take great care in reassigning me because it is a costly and timely process that they would not want to do a third time so the chances of my working with a more stable organization increases. The risk is that I may not like my site or my house or the people I am around as much as I love Kumakwane, I may not end up working with people that are motivated, and I may feel a sense of disappointment that I wasn't able to help the children from this first NGO. (Although, I have already decided that whatever choice is made, I will continue to help out here by writing proposals and assisting with systems development and implementation as a secondary project because I believe it is that important to try.)

My APCD told me that she would be looking into the situation more and pondering the best next move over the weekend and that we would meet again on Monday. (I am also meeting with someone from the NGO's national organization on Monday to try and get assistance for the NGO from them.) I am hopeful that we will make the right decision, whatever that may be, and that I can feel a sense of calm again. It is very hard being this unsettled. I will keep you all posted...


  1. What a dilemma. I can't imagine having to make the choices you have to make and trying to figure out how to meet those challenges. As a mom it breaks my heart to hear of the orphans and children in need not having even what they have now. You will certainly be in my thoughts and prayers as will your APCD who is trying to figure out the best way to handle this also.

  2. It sounds like a heart breaking situation. I think you would feel some sense of regret if you moved site without staying to try to keep the NGO going, especially since you love your site so much. If you stay and run the NGO, you would have a year and a half to find a Botswanan to fill your place. You seem to have your heart into the organization so I'm sure you would do your best to make sure that your work there is sustained. Don't give up on it yet!