Yesterday, I attended an information session at the home office of a national charity located in Etobicoke. We were familiar with the chair of the Board of Directors and we thought it was worth a visit to hear what they had to say.
I'll not name the charity but you may know which it is from the details I'm about to write about.
So here's the story, at least what I was able to discern. Relatively prosperous Canadians (primarily) raise money to buy "bedkits". A bedkit is an assembly of items designed to assist children (6 -12 years of age) from developing (as in third world) countries, sleep better. From the photos we saw during the slide show, these kids are very poor and probably don't have enough to eat and sometimes don't even have a roof over their head. At this point in the presentation, this bedkit became problematic for me.
The local charity representatives buy the items in the countries where they'll be distributed and they also get to choose the most needy children from the villages that are selected. That means some kids in some families receive these kits but "most" do not.
Each child is "made to look presentable", positioned properly, given a "label" to hold, never told what this is all about, and photographed. The label identifies the donor, how many kits they sponsored and where they originate. For example, "Bill and Helen Smith, Edmonton United Church Auxiliary, 12 of 35".
The volunteers transport thousands of these labels to the country of choice, spend hours organizing them and then even more hours delivering them and setting up the pose for the much ballyhooed photograph. Many of the photos I saw at the presentation were of little confused kids with a stunned look on their face wearing an over sized t-shirt. This photo is then sent back to the donor and that is the reward they can share with their church, their friends and anyone else they're keen to impress.
There were many unsettling moments at this presentation. The authoritarian tone of the two women and one man who spoke to us was reminiscent of my days as a young child in our local Presbyterian Sunday School class. The traveling volunteers are asked to travel together and to do otherwise is frowned upon. There is a code of conduct that must be obeyed. We are not to ask questions until the exact time allocated for this. We must be interviewed in person by one of the women, Ilsa the "she-Christian" was the nick name that came to mind as she spoke. She will decide if we are acceptable as traveling volunteers.
So, during the slide show, they showed bamboo huts in Thailand, perched on stilts. These houses are on stilts because of the flooding that occurs during the rainy season. So, here's a typical pleasant evening in this quaint but wet little village. So, one of Martha's 6 kids was just given a bedkit. The rains are pouring down for the 8th consecutive day but Martha reaches for the bedkit and she digs out the little mattress, places it inside the only mosquito tent in the village, dresses the little child in the pajamas the nice Canadian folks kindly brought them, and tells him to climb under the little covers that they also kindly provided.
I can imagine the difficulties that these items create when only "the most needy" of the children receive them. The local authority as I mentioned decides who recieves them and I wonder how fair that system must be. It's a bit like the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy. One coke bottle drops from the sky and this tribe begins to fight over it. Seems reasonable to me that great care would be taken to ensure fairness and equality in the distribution of these bedkits but no mention was made of this.
I was told that there is virtually no follow up to these visits to assess the value of the bedkits or the effect it has on the families and communities.
This entire presentation had a "holier than thou" tone to it. I don't think I'll be going to any of these countries under this banner any time soon.