Why should I give money to Africa when there are plenty of legitimate needs at home?
In spite of the many positive aspects of African life, the fact is that the majority of rural people still live without basic resources granted to even the poorest segment of our own populations here in the United States. In an age where industrialized countries consume a share of the world’s resources vastly disproportionate to the size of their populations, we believe that addressing global inequities is a responsibility of every citizen. The efforts of Watoto Wa Dunia represent one small attempt to reduce global disparities in resources by partnering with local communities in Eastern Kenya. Despite rising inflation in Kenya in recent years, a small donation can still go a long way towards poverty reduction.
Exactly how will my contribution be spent?
Each year, our board of directors recommends a specific set of community-based projects to be funded. These areas focus on education, healthcare, local enterprise, agriculture, and the environment.
All funded projects go through a screening process in which both our board of directors and our board of trustees in Kenya review a written application. Your contribution will go directly to one of these projects.
We work hard to keep our overhead costs to a minimum. Approximately 89% of your contribution will go to directly support projects chosen by community members, and 97% of contributions go directly into the local economy in Kibwezi and distant villages. All members of our international board of trustees and local board of directors are volunteers.
In the rural economy of Eastern Kenya, where the average daily wage for a farm laborer is about one dollar, a small contribution really does go a long way. A $25 donation, for example, will cover nursery fees and the cost of a desk for a child for an entire year, while a $336 donation will provide a school uniform and lunch for an AIDS orphan for a year. A $100 donation can enable the construction of a water tank.
How can I be sure that my money won’t be taken by corrupt individuals?
In spite of the best intentions of the current government, corruption is still a significant problem in contemporary Kenya. Instead of viewing public service as a civic responsibility, many leaders view a government position as an access route to money and resources for one’s family, clan, or ethnic group. No matter how “understandable” such practices may be when viewed in the context of resource shortages or colonial history, corruption is not tolerated by our international board of trustees or by our local board of directors.
Our organization is 100% committed to financial transparency and accountability, and we have instituted numerous financial safeguards to ensure that your money is spent wisely. Our most important safeguard against corruption is the fact that we deal with local community members, thus leapfrogging the various layers of Kenya’s bureaucracy. In addition, we have gone to great lengths to choose only people of the highest moral integrity to serve on our board of directors and board of trustees. We also follow rigorous accounting procedures: all disbursed funds are receipted, and project implementation is documented through photos and written descriptions posted on out website. We disburse funds by bank checks (no cash), and whenever possible, we pay businesses directly for supplies rather than paying individuals. Finally, we contract for an independent audit in Kenya each year and provide details of our projects and finances to donors in our annual reports.
Why should I contribute to a small foundation when there are larger, more experienced agencies that provide aid to Africa?
If a primary goal of development assistance is to meet real human needs and foster community development, there are significant advantages to being small. Smaller organizations can adapt to local needs much more readily than large, bureaucratic entities, and they can ensure local participation and decision-making in projects. Overhead costs can be kept low, and flexibility can be maintained. In short, we believe our small foundation maintains a people-centered focus rather than becoming overly driven by donor priorities or prone to bureaucratic inefficiencies. It is important for larger, more established NGO’s to work with the African government on the “big fixes” such as infrastructure development, but there is a very important niche for small organizations such as ours. We focus on community involvement and partnerships with local people.
What is the relationship between your organization and the current Kenyan government?
Watoto Wa Dunia is registered with the NGO Coordination Board and operates as a non-profit organization under Kenya law. Official registration with the Kenyan government allows us to operate a special bank account for non-profit organizations. More importantly, it provides us with a stamp of legitimacy that facilitates channels of communication between our local board of directors, district development officers, and other non-governmental entities. This strengthens our position in applying for funds disbursed by the Kenya government or by internation foundations to NGO’s. Responsibility for project design and implementation, however, rests entirely in our own hands, allowing us to maintain an important degree of autonomy from bureaucratic control.
How do you avoid paternalistic attitudes and bureaucratic inefficiencies that seem to plague many development organizations?
In recent years the development enterprise has come under fire for promoting dependency and paternalistic views of Africans, for placing donor goals and needs above those of local communities, and for promoting political and bureaucratic control by state elites over people living in rural areas. We are sympathetic to these critiques and thus have designed our foundation on the principle of empowering local communities. While our organization works toward the “development” of resources and their equitable distribution in rural communities, we categorically reject the implication that the widows of Kibwezi are “underdeveloped” in any moral or spiritual sense. In fact, we have found more often than not, learning and growth on the part of board members and donors come from the insights of our friends in Kenya.
Additionally, we understand that it is naïve to assume one unified “culture” exists at the village level; rather, as in any community, there are divisions by gender, age, religion, clan affiliation, income, and educational level.
Our board of directors and on-site project coordinator are committed to identifying culturally compatible projects that reduce poverty and harness existing community institutions to implement these projects. Our organizational structure involves a partnership between an international board whose members have spent considerable time in the Kibiwezi area and a local Kenyan board whose members are deeply committed to social justice and poverty reduction. We believe that these distinctive features allow our organization to avoid the pitfalls encountered by many development agencies.
How does terrorism in Kenya affect the work of your organization?
The main hubs for terrorist activity over the past several years have been in Mombassa, Nairobi, and along the Kenya/Somalia border. Mombasa is 180 miles from our site location and Nairobi is 120 miles away. Due to the rural nature of our location, we are not a target for any terrorist activity.
Where exactly are the villages where you work?
Our work is focused in ten villages located in Kikumbulu, in the Kibwezi District. The nearest city is Makindu, about an hour away from Kisanyani, which is the closest shopping center to Watoto Wa Dunia’s center of operation. A large number of males work or are in search of jobs in cities such as Nairobi and Mombasa, and return home infrequently. Therefore, despite the distinctive rural environment, the villages have the feel of “bedroom communities” and include many female-headed households.
Why are you focusing on only one small geographic area?
Though our long-term goal is to expand our efforts, there are good reasons for starting with ten villages and expanding after our efforts have taken hold there. First, our philosophy lends itself to small, focused projects. Because we stress a holistic approach to development, it makes sense to focus on an area where we can foster sustained input from people in the community who are intimately acquainted with local needs and politics. In particular, the climactic stress of the Eastern Province means the region is in dire need of survival skills and sustainability in the fields of health, agriculture, and education. In addition to these issues, the cultural strain on men places a heavy burden on their ability to earn money for their family, typically in locations far from home. Because of the lack of employment for all members of the family, women must sometimes turn to prostitution which only increase the regions disease burden and the insecurity of children in the home without care providers.
What are the long-term goals of your organization?
Our primary goal, within the next five years, is to complete our health center (get supplies for the clinic, nurses, and train staff), and offer housing for orphans at this location (we need to purchase the beds and get final permission from the government). Additionally, we want to expand the current farm and food production system in order to diversify its produce but also strengthen its sustainability and the microfinance component of the project.