So, most of us peace corps volunteers spend a good bit of our time criticizing foreign aid. Not only is criticizing other organizations an effective way to inflate our own egos, it’s also REALLY easy and fun. Most of the NGOs in Southern Africa are, quite unfortunately, pretty easy targets.
After spending nearly 2 years of having nothing better to do than criticize others about many of the failings that I myself am guilty of, I can confidently say there is one organization that I have never had anything but respect for. What’s more, I don’t believe i’ve ever heard any other volunteers complaining about the failings of this particular organization(and believe me…we complain plenty).
Yup, folks…this organization is truly doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing…making the world a better place by following its mission accurately and effectively. I know. It sounds crazy. The organization is UNICEF, and I truly believe it to be worth its weight in gold. Contrary to popular belief(slash common sense due to the name), UNICEF is NOT funded by the United Nations. They depend entirely on the generosity of people from all over the world, which is probably the blessing in disguise which has helped them to become such a particularly effective organization. By not having the bottomless cesspool of funds that so many aid organizations seem to be happy burning away, UNICEF is forced to use their resources intelligently and effectively in a way that can be observed even at the grassroots level.
I have had ‘wow’ moments with UNICEF before when finding out that they are behind certain projects or publications, but the reason I’m writing this post is because of a slightly more personal experience I’ve recently had with them:
A few weeks ago at the Ministry of Education for my district, a man was unloading several large blue boxes labeled: Sara Life Skills Kit. Half Jokingly, I asked the man if my school was getting one. Half Jokingly, he asked me if my school was teaching life skills. Half Jokingly I explained that we are SUPPOSED to be… I went on to explain that though my school is supposed to be teaching life skills, we are not doing a good job of it. I myself go to the classes but do just as many puzzles and fun things with the students as serious life skills talks, as the resources to teach it are simply not there. Most of the other life skills teachers had long since given up.
My school wasn’t on the list for a box as it hadn’t requested to get one, but one cool thing about Africa Logic is it’s less about being on lists and more about knowing the right people at the right time. I chummed up with the guy and told him that I was there at that very moment to represent my school and make a request for said life skills kit. I immediately regretted this as the box weighed about 5x more than my eyes had led me to believe.
Once I finally got it home, I tore into the kit like a 10-year old at Christmas…a wonderful collection of culturally relevant comic books, books, and videos. A great resource for the other life skills teachers and for the upcoming library we’ve been developing. The kit was developed by UNICEF and features Sara, a young Southern African girl, and her friends and their many challenges in growing up in a culturally confusing and challenging Southern Africa.Unfortunately it was exam week and winter break was coming. I’d have to wait before I could play with my new toys.
Fast forward 2 months. I finally got to use the life skills resources today, and let me tell you…they are spot on…perfect…I don’t know if words can do it justice to be honest, but i’ll go ahead and try. I had the kids gather in the laboratory so they could make noise without disturbing other classrooms. I handed out a copy of “The Trap”, a comic book, to each student, and explained that the story would be discussing some difficult topics.
“The Trap”, is about how Sara gets caught in the web of a creepy old guy who expects Sara to sleep with him because he offered to help pay her school fees. Sara and her friends eventually set up their own web for the creepster, and get him caught by the whole village in dramatic conclusion including shoes and vegetables being thrown at the creepster’s face. The students read in groups of 3-4 with their friends and then discussed a number of questions I had written on the board. It was AMAZING to hear the kids reading out loud in proper English, laughing, smiling, and seriously discussing some tough questions that few people are ever willing to address here.
At one point it struck me that I had NEVER seen so many students smiling at my school. Every kid in the class had a smile on their face, nose buried in a comic book. It was a priceless moment, and UNICEF made it possible.
So…if you ever feel the need to pay into an organization that claims to be doing good things for the world(don’t worry, most of you are paying for Peace Corps whether you like it or not), I’d strongly recommend UNICEF as a safe bet that your money will be used effectively and intelligently to make children’s lives a little bit better in the world.