Donors, INGOs and disability projects
Disabled people are among the most marginalized in our country. Many
State sectors are trying to fulfil their responsibilities towards them
but all attempts are constrained by the lack of funds.
Certain organizations talking to people about what they can
do to make lives better
The state has however provided a rights-based policy framework in
line with global norms.
It has in place good development infrastructures and adequate
personnel which could be used to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of our
disabled people and bring them equity as equal citizens.
When planning future disability projects many lessons can be drawn
from the immediate post-tsunami period.
Some making profit out of disaster
As part of the enormous international interest and empathy that the
country attracted, the field of disability too had an influx of overseas
aid to an extent that had previously never been experienced.
A large amount of aid poured in for disability work.
But how did this benefit the disabled people of this country? What
were the result? What was the impact? How, on what and on whom was the
Donations being made
We do not know for donors hardy followed up, monitored or evaluated
All we do know results from our own observations and discussions.
Development projects are, as a rule, closely monitored and evaluated.
But sadly, also as a rule, this does not apply to disability projects.
Q: Do disabled people not have the right to steps that will
ensure that work related to them has the best possible results? Do they
not have the right to this information?
A: Take for instance what was perhaps the largest investment
of disability aid ever in this country, the project which had as its aim
making the built environment accessible to disabled people.
The aim itself was timely both because of the huge amount of
post-tsunami reconstruction that was to take place, and because there
had previously been no consciousness in this country of this important
Donor aid went to five partners, four of whom were international
NGOs. The local partner, a disability organization, was represented by
its president who did not know English.
No matter what people say about children being looked this
is the reality of majority of them. Courtesy Google Images
Since all meetings and discussions were conducted in English, the
disabled representative was even more disabled as he became a silent
partner. He was unable to even know what decisions were being made leave
alone make any contributions.
And so the project was implemented, with decisions being made by
foreigners, the employment of expatriate personal, expensive media
campaigns, some lobbying (mostly by the expatriates) and some work on
the ground. Publications made by and expatriate informing certain
sectors about accessible buildings still remain stacked up in and
office, too irrelevant to use.
The failure of this project can be assessed even now when one travels
along the tsunami belt. How many repaired and reconstructed hotels and
other buildings used by the general public are accessible? An
outstanding example is the several newly constructed police stations
along the south-western cost.
Hope for children still a doubt in some places
They have been built on pillars, difficult for disabled and elderly
people to use.
Q: Did the project not know that these were being built in
this way? Did no one from the project talk about the need for
accessibility with the responsible administrators, architects and
draftsmen or even others who could influence them?
A: There was a period during project implementation when one
of these INGOs had over twenty expatriate personnel employed in their
office here, many of them young and inexperienced.
High salaries and associated fringe benefits such as rent and travel
and living allowances would surely have eaten into a significant portion
of the budget. There would certainly have been more competent Sri
Lankans who could have carried out the same tasks more efficiently.
Proper periodic monitoring may well have questioned this and improved
The extent of the failure of this project could perhaps in a way be
assessed by the need for the petition filed in the Supreme Court by a
disability activist not so long ago and contrasted with its success.
This plaint and its legal outcome brought effectively to the attention
of both the authorities concerned and the general public that all public
buildings must be made accessible to all people alike.
International Research on Sri Lanka
The tsunami-related research report of the International Disability
and Development Consortium (IDDC) dated June 2005 highlights three
particular issues related to Sri Lanka that are relevant to the subject
of this article.
One, it states that "Despite huge amounts of funding for the tsunami,
very little has gone to local (disability) organizations".
Two that "There are reports of people leaving local NGOs to get
temporary employment in INGOs that pay better salaries.
Whilst large INGOs have more money than ever before and are offering
funding to smaller INGOs, most local NGOs still struggle to obtain
funding. Many people from the bigger international agencies spoke of the
novel problem of having so much money they do not know how to spend it.
Smaller INGOs that may not have directly received public donations are
being offered funding from the larger organizations. However, there
appears to be more reluctance to fund local organizations including
(Disability organizations) directly."
Three, it has also this to say about participation of disabled
people. "Representation is another key issue.
The majority of lobbying work for accessible reconstruction is being
led by international organizations not by the disability movement."
Affordability and Sustainability
As with any development activity, sustainability is central to the
success of disability projects. There is generally much interest among
donors to sponsor projects for the production of assistive devices such
as wheelchairs and artificial limbs. Whilst of course technical quality
is important, this surely should never be at the expense of
affordability. There is a dire need to balance technical quality
(ensuring minimum standards) with affordability.
To be continued