Sunday, July 27, 2008

Boring Sunday

After 2 weeks in Liberia I have a bit more sense of what I need to accomplish while I’m here, as well as some of the challenges that the programme faces in getting work done. The programme here has been funded by several grants over the past few years, and at the moment most of these are in the final stage or finished while new grants come online. I’m still trying to figure out how all the various bits and pieces of funding fit together to run the programme. We get funding from the European Commission on Humanitarian Affairs, The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), as well as several other smaller organizations. The process of writing grants is a never ending one in the humanitarian world and the competition for funding is intense, but it is what keeps programmes operating. It is a complex process and every donor has their own set of rules for reporting, monitoring and evaluating that must be followed. USAID (through PMI) is particularly stringent in its requirements. It takes a lot of work to keep up with reports and accounting, especially when you are running from several grants from different donors.

Working with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the national malaria control programme is an art in itself. While the government wants the Aid Brigade and its accompanying funding here to do the work that they don’t have the capacity to do, there is tension between the government and the “implementing partners” doing the work that the donors pay for like MENTOR. The government would rather have all that money going directly into their coffers so they can control it, and the fact that it doesn’t creates some resentment.

I feel bad for the MoH, they really do have no money. I was at a meeting this week for disease surveillance and the big news was a spike in cholera in Monrovia because of flooding. The guy handed out a list of the things they need to control it: chlorine for disinfecting wells, buckets, jerry cans, soap for distribution so people can wash their hands, etc. The only thing on the list they actually had was the chlorine, that had been donated by some agency. They don’t have any way to move around Monrovia – the MoH has no vehicles and no fuel. So they appealed to all of the various NGOs at the meeting but all of us have strict programme requirements that we must use our own funding for so are not in a position to donate to this effort.

The problem is that if they do get money it is often misused. Inevitably money is sucked into someone’s pockets. Shell NGOs are formed on paper and programmes never implemented once the money is received and the money can’t be accounted for. Mosquito nets and drugs meant for distribution never make it to the people who need them and are sold on the market. This is not only an MoH problem, but can happen with the staff of any NGO. Items like drugs and nets are valuable, and I’ve seen some of the most clever plots to steal things. Every NGO that deals with items of value has strict inventory and delivery procedures in place but the best planned distribution system can still be breached…signatures can be forged, fakes substituted, and pockets are lined. If people put half as much energy into doing their job as they did into how to steal and make a few bucks on the side we’d have malaria under control by now.

It’s a perennial problem and one that is unlikely to go away while people are so poor. A $5 mosquito net (never mind a truckload of them) is a lot of money to someone who works for the government and gets paid $100 a month.

Davies and I went to the “beach” yesterday. I have to say I was rather disappointed….it was a 50-yard stretch of sand about 6 feet wide (I don’t know if it was high tide or not) with a few plastic tables and chairs and a small restaurant Walking beyond this area is considered unsafe so that is the extent of the beach. The waves were big and I’m too scared to go in the ocean so I sat and read. I guess it beats sitting in the apartment and reading. Then it clouded up and looked like rain so we left.

Someone who worked at the restaurant and lives nearby has a baby chimp. I was shocked. I guess coming from East Africa that has such strong conservation laws that are actually enforced I was floored to see a baby chimp in a cage when I walked in. She was adorable though!! The woman who owns it took her out of her cage and I got to hold her. Very cute now but in about 10 years when she’s the size of a large man she won’t be so cute anymore. Like I mentioned earlier they eat chimps here. That’s totally disturbing especially seeing how humanlike this one was. I think this country has a long ways to go in terms of protecting wildlife or their habitats. From what I understand they are cutting down the rainforest at a record pace. The bushmeat at the market last weekend tells me they are clearing the animals out of whatever forest is left as well.

The beach was my big excitement for the week, otherwise I went to the gym every day after work, came home, ate supper and went to bed. Today I’m reading and doing a bit of work. Very boring. However, I’m feeling more rested than I have in a long time..strange to have to come to Liberia to feel rested, but the last few weeks before I left home were so busy and stressful, and now that I’m here and have nothing to do I’m forced to relax. It’s weird to not have a million things to be done! I have no idea if the pace of work in Indonesia (where I’ll be in 3 weeks) is anything like this 9-to-5 gig here, but that would be nice!

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