Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Not Everyone is Willing to Meet with Foreigners Offering to “Help”

Before coming to Goma, Catherine and I heard some very good words about the work of Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Feminines (PAIF), a local NGO doing a tremendous job assisting rape survivors with limited means. For about a month, I exchanged a number of emails with Immaculée, the founder of the organization. From our preliminary email exchanges, Immaculée seemed reluctant to meet with us, but she kept the conversation going by asking more questions regarding the motives of our visit. I put her in touch with my friend Kizito to reassure her that we were genuine people really wanting to meet with her. However, a few days prior to our trip she made it clear she did not want to meet with us.

Since we were in Goma already and had some time to kill before our next meeting, I suggested that we dropped by the PAIF offices to see if Immaculée might talk to us even for ten minutes.

Immaculée was not in her office by the time we got there. Her deputy, Sylvie, was just readying to start her day as we walked in. Sylvie informed us that she needed to check with her boss about our visit. She picked up her phone, walked into another room, and dialed Immaculée’s number. The door was half open, so I could see her. She wasn’t saying much, but her body language spoke louder than her voice needed to. I knew what to expect when she returned to the waiting area: she declined to meet with us, upon Immaculée’s direction.

I tried to reason with her, telling her that we wouldn’t need more than ten minutes of her time. Sylvie called her boss again, this time for a shorter period, and she returned saying, “Neither Immaculée, nor myself--neither of us will be meeting with you today.” I knew right then that it was peine perdue to continue trying to convince her.

On our way out, I wondered to myself: why would anyone refuse to meet with visitors coming from the country of Uncle Sam, knowing that there might be some fundraising potential behind such visits?

Harper, an American friend from Kansas now working in Goma, gave a plausible answer to this question. According to her, many foreigners in the past have come to meet with local NGO leaders, offering to help them. Unfortunately, in many instances, the foreigners had created new NGOs a couple of months later, based on the very ideas they lured the local NGOs into giving them. Hence, the foreigners raised funds for themselves instead of the local NGOs, as originally promised.

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