Role of NGOs
While in Ghana volunteering, our group had the chance to work with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs). ProWorld is the NGO that organized various aspects of our trip including our project work and housing situations. ProWorld works to empower communities, promote social and economic development, conserve the environment, and cultivate educated compassionate global citizens. ProWorld introduced our group to a local NGO in Ghana, Health and Life Protection Foundation (HALP) which we would be volunteering with in various schools. HALP is youth oriented non- profit organization that seeks to sensitize and educate people on health issues and sanitation as important tools for socio-economic development. It was established by two Ghanaians, Emmanuel Nyarko Gyasi and Benjamin Kpoh.
Being in a new country, it was very beneficial for our group to work with these NGOs as we were not very familiar with the country. NGOs are groups that pursue a social aim and operate independently from a government. Both ProWorld and HALP work to improve the overall wellbeing of Ghanaians, and I was encouraged and inspired by the impacts they have made in the community.
In Choosing Civility, P.M. Forni notes that one of the rules of considerate conduct is to “Pay Attention”. That is, we should constantly be aware of the needs of others and our potential ability to help. Many NGO’s do this: they see the needs of the suffering and work towards solutions. As global citizens, it should not take a devastating event like an earthquake or tsunami for us to take action towards addressing the needs of others. We shouldn’t be jolted out of a state of sedentary complacency by a dramatic experience. Forni asserts that without attention, no meaningful interaction is possible. And meaningful interactions are what we, as humans, strive for. Paying attention to the needs of others means that we cannot be indifferent and instead must practice empathy. Many NGOs also anticipate the future needs of suffering people. This is also an act of compassion and kindness.
Although many NGOs, such as ProWorld and HALP, are making lasting and positive impacts where they work, there are certain disadvantages of NGOs. One is the dependency that can be created on foreign aid and the ripple-effect of consequences. There is a wise proverb that says “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. However, if you teach a man how to fish, he can eat for a lifetime”. This can also be applied to countries. Often times, NGOs distribute a great amount of donated goods to impoverished communities with the best of intentions – to alleviate suffering. These goods, whether it is food, clothing, or toys, usually come from foreign countries. With a steady stream of foreign aid, local farmers or manufacturers have no opportunity to grow as a small business. Since donations can be attained at minimal or even no cost, there is no incentive to buy anything locally. And the dependency on foreign aid continues. Despite the good intentions, NGOs may inadvertently create this cycle of dependency and poverty. That being said, this does not happen everywhere because many NGOs work with the native population to alleviate suffering through projects on sustainable development. Individuals who want to make a difference globally should still consider volunteering through reputable and compassionate NGOs. Dr. Paul Farmer, a well-known humanitarian and physician established Partners In Health, a very active NGO that serves in different areas of the world. Tracy Kidder wrote Mountains Beyond Mountains, a book that details Dr. Farmer’s work and his impact on an underserved region in Haiti. Not only is the book a biography, it is a challenge: Helping the suffering people is possible. Paul Farmer is doing it. Why aren’t we? I am motivated by his challenge to get out into the world, see beyond my own circumstances, and contribute more globally. Our trip to Ghana has inspired me to pursue more international volunteering experiences.