Consecutive years of drought have taken a toll on the tribes of southern Madagascar. The population is increasingly cut off from basic alimentation, and famine is not the news anymore. Forest foraging used to be the main source of food, but today a staggering 48% of children are chronically malnourished, of which 13% suffer from acute malnutrition. Meanwhile, water is carried from well to home by women, sometimes up to 2 kilometers away. With a growing population, a centralized political turmoil and an increased decline of natural resources, the only aid left for the people is what they can get from Non Governmental Organizations – NGOs.
A NGO, also known as civil society, is created by persons who are not part of the government. It raises funds from membership dues, sale of goods and services, collaborations with for-profit companies, philanthropic organizations, government grants, and private sources called: donors. These donors often gain from tax cuts for their donations. A NGO normally receives a tender from the donors requesting their services on local, national or international levels to serve specific social or political purposes and that’s why some argue that NGOs should be regarded as lobbyists.
Funding often comes at the cost of freedom. NGOs naturally are controlled and influenced by donors. Sometimes, governmental funding is viewed as controversial because it may support certain political goals rather than a nation’s development goals. In fact, most failures of NGOs are due to funding troubles or unethical work that derives from this dependence.
NGOs are often mistaken for non-profit organizations – NPOs. A NGO might be a NPO, but the difference is that NGOs divide any “extra” funds amongst their shareholders and owners. These extra funds make out the NGO business as it stands today ranging in size from an individual to a complex organization with annual revenues of $1 billion or more. No wonder there exists today more than forty thousand NGOs worldwide. In Madagascar alone, a country with little to no development plans, there were 789 NGOs in 2013.
Back to the south, the system is based on ancestral values, traditions dictate many aspects of the life and death of an individual, the role of family, language, social and economic sustainability. Here, the modern method is not always welcome and resistance to change defeats many of the projects brought by these NGOs. Whereas out of desperation, beneficiaries will take anything the cars arrive with. Donations could be: cash, food, medicine, building materials, livestock, tools, classes, transport, plastics, seeds, jobs… A handful subscribe to these organizations out of conviction in the announced mission, otherwise it’s mostly to try to make profits off a passerby.
NGOs like any revenue-based corporation have to co-exist, compete and maximize their profits. Clashes between NGOs due to conflict of interest are not uncommon. As a photographer, I have had access to sites and operations of several NGOs, talked with workers and beneficiaries, worked on projects together and got a precise insight of their dealings and challenges. I understood that they import bureaucracy, support a system of loopholes, make good money, start initiatives but rarely follow up and influence lives subjectively.
In a nutshell, a NGO is a third party, paid and swayed by donors who could be anyone. They don’t impose questions on donors’ reasons and interests nor where the money came from. Internally, a constant discontent broils over the salary structure disparity between foreigners and locals. Between them, NGOs doing development projects clash with NGOs doing emergency aid projects; they compete rather than collaborate on forming a cohesive development plan to ameliorate conditions.
Beneficiaries on the other hand, are destitute with a growing dependence on organizations like these. They are unaware that when a NGO gives, it is to take back in profit. Beneficiaries do not know that when they accept aid regardless of their need or conviction they are supporting and participating in a system corrupt and that their short term gains are not for free.
This article and photographs are dedicated to the few who see in solidarity a path to progress. Who are actively involved in their communities without outside forces or players. Who are motivated by change for the betterment of all.
Millions of dollars and tons of aid have already washed on the shores of this island, more to come for the profit of everybody except the Malagasy, when will we wake up ?
[a collaborative project with: Safidy Andrianantenaina]