Monday, July 22, 2013

Male & Female Genital Mutilation

I am feeling conflicted about female genital mutilation (FGM) today after reading that male circumcision is considered the same and also has detrimental effects.  People die from botched operations for both male and female but male circumcision is being promoted in Africa and other places as a way to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS.  But also both genital modifications are critical to their cultures.  

For males and females its a way of identifying who belongs to what groups or in some cases demonstrates their religious beliefs.  In most cases the modification takes place before the person is able to consent or object so its not like they have a lot of choice in the matter.  In American culture many parents make the decision to circumcise their sons, but daughters are spared.  In some African cultures, among others around the world, the daughters are circumcised as well.  In South Africa circumcision rituals recently made headlines when 30 young men passing through a circumcision and coming of age ritual died due to botched procedures.

Its interesting to think about how many cry out against FGM but circumcise their sons or are circumcised themselves.  To be clear, I have never been for FGM and still don’t support it.  However, thinking about it in the same light as male circumcision I feel more compassionate and understanding.  Should we just let cultures do their own thing and not judge?  Should parents just leave their kids alone until they are old enough to make their own choice?  I feel that many would opt-out if they were given the chance.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I have lived outside of the United States for more than a 1/3d of my life, in Europe, South America, Asia, and now Africa and never really thought much about a specific community before this week.  When I was in Brazil I tried to become a Brazilian.  In Senegal I had great Senegalese friends who invited me out to the village I still consider some to be good friends.  Europe was easy to make friends and there was tons to do.  However, here in Chad there isn't as much to do and there doesn't seem to be as close of relations between Westerners and locals.  The Chadians I work with a great, but are clear to keep professional and personal lives separate.  

So it seems I am forced to turn inwards to the international community of NGO workers and this is an odd bunch.  Perhaps I didn’t notice it as much in other places because there was more to do and a greater variety of people with which I could interact.  Or maybe the people that come to Chad are just a little off.  I am grateful for the friends I have made and the ones that provide a service and do stuff besides just complaining that there is nothing to do.  One friend hosts a yoga class at his house a couple times a week.  Another group of expats teach tennis on the clay courts at Cite Lamy.

I should find something that I can offer to the community to make this a better place.  I already spend most of my days working on humanitarian assistance projects (developing ideas, shaping them to meet the donors requirements, legal reviews, project management, public relations, training, etc...) and that helps the local community, but I wonder what I can do to help this other community of western NGO workers...  I’ll have to keep thinking.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Grant Money

Since I visited my friend’s schools outside of N'Djamena I have been looking for ways to help out.  The first school we visited only had short-walled buildings with a tin roof that blew off in a recent wind storm and was in great need of repair.  The second school had a couple nice buildings, including a smaller two-room building that was built by a contractor for $10,000 USD and a larger three-room building constructed for the same budget but built by the local community.  I found a couple grant options for building schools but also discovered that the process isn’t so easy.  For example, my grant sources could give me small pots of money (less than $15,000) quite easily but there were all kinds of stipulations.  For example, I couldn’t buy materials and have the community build a school, but I had to hire a contractor to provide the materials and labor.  The bigger problem was that the grant source required for all the construction to be done to US or International standards, which greatly increased the price of the project.  So now the school that would have cost $15,000 built with local labor to Chadian standards would now cost $250,000.  The benefit of the higher cost is that the building should last longer but problems included the length of construction process, more extensive application process, and the applications for my grant source are only accepted once a year and then if selected the funds would only become available 18 months later.  So the process of building a school now is a two to three year process and the cost is 16-times more expensive.

Constructing schools are still worthy projects and I will try to have a couple proposals ready for when my grant source starts accepting applications again.  Unfortunately I won’t be around to see the fruits of the grants and construction process, but in the end the Chadian kids and communities will ultimately benefit.  The smaller $15,000 grants are available for other small projects but always with the caveat that the projects have to be done to US/International standards.  We can dig a well for that dollar amount, but before funds will be released we need to have a hydrological study for the area and there is no funding for the hydrological study.  Maybe I can see if a local orphanage needs beds or supplies as I can spend the $15,000 funds on small projects like this.

The main requirements for these grant funds are that they don’t single out or benefit only one special group, be done to international standards, and fall into at least one of the following four categories. (1) Disaster risk reduction, mitigation, or preparedness, (2) health related projects and activities, (3) education support, and (4) basic infrastructure.  Any ideas?