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Striving for Development, Not Just Aid

June 25, 2010 - Uganda

by Allison Glennon and Jonathan White

The difference between humanitarian aid and international development can be ambiguous.  It is oftentimes hard to tell where the line is drawn between providing temporary aid to a people in need, versus truly helping them to rebuild and develop.

Real Medicine’s goal has always been to start with aid but move beyond that as soon as possible, and provide sustainable and truly internal development over the long term.  The old proverb of “Give a man a fish vs. teaching a man to fish” is very close to what RMF tries to achieve with many of our projects around the world.

Watching other aid groups leave only months after the 2005 tsunami in Sri Lanka, Real Medicine made a vow to stay and truly rebuild. Newly formed, at the time, RMF’s work at the time was considered disaster relief but before long it was clear that our scope was beyond that, and perhaps even beyond traditional humanitarian aid.

Today, years later in 2010, Real Medicine’s Director of International Relations, Jonathan White, traveled to one of RMF’s biggest projects at the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement in Uganda and found out first hand how this willingness to stay and challenge the conventional norms of aid vs. development can end up saving lives in a very different way.

With the help and backing of World Children’s Fund, Real Medicine does everything from providing health care, to fixing boreholes, to supporting the children and paying for school fees in the Kiryandongo refugee camp, home to Ugandan, Kenyan, Sudanese and Congolese refuges.

“Our impact here is enormous,” says White, “through the eyes of the 6,000 refugees living in this community; our projects touch almost every area of life in this settlement.”

From this standpoint, Real Medicine helps keep the community here stable allowing the community there to live and thrive–but there is still something missing. Setting up care and sustaining it was not enough, and it took some bored teens to shine the light on what could be the final step for this community and for true humanitarian development.

“The main thing repeated time and time again to me while visiting was that they need is some sort of vocational training center for teen and adults, “says White, “many bright teens are graduating from the schools we support with a good education, but with no trade skills, they aren’t qualified for any local jobs and they are turning to alcohol to dull their boredom and frustration.”

Watching their educated children and other young adults stagnate and slip into destructive activities, the community held a meeting with Jonathan while he was visiting, to intervene and try and save their children’s future. Three vocations were listed as those in high demand not only in the settlement but in the surrounding towns as well: carpentry, tailoring, and hairdressing.

“With vocational training these kids can find jobs that will allow them to support their families one day,” says Jonathan, “and that is the main point of what Real Medicine is trying to achieve—help people get back on their feet, and no longer need the aid from outside.  These refugees have seen many humanitarian organizations come and go over the years and know that the only real long term solution is for them to be able to return to work in some capacity and rebuild their own lives independently.”

Working with the community we hope that donors will respond to this need with the same excitement that we have and help us move forward with a vocational program that will ensure that these teens, many of whom they have supported through school, are able to cross the final threshold and sustain their own lives.

Funding is needed to cover the costs purchasing carpentry, tailoring and hairdressing equipment/tools as well as covering the salary of the instructors.

Read more about the Kiryandongo Refugee Camp, RMF Uganda

Text RMF to 85944
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