About two decades ago, as a cub reporter at one of the two print media giants, I was a newsroom resource of little consequence and so my editors placed me on call to periodically travel the country with several NGOs, covering their projects and documenting the success stories (only success stories) for the newspaper’s features page.
It was during these numerous sojourns that a new catch phrase happened: holistic approach.
While this phrase did not seem to have particular ownership and proprietorship among the NGO sector, it was generally used to define the NGOs’ rounded and inclusive approach to human life – from health, education to sanitation.
For purposes of clarity, the quasi-dictionary on my laptop defines a holistic approach as taking care of something totally in all aspects.
“As an example, when we are saying holistic living it means a complete and vast understanding of all the aspect of our life and way of living, it covers everything that enable us to live healthy and happy.
“…it includes the status of our body, mind and spiritual well-being, it is not restricted to find out the disease if there is any and cure it. It is taken as all the component of a being are interdependent and affect others in less or more way to get overall health and to create and maintain a healthy and blissful state of our body, mind, and spirit.”
What I understood the NGOs to mean was that, in their unflinching quest to cast out the demons of poverty, they were keen on ensuring that all aspects of a person’s needs were addressed – hence, holistic. As in whole.
Like I alluded to earlier, that was many years ago.
I was a tired, mostly hungry, impatient, rash, underpaid, underappreciated and overworked young cub reporter.
So, once the tour of duty was completed and I had drunk away the particular NGO’s ‘allowance’, I sat down on the computer to compose a flowery feature to impress my benefactors, who in turn, would use the article to impress their sponsors.
It was a win-win situation. They eat, I eat. We all eat. No crime was committed here.
Of course, my judgement was partially impaired and heavily compromised and, in all honesty, the articles neither represented the situation on the ground nor did they try to examine the underlying problems.
As I have moved up the ranks in the newsroom – sub-editing and then editing – this tradition has continued to exist and grow and has become a sub-culture in its own right. Reporters knocking off on Thursday for the weekend will ask you if you have any chipondamtengo assignment for the weekend.
And then the chipondamtengo stories start flooding in on Sunday and Monday.
While one feels a moral obligation to curb this vice, how does one stop a lowly-paid junior from trying to make ends meet? Regardless of the means?
But I do realise now that this folly of thought is one of the major problems that has allowed this malaise to become the rule rather than the exception.
As journalists, we have been amiss in our duties as gatekeepers; in holding those in position in the NGO sector to account.
We have been complicit in this crime and, over time, we seem to have forgotten who we serve between the people and the paymaster.
I wish we showed the same enthusiasm and hunger in investigating the NGOs as we do with government instead of parroting verbatim off their little red book.
For starters, while reports of massive corruption and cases of Cashgate in the NGO sector are common knowledge, they usually go unreported by the media. And even if these cases are reported, it is not with the same enthusiasm as is done with katangale wa boma.
That aside, one has yet to see the NGO sector being held to account for the many problems that they have brought to the rural masses or the lack of accountability for their projects.
We remember truly well how DCs in Ntchisi and Rumphi in the past years raised concerns on how the NGOs in their areas congested their resources in certain areas while in other areas in the same district there were no NGOs for miles on end.
It makes one wonder what kind of impact the NGOs seek to impact when they seem so grossly out-of-touch with the reality on the ground.
Which brings me to the final point.
What impact can the NGO sector point to in Malawi since they entered the fray versus the billions of dollars that have been spent on eradicating poverty?
Because, if I remember pretty well, the global poverty index says Malawi is poorer today than she was 20 years ago.
While it is government’s core duty to work towards alleviating poverty, one notes that most of the NGOs say that their mission is to complement government’s efforts. And, in all fairness, when these efforts come to nought, both government and non-governmental organisations should bear the brunt.
And both parties should be weighed on the same scale.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :