Where are SA's benefactors?

2012-11-30 00:00

IN October this year, I attended the eighth Pan African Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Each continent holds these conferences every fourth year. The seventh Pan African Conference was hosted by the South African Red Cross Society in Johannesburg in 2008. When all the continents have had their turn, an international conference or General Assembly is held, the next one scheduled to take place in Australia in 2013.

 

Coming back to the Addis Ababa conference, the theme of the conference was intriguing — Investing in Africa. One might wonder what the Red Cross has to do with investment — African Red Cross Societies are dependent on foreign aid, largely from Europe and the United States — but the theme was an invitation to African Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to reflect on fundamental issues facing the humanitarian sector.

First, there is a realisation that foreign aid-based investments continue to fail to deliver the expected returns. Instead, foreign aid increases dependency and compromises local capacities to seize new development opportunities brought about by increased private sector investments in Africa. Sadly, without this foreign aid, African Red Cross Societies cannot provide humanitarian services.

Second, much of foreign aid comes from within the Red Cross movement outside the continent. There is little evidence of support by national governments and the business community, despite the Red Cross movement being expected to deliver humanitarian services to many poor and vulnerable populations. The South African Red Cross Society is no exception to this predicament.

Third, poverty is growing at an alarming scale. This means more households will require the services of the Red Cross. Let me share one example with you. A single donor in the United Kingdom, through the British Red Cross, has supported the KwaZulu-Natal HIV/Aids Home-Based Care Programme with more than £15 million to date. The numbers are astonishing. This project has engaged and trained over 1 500 home-based care volunteers. These volunteers receive monthly stipends. They care for over 18 500 people in different rural villages in KwaZulu-Natal living with HIV/Aids and TB. Care includes provision of food parcels, providing taxi fares to hospitals and clinics, and ensuring that patients do not default on their medication, etc.

In some cases, volunteers clean the house, fetch water and prepare meals for their patients. The same project supports more than 18 000 orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs) in the province. This includes psychosocial support, provision of food and clothing, and ensuring that these children go to school. Over 600 support groups are in operation and support the project. Lastly, the project has recruited and trained over 850 peer educators to conduct awareness-raising sessions addressing stigma and discrimination, promoting safer sexual practices and engaging communities on gender-based violence and its effects. This is one of the very few projects that has turned previously bed-ridden Aids patients into proud and committed home-based carers.

Interestingly, this donor is now challenging South Africans to invest in such programmes. He is prepared to provide 100% of match funding for whatever amount is raised locally. In simple terms, if SA Red Cross can raise half a billion, the donor will put down the same. Sadly, South Africans, the government and the business community are not coming forward. Let me quickly say that money alone does not translate into investment. Without the volunteers, such programmes would grind to a complete stop.

 

What does investing in the Red Cross mean? It is a combination of many things. Red Cross is the biggest voluntary and humanitarian organisation on Earth. Every person can become a volunteer and invest the time, skills and resources to support its humanitarian work. How long are we going to ignore social problems in our neighbourhoods and hope that a miracle will come with foreign donors?

I find it very hard to swallow that our own South African millionaires and billionaires turn a blind eye to this humanitarian endeavour. Investment is about being relevant to humanitarian and development challenges, particularly those affecting poor and vulnerable communities. Is your organisation doing that?

It means making efforts to transfer your unique skills to the humanitarian sector so that communities remain stable and are able to produce the skilled workers that a market-led economy needs.

Volunteers are not driven by personal gain. They are people who are willing to provide leadership and guidance, and build sustainable relationships with communities and development stakeholders, wherever they are. It means helping those many non-profit organisations that are active in many communities. It means doing more of what we do on Mandela Day. It means strengthening the social movement, a movement that will remain relevant to the development challenges, such as the devastating impact of climate change, food insecurity and growing levels of poverty due to urbanisation and unemployment.

This is not only about the Red Cross; it is a social movement that works with all institutions and people, regardless of race, colour, gender, social status and creed. It is a movement that makes it cool for our youth to volunteer and make their communities better places to live in. It is an action that brings hope to many South African households that one day scientists, economists, professionals, academics and decision-makers will emerge from these communities. This is the investment I am talking about. You are cordially invited to join the movement of change. You have the humanitarian drive to make change where you are.

 

 

• Nqe Dlamini is a rural development consultant and chairperson of the national board of the SA Red Cross.

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