I read with sadness at the weekend that Niall Mellon is winding down his operations in South Africa. This surprised me. My sadness that is.
Although I’m now working for the Irish Red Cross, I previously worked for Oxfam, and at that time we had legitimate questions over his approach. Why send all these Irish people over to South Africa to build houses? Why not employ local tradesmen and pump more money into the local economy, creating a multiplier effect? What of the stories that the houses were flogged by local people as soon as the Irish had left?
And some part of me found the tinge of tourism a little hard to take.
I have no doubt there are answers to all these questions. No one else was building them so why not the Irish? There was probably a lack of local skilled tradesmen. Bringing Irish people galvanised and inspired an army of fundraisers who might never have raised as much money for the people in South Africa without those first-hand connections and experiences.
And as for the charge of tourism, well if we’re honest, any of us who have been lucky enough to travel to parts of the developing world with international NGOs are guilty as charged. It may be work, but of course it is being done somewhere fascinating and exotic, meeting people one would never otherwise ever have met. Having one’s horizons expanded and experience of humanity deepened. People in glass houses and all that…
But above all one thing stands out: there was a need.
In our business the need is infinite. It is one of the reasons why new charities are forever springing up. No one charity could ever cover it all. People sometimes ask me why there isn’t more consolidation in the charity sector. They think we are all “doing the same thing”, when actually we are all responding to different people in different circumstances and places. My reply is that as long as the need is infinite, there will always be inspired people of goodwill and generosity who will want to do something about it.
People like Niall Mellon. I salute you.
From Ronan Ryan, Head of Fundraising and Communications