Are We Really Doing Good? (Myanmar Edition)

January 11th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.” – Mark Twain.

This is the third in a series. The first two posts concerned our child raising efforts in Thailand.

NGO’s often hide some kinds of problems if possible. Certainly not the problems they address in the world. They want you to know all about those so you will donate to help eliminate them. Internal problems are different. Suppose an employee embezzles a significant amount, or maybe a scandal of some sort. Who wants to donate to an organization just to have your money wind up in someone’s personal pocket or support something much worse? Being honest about these can be a disaster and hurt the reputation of the organization long term. Often their hold over the donors is not very strong to begin with. There are no shortages of places to put your money or nice appearing organizations claiming to put it to the best use. Even though you are working all out to fix the problem, if word gets out a lot of support can evaporate. In looking into this subject I find that in general, NGO’s indeed often do hide issues of this sort. It’s a survival issue and they feel they have no choice.

This children’s library is well supplied, although we so far had not given any books here. We found out later only people like us see it. The kids apparently don’t have access. Well, it was nice and neat.

Problems will occur, however, if what you’re doing is at all different from what is already being done or if you are doing it in a new place. One problem that I think is present more than any of us would like is that of simply not being effective. You’re doing something and it looks good, but in the end it does not result in anything useful.

This year’s Nargis Library trip to Myanmar was a success in many ways, not the least of which were our workshops. There was one problem, however, and I’ll take the risk and tell you about it. We determined a number of libraries to which we gave children’s books have kept them in locked rooms or on locked shelves. The books are not getting to the kids. About the only use they do have in this case is to show off to visiting dignitaries, like us, or George Soros, who we heard visited one such library at a school a day or two after we did. That library was a very nice one, which while small had nice shelves and small sized colorful furniture for children. In this case we had not given any books to the library, and will not unless things change.

Looking at the people involved, it is not too hard to see how this happens. On one side we have librarians whose directive is often “protect the books” or at a few larger schools where for administrators it is “show a nice facility to impress donors”. There may be some cases where lost or damaged books are deducted from a librarians pay. When you make $60 a month that can hurt.

On the other side we have somewhat grubby village or small town six year old child living without any plumbing. Who is going to “protect the books”? How will the children’s library impress potential donors if its get extensive use from children like this?

Kids in Myanmar really go for these books. Many have never seen the like before. (Photo Thant Thaw)

Each book is pretty, colorful and in good condition when the Burmese get it. A valuable item, but they see its value differently than we do. We want children to have as much access to the books as they can use. We want them to learn from the books at home and at school. Their value is different to us. We get them free in the US from Thriftbooks and ship them over one 40 foot container at a time. We pay little or nothing to distribute them to the places that don’t have such things through the monks, World Vision and others. We are trying to convince libraries to let the books wear out from use. We’ll replace them.

Sue has already been through this in the Indian slum school she has. Its library has books we brought over in a container a few years back. It was a difficult process to keep the book shelves from being locked up. The teachers just had to protect the books. It has been an amazingly difficult process to make the teachers there allow the children free access to the books. Can we convince the librarians in Myanmar with whom we do not have as much control? None of us are sure right now, and the school administrators could be even more difficult. We’re working on it. We are also developing our follow up methods. How do you think we figured out what we know now?

We are thinking about plan B. As we do more workshops we have three days to convince teachers to teach completely new ways using common children’s books like “Rosie’s Walk” or “Dear Zoo”. It’s pretty clear that they are getting the idea and are changing. We’ve already met some teachers a few days after the workshops and got glowing descriptions of their use of our methods in their classrooms. Hopefully our follow up next year will confirm all of this. While we have this captive audience why not also enlist them to get our books into the hands of the children as well? They are definitely changing in one area. We are pretty sure they can change in this one also.

The purpose of Nargis Library Recovery.

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  1. Richard
    January 11th, 2012 at 22:52 | #1

    Hi AJack and Sue.. Loved catching up with what you are doing and awesome posts. Smiles to you both and Happy New Year. Richard

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