29 Jul 2011

Why I Became a Mediterranea Member

When I didn’t have money I thought that the best thing would be to share what you have left over with people who don’t have money.  But as I was growing up and did have money I became mistrustful of NGO’s.  I had heard over the years that NGO’s were a business and that only a small part of what their members gave reached those it was intended for.  This wasn’t only rumours, some very well know NGO’s had been exposed by the media.  It seemed that there was no way to support people in far off countries without the probability of being conned.  I ended up thinking that the only thing to be done was share with people you know and look on as a passive and resigned spectator as those people in far off lands suffered from hunger, illness and bad luck.

In this way I reached my early thirties and decided to become a mother.  I ended up being the happy adoptive mother of my son who was born in Ethiopia.  The motivation I had always felt to participate in bringing a better life to those in need I now directed towards those in Ethiopia.  It was no longer a resigned and passive desire to help, I now felt an urgency to do something concrete and no longer allow time to pass, slide away, disappear.  I didn’t want to reach my end and repent all those things I had not done.

Even with this renewed motivation I continued to search but could not decide what to do.  Another Spanish mother of an Ethiopian boy told me that she had sent money to the orphanage from where she had adopted her son.  However during my trip to collect my son, I may have been paranoid but I didn’t trust the Ethiopians working in the adoption agency and I didn’t trust the director of the orphanage of my son, so for me to send money to that orphanage, to that director, was not an option.

I found over the web some NGO’s working in Ethiopia.  Some were religious and although I believe that many Ethiopians need help I didn’t feel that they should have to adopt a new religion in order to receive it.  I suppose if I would consider myself Catholic then I would think differently.  Other NGO’s gave the impression of being lost, trying to do things from a great distance in a country very different and unknown.  And when an NGO speaks of the ‘great friendliness of Ethiopia’ and it being ‘a fascinating country’ it grates on my ears.  All countries and their people have their charm but also their defects, and it is these that I like to hear about because if you ignore these then it is impossible to move forward.

This was my situation when I discovered by chance the blog of Mediterranea.  An NGO with projects in various parts of the world focused on people who need help.  And based close by in the Baleares.  I read and read and began to have the sensation that perhaps it would be the NGO that I would choose.  I liked many things: first that by reading the blog I could learn a lot about Ethiopia, the good and the bad, not only the wonderful things about the country and it’s people.  I understood that the mistrust that I had felt during my trip to Addis Ababa probably wasn’t all paranoia brought on by the exhaustion of my trip but that it could have been a real intuition of a level of corruption in a society where many times it’s difficult to get on without it.  I read that Mediterranea had faced this reality not once but many times in its efforts to fulfil it’s projects.  Some, like their cooperation with Birhan School had to be stopped because they would not accept corruption and the loss of money to people who take advantage.

Secondly, I liked that they gave not only the good and the bad but also the evolution of the projects in which the money of their members was being spent: the difficulties, the achievements and even the failures.  It is difficult to part with your hard earned money if you can’t see what this money does but here in the Mediterranea blog you can see and it gives you a lot of pleasure to spend your money in this way.

Thirdly I liked the flexibility and creativity of the NGO: if they reach a dead end with a project they leave it and use all the resources and materials on another project.  An example of this occurred recently when they were unable to move ahead with a new school for the blind when everything had been prepared, including volunteers already travelling.  They switched and reoriented immediately to an existing school that was in need of help, Sebeta.  This flexibility is possible because Mediterranea is a true NGO, ‘Non Governmental Organisation’; different to most NGO’s they receive no money from any government office and so are not ‘tied’ to projects.  They don’t have to respond to or be accountable to anyone except their own members and so are able to change course, as needs demand without having to follow long bureaucratic paths. 

Finally I liked the projects that the NGO takes on: not the sad projects of filling stomachs today that will be empty again tomorrow; not the building of classrooms that will decay because there are no teachers or books or students because they are hungry, or because there’s no one to maintain the buildings but the simple bringing of help – and if needed the filling of stomachs – to people who will be able to look after themselves when the help ends.  Collaborating with schools, where in addition to educating the children they provide food to ensure that the children can attend school, they create kindergartens as in Abugida so that mothers can work instead of begging with their babies…In addition they give work in the projects to Ethiopians that need it and not to Spanish.  The NGO has no employees; every member gives their work freely as a volunteer.  They take time and effort to make sure that the Ethiopians employed in the projects learn to do things well and later frequently supervise them to ensure that the good work continues and that the money of its members is used well and that things function properly. 

All these good things however could just have been fictional, a story created on the blog to make us members feel good and make those who have created the story rich.  But the difference to the other NGO’s is that I found on the internet and without having to look very hard the full names of the people responsible for the NGO and where they can be found in real life, everything is very clear: the person responsible for Ethiopia in Mediterranea is called Victoria Baldo, and the office that has no employees or expenses is the medical centre where she works.  She makes her living as a doctor and her trips, pleasures, sorrows in Ethiopia are not her business but something she does for free because she loves to.  And members who want can visit Mediterranea’s projects, not only finance them.  They can also participate in them as volunteers.

My search for an NGO working in Ethiopia that I liked and could trust in coincided with my search for the mother of my son.  I only had her name and didn’t know how to find her and yet had an ever-increasing urge to find her.  I wanted my son to know the mother who bore him so that he could grow up without that feeling of emptiness.  At a loss as what to do it occurred to me to write to Victoria even though I didn’t know her.  I didn’t know anyone else who knew the country and who could advise me.  Thus, very embarrassed to bother her with things that she has nothing to do with and were completely unconnected to Mediterranea, I wrote her an email.  Almost immediately she replied!  I had been thinking to become a member of Mediterranea but to discover not only that Victoria was a real person but that I was able to contact her so easily and that she was prepared to help us without knowing us was the final push that made me fill in the membership form and finally become a member.  Since then I have read with ever more interest the postings on the blog and I am very happy to form a part of Mediterranea.

Lurdes Escario - Mediterranea Member

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