We drove an hour and a half into the “bush” to meet with this young boy, Evod, who we were told was the best in the class, now that he was attending school regularly with assistance with our nonprofit. I was working on a child labor project in rural Tanzania and assigned to conduct interviews with our most successful clients. Evod was previously at significant risk to being engaged in child labor due to his finances, lack of importance placed on education, a culture that supports child labor and by few viable alternatives.
He was shy and quiet the entire interview, looking down a majority of the time. When I did finally make eye contact with him, I noticed that his eyes involuntarily shook. Evod told me that he has an eye issue that makes it difficult to focus on what he sees. He had to stand impractically close to the board in order to see anything written. Even then it was challenging for him. He studied four hours every day outside of class to make up for the challenge, and reflected in his impressive test schools at school. I asked if he had ever received treatment for his eye condition and was told he once went to a free mobile clinic that came to the village, but by the time he got to the front of the line, the clinic had closed for the day and had not since returned.
I spoke with my team members and asked if there was any way we could help Evod. They sympathized but argued that it was outside of the non-profit's mandate and that funding couldn't be taken from the grant to help this boy. His eye condition did not make him more susceptible to being exploited for child labor. I understand their constraints, but had access to resources and a responsibility to do something. So I started doing Internet research (don’t WebMD anything, it’ll scare you) and reaching out to friends and family. I sought advice from ophthalmologists back home and was told that it would be best to have him checked out in person. So I found the only ophthalmologist, Dr. Kibadi, in the region and brought Evod in for a consultation. We were lucky to schedule an appointment, he only comes near to Evod's village once a month.
After receiving permission from the local government to take Evod and his uncle to the doctor, we went to see Dr. Kibadi. Long story short, Evod was diagnosed with a congenital condition. While there was nothing that could be done to solve his condition, we could lessen his symptoms through glasses and a good diet.
While it was by no means a complete solution, at least Evod and his family have information on his condition and are better equipped to handle it. It was simply a lack of resources that prevented them from accessing this information earlier.
I was obviously happy to do my part, but also a little discouraged. While Evod and his family were happy with the results, it was also a bandaid solution to his eye issues. I wasn't going to be in Tanzania forever to continue to help this little boy, and what would happen to him when I was gone?
The way I see it, there are three lessons at play. Non-profits are often limited in addressing solutions to issues that are all-encompassing. While my agency would be on the ground far longer than I was there, there simply wasn't funding for what this little boy needed, the mandates for non-profits are narrow. It's understandable to keep funding limited, because this creates much needed oversight, but flexibility is also required. And we don't always understand an issue fully when creating grant proposals. There are often other issues and needs that arise while pursuing non-profit work. That's why I love what we do here at RoHo - we have the ability to adapt to the needs of our artisans a lot quicker than if we were a non-profit
The second lesson exemplifies one of RoHo's core principles - that poverty has as much to do with lack of opportunity as lack of financial means. Evod not having the opportunity to seek assistance for his eyes were a barrier to him, and having $40 to support him made a difference, however small.
The last lesson is more of a reminder. If you're ever in a position (financial or otherwise) to help another person, do it. We'd all be a little better off if we took more time to support one another.
I'm not writing this as self-congratulatory, because I'm sure there was more I could have done. But rather a reminder to all of us to be the best global citizens possible.