As a drowning prevention organisation working in Africa, we are often caught in the middle of requests coming from both sides.
Often, we get organisations in the UK offering to donate equipment to be flown over to the country we are working in. This might be small things like whistles or swimming hats, but sometimes it is bigger things like rescue cans or manikins.
Frequently, we get organisations in Africa sending us a shopping list of things that they would like to support their organisation. Again, this can be small things like whistles but often it is things like paddleboards.
Over the years that we have been working in Sudan, our approach has altered and our stance is firm.
Africa has a booming economy, and almost everything is available there. No, the quality of the lifeguard shorts aren’t quite the same as the branded Hurley Phantom’s, and no, the whistles are not a Fox40.
However, the question we ask is “For the money spent on purchasing the items, sending them over, and paying the import tax, can we achieve a greater impact in another way?” The answer is generally “yes”.
Often the small things, like whistles and shorts can be purchased locally for less than the cost of buying them in the donor’s country.
The additional thorny problem is taking over 15 whistles (for example) for a course that we had said can have a maximum of 12 participants, and finding that actually 16 people are attending. It’s always awkward to leave someone out.
We have seen in Sudan, and elsewhere, that when high-value items are purchased or donated, they then are locked away so that they are kept in good condition. I have witnessed lifesaving rings chained to the wall. When challenged on this, we were told that it was so that when the police investigated a drowning they could see that there was rescue equipment in place. It really didn’t cross their minds that it might be useful for that rescue equipment to be available to use.
If we are bringing rescue tubes or rescue cans over from donors, do they really want them to be locked away in the manager’s office? Would we really be honouring that donor’s gift if we did that? Often, it doesn’t matter what we say to the recipients; once we’ve boarded the flight, the item will be locked away.
We would be interested to hear if anybody else has had similar experiences running training in low income countries. Please comment below.