My name is Jordan Pescrillo and I am currently a Global Studies major completing my final year at St. Lawrence University. My blog, "The NGO Monitor" is a research journal (so bear with me if I go a little off topic sometimes...) for my year-long honors project. I will attempt to critique grassroots humanitarian approaches of non-government organizations (NGO) particularly in East Africa and South Asia. My experiences studying abroad in Kenya, interning at Soft Power Education in Uganda, and working on establishing a NGO in Nepal will help aid the conversation as well as share my personal stories as well as others who live abroad. I hope to continuously address a SLU alumni named Katie Nelson's question: "Are we really changing anything?" Also, in the age of social media, I hope to identify the changes in local, grassroots NGO work as more people obtain access to media and global networks.
So, what is a NGO anyway? Well, it depends on who you ask. The UN claims that NGOs are "independent citizen organizations" and are often "the most effective voices for the concerns of ordinary people in the international area" who advocate for human rights, the environment, social programs, women's rights and sometimes unintentionall political change. NGOs range from large, international NGOs to community based or grassroots, to city-wide, and to nationally based NGOs. They also vary in orientation. They are mostly classified as: service oriented, empowering, charitable, and/or participatory.
Why do I care? The first week I entered St. Lawrence, I received an e-mail from a Nepali student named Brijlal Chaudhari that simply stated, "Do you want to go to Nepal? Do you want to help educate people in Nepal?" Ever since then, I have been involved in an organization called Literacy for Nepal at St. Lawrence. I had the opportunity to get my first look at grassroots organizations on the ground in Nepal in the summer of 2009. My experiences in Nepal quickly ended my naive perspectives of NGOs and their agents for social change. Although I believed our cause was making a substantial difference, the challenges and dramatic influence of foreign aid slowly began to be revealed.
My critique of NGOs continued when I studied abroad in Kenya in the fall of 2010. We probably traveled to dozens of NGOs and interacted with foreign-owned NGOs on a daily basis. Through some truly empowering experiences as well as horror stories of robbed NGOs and kidnappings, I have begun to ask more critical questions about the nature of NGOs in a globalized age. I hope to take positive local experiences from my point of view as well as many I met in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to develop a revealing understandings of NGOs and the identities they help produce in the developing world.
Why should this matter to you? Well, I am guessing you have donated a dollar at your favorite coffee shop or have or know someone who has adopted a child via Save the Children. Have you ever wondered if that dollar truly was making it to the child you donated it to? Do you have proof that you made a positive difference the day you opened your wallet? The purpose of this blog is to begin revealing the underreported nature of NGO accountability and the various local voices of people affected by NGOs on a daily basis.