A short visit in the world of development in the suburbs of Pondicherry: A donor – beneficiary story

As long as I recall there has been a critique on where all the foreign aid is going. The critics would say that aid is just a way of making the wealthy West wealthier. The Liberals on the other hand would consider aid as a way to integrate and develop the rest of the decolonized world.

The following is a true story of how the relationship between donors and beneficiaries is constructed. David and Paula, a couple from England, have been giving money every year to an NGO (Non- Governmental Organization) named Karuna. The organization in Britain receives money from thousands of generous people like David and Paula every year. The organization has certain values that they care about. In this story the focus will be on women empowerment and Dalit discrimination.

ADECOM is an NGO based in Pondicherry on the south east coast of India, in the region called Tamil Nadu. Despite the distance between the donor and the receiver, both organizations maintain a great relationship.

On their annual holiday, David and Paula decided to engage with reality. They have been giving money for 25 years. Finally they called Karuna, got a permission through ADECOM to visit the VTC (Village Training Center), and a few mouse-clicks later had organized a trip to India.

Finally on New-year’s day, the entire office at ADECOM was stuffed with people. David and Paula got the best chairs at the center. They were given a big golden necklace and were treated as VIPs. They listened to different speakers, who described the current situation and explained how the organization works towards future goals and visions for the society. The speeches turned out to be more of a question and answer session about the issues at hand.

After being offered a lunch, the car took them off to the VTC in the suburbs of Pondicherry. The women at the center are waiting. Now, finally their donors were coming, to see them sew. The women at the VTC explained in Tamil and demonstrated the skills. Some children ran around and the atmosphere was joyful. David and Paula got to talk to the women through an interpreter. They heard stories of how women without a prospect for a future actually had been empowered and the money coming in from the other continent was not in vain.

Some of the skills taught in VTC are sewing. The program is initiated to empower Dalit women in their struggle to find an income to survive on. In India today, 165 000 000 Dalits or “untouchables” are struggeling for survival. The discrimination is worst for women since both the gender- and the caste system works against them.

In the end Paula admitted that it had been very difficult for her in this situation. She felt like she had been an audience watching a show where women at the bottom of social ladder were forced to demonstrate their skills. In a perfect world this type of relationship wouldn’t be necessary. Not many organizations would let Westerners visit their projects. According to Paula, that’s because it leads to an uncomfortable situation between the donor and  beneficiaries when they meet.

The day ends with photos taken of everyone together at the training center. The mission is accomplished. The links in the production chain of aid are sealed. From the donor on the street giving money in London, through a Western organization, directly to an Indian organization and finally to the Dalit women in Pondicherry we have followed the relationships established. Later the clothes manufactured in the training center will be sold, providing an independent income for 50 women in rural India. The traditional view of just helping a few rather than none is accomplished, and the world continues its daily life like all of the other 364 days a year – but maybe with a few more smiles than before.

Carl Larsson, Linnaeus University, Sweden

At the ceremony in the suburb of Pondicherry. Here, the women at the center demonstrate their products from the village training center. David and Paula are looking at the outcome from the program they are supporting from England.   

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