That there is a dark side to the world of NGOs, or non-government organizations, is nothing new. The fact that the charity groups that are supposed to uplift the lives of the less fortunate sometimes become channels of greed that exploit the misery of others is not a secret, which has made people wary of mere blind giving, and has caused a greater demand for transparency and accountability with such organisations worldwide.
But, a certain Singaporean actor, who allegedly gives $100,000 a year to a Cambodian school, does not bother to find out if his money goes to its intended recipients.
One Cambodian educator and tour guide talks about NGOs in his country, specifically in Siem Reap, which are often a front for unscrupulous individuals to enrich themselves without regulation from the government. Unfortunately, neither do these organisations seem to make themselves answerable to their donors.
Dork Silong wrote a blog post entitled “So, You Want to Build Me a House?” – When Volunteering Fuels the Wrong Things (Part One), wherein he talks about Cambodia’s NGO world and its enablers, including the aforementioned actor from Singapore.
He writes, “Many of my friends, who were my classmates at university, came from the eastern part of Siem Reap.
What I have come to know is that in this area, everyone dreams of owning an NGO, because it is seen as the best way to get rich.”
Since he had studied how to write a curriculum at university and had good English skills, friends who had wanted to set up a school would ask him for help.
Eventually, one friend asked him to write a fundraising proposal.
“I had thought I was doing it for the benefit of the community. But, something that one of my friends said to me really challenged that idea.
“He basically said: “If you write this proposal for me I will give you 30 percent of the money.”
“I was shocked, and asked him: “Aren’t you helping people with this money?” and his response was: “Yes, but I am also helping myself. I will get rich from this.”
Mr Silong was shocked since he believed that “NGO work should come from the heart”.
This was just the beginning of the nasty awakening he was to have about the world of NGOs in Cambodia. He wrote,
“The NGOs were desperate to propose some kind of building project – they wanted to build a school, a library, a toilet block. But the reason for that is just that you can get a lot of money for building projects and it is easy to keep most of that money in your pocket.
For example, a local-style building in Cambodia costs about $5-6000 to build, but in the proposal, they will write it in as at least $10,000.
There is no kind of accountability at all. Many people say they are going to build a school but when I see the design it looks more like a house.
When I ask them why it looks like that the answer is that the NGO will only last for a few years, and when it closes down they will have the land, they will have the building and they can use it as their house. Really it is just a way for those people to get someone else to build their house for them.”
It had gotten to the point, he writes, that parents in east Siem Reap wanted their children to marry people with NGOs because this meant that they were rich.
Mr Silong clarified that he knew that many NGOs in his country are doing good work to help people’s lives. The bad NGOs he referred to are found in Siem Reap and Mr Silong writes that “the big reason for that is that there are lots of tourists in Siem Reap, who can be easily convinced to part with money if it looks like a good cause.”.
“These NGOs don’t do any kind of impact assessment. The NGOs will be able to tell you about a lot of input and a lot of processes, but if you ask about the impact it is basically zero.”
And, then he got to the Singaporean actor, whom he did not name.
“One of my friends managed to get a famous Singaporean actor to sponsor his school by giving him $100,000 every year. And as soon as he got the first instalment he bought himself a Lexus and invited me round for a party. I tried to talk to him about it and he said: ‘If I do work shouldn’t I get paid for it?’
I wonder now whether the situation also works just as well for the Singaporean actor – he gets to tell everyone that he supports a school in Cambodia but he doesn’t really need to care if it is making an impact. That guy is really popular now, everyone loves him because of his “social work” and he gets invited to do a lot of adverts with big companies, for example.”
Hopefully, friends of this famous Singaporean actor, whoever he may be, have forwarded the Cambodian educator’s article to him, and it causes him to do due diligence in demanding accountability for his donations. In this day and age when there are people around the world who genuinely need financial assistance, it would be a shame if distrust were to be built in those who are in a position to extend a helping hand. /TISG