Lessons I learned.

As I begin my second posting, I would like to share my experience as a poor provider of supply side.

It’s almost a two-year-old story that happened in a small island called “Olango” located near Cebu, Philippines. I took my very first trip to Philippines as a volunteer camp leader, with a group of 20 high school students. The camp was organized by Korean NGO and they worked with other Philippine-based organization. My duty was to facilitate communication between two organizations, organize and design the camp programs, and more importantly take care of young Korean participants.

We were assigned to help the villagers to build and paint primary school buildings, to help maintaining facilities at island’s sanctuary which is the main source of island’s income apart from shell crafts, and to prepare and conduct education sessions for little kids at elementary schools on the island. Prior to the camp, participants and I got together and spent many days trying to design ideas for education programs. We wanted to do something creative, instructive and still interesting for the kids. Yet there was a major constraint. We didn’t know anything about the kids and the school. Only thing we were told was that we would visit elementary schools and teach lower graders. I wished we had had more specific information: the number of students, regular school curriculums, interest, etc…

Still we were able to prepare for the session. The ideas we came up with were, paper folding as an icebreaking activity mainly for younger group, English vocabulary quiz for lower graders, world geography and history class for upper graders, art class and hand washing programs for every level. Students and I rehearsed day and night from the day we arrived, and on the day of education workshop we showed them what we’ve prepared. Overall the program went well and students both the participants and at school had good time… However to me, it didn’t feel right,, felt like some pieces were falling apart and missing. I had to look back on our journey to figure out what went wrong.


I found out that

  1. Kids at school were used to having one-day sessions with volunteers from other countries and they were better prepared than we were in some ways. They meet volunteers like us at least twice a year, and knew what they’re going to provide them with. Whereas we went there not knowing what to expect.
  2. A lot more students showed up that day, so we were short of materials – crayons and papers – for art classes, and we had to improvise PE class.
  3. It was very difficult for us to do hand washing program. Outrageously there was no running water even at schools. How could you do teach someone how to wash their hands when there is no running water? My team had to go and fetch water in buckets from our base-camp, which was about 10-15 minute walk from the school, over and over during the session. Kids at school found it really interesting but my team was in panic when we found out that there’s no water source.
  4. Lastly, by end of the day, I got to think how helpful the programs were to the kids at school? Is there any way to make those programs more effective and sustainable, so even with one day program, we could spend more productive time?


The reason why I wanted to bring my story here is because I thought it reflects some of the unintended mistakes that donors often make in meeting the needs of ‘demand side’. Most common problems of practicing Official Development Assistance (ODA) are a) repetitions and overlaps of implemented programs, b) lack of channels to deliver services, and c) lack of conversation and mutual understandings. Among these, I think the last one is distinctive from the others because it also requires bigger role of the recipients. Donors tend to give what they think is helpful for the recipients, but what’s more important is to let the recipients speak for themselves. At the same time, the recipients have to step forward and be more active. In the end its their needs what matter the most.

With trials and errors, donor countries started to understand the importance of involving the recipients in ODA, and pursue a true partnership with them. In the end, the harmonization between the donors and recipients is what makes the ODA successful. South-South Cooperation[1] is a very good example of showing the evolution of the meaning of partnership between the developed and the developing countries. It is the concept that has been built on from the MDGs (MDG 8 calls for tight partnership between the private and public), Paris Declaration[2] and to Accra Agenda for Action (AAA)[3].

Public health sector was little behind in accepting the current trend ODA, but changes are being made. Especially doing it right in the first place is more important in the public health sector than other, because maybe a lot of the times, there won’t be second time. It deals with peoples’ lives. So again, circling back to the point, successful ODA is all about harmonization among all the players who are involved. Donors, instead of thinking what they think the recipients want, have to be good listeners. Recipients have to be active players and ask for what they need. And the rest, international agencies and NGOs, have to make sure that there is proper system to channel the ODA from the recipient side to the donor side.

Jasmine Seong

[1] It is the term which was implemented by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and highlights more broad-based partnerships among international organizations, NGOs, the private sector and civil society.

[2] Endorsed in 2005 and contains partnership commitments aimed at improving the effectiveness of aid.

[3] Endorsed in 2007 and it calls for serious changes of all actors to continue building on the progress made from the Paris Declaration, if aims to improved effectiveness to be made.


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