Grey Mist Lifting

A Weekly Blog About Lives Changed Through Eye Care

Lynda Cherry, former Vice-President of International Programs

Community workers: the force behind change – Part 2


In part 2 of this three-part series (read part 1 here,) Kashinath Bhoosnurmath, our senior director for Operation Eyesight in India, continues in his description of community workers who are often caught between their own quest for change and the organizations that employ them.

The community workers I met willingly accepted offers made by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with the hope that salaries and improved conditions would soon follow. NGOs, knowingly or out of ignorance, exploited the willingness of these community members to protect and project their image of being voluntary organizations while also keeping the so-called delivery/administrative costs on the lower side.

The low cost of service delivery has always received approval and appreciation from NGOs and donors alike. Little consideration and attention was paid to the fact that a form of unintentional exploitation was occurring. For these community members, volunteering was not an “end” but a means to move to a better paying position.

I have spoken to several of these voluntary workers at the grassroots level. If they had been fortunate enough to be born in families similar to yours or mine, they would have received quality education and be in well-paid jobs or running their own enterprises.

Interestingly, none that I have spoken to has ever mentioned NGO work at the implementation level as a career option for their children. And among the children, when asked about their career aspirations, (with their eyes fixed on the vehicle I use to visit the villages) very few indicated that they wanted to be someone like me.

Should there then be no volunteerism among these workers at the grassroots level? Of course there should be and there is plenty. As community workers implement program activities and witness the difference their actions are making, they enjoy a sense of commitment and pride. But while they continue to do their forced voluntary work with a sense of purpose, pride and responsibility, there is still a need to demand higher or more equitable wages.

Some of these workers with whom I have developed a personal rapport have stated both proudly and with a sense of bitterness that the target beneficiaries of their supports and services were much better off than themselves. The target beneficiaries slogged much less than the community-based workers but received larger benefits, especially if the NGOs were serious about achieving their stated goals.

Return next week for Part 3, when Kashinath describes the ethical issues associated with engaging community workers, and a better way to blend their needs with the needs of the hiring organization.

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