Close to the bone

When I was involved in researching mental health care in South India, we asked three highly competent local disability NGOs whether there were people with mental illness in the villages in which they worked (and note that mental illness was classified as a disability under the relevant Indian legislation). Two of the NGOs said no, one said we do not know!

Since they were highly competent and committed, we were able to query whether that was a truly probable conclusion and whether they would mind actually looking. All three did and came back to us with the not unsurprising answer that yes, every village had people, until now 'invisible', who suffered from a mental illness.  It was the beginning of Basic Needs in which all three organisations take, to this day, a noble part.

But it was a reminder that even the most dedicated organisations can 'miss' or 'travel past' their true constituents.

The 'spoof' video (above) is an exaggerated reminder of this, yet like any 'spoof' partakes too closely from reality for true comfort.

I remember once, when I worked for Oxfam, arriving in a village in Ethiopia to be greeted with banners that welcomed the village's friends from Save the Children! I did not confess their error (and hoped that my colleagues from Save did likewise). On the same trip, I was told that what as organisations, we had most in common was that we were always in a hurry! Like Cathy we never paused and lived awhile.

It was and is a stark reminder that we should listen more deeply to every and all people and places to which we might want to offer help in growing solutions.


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