The secretary-general of the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled) has accused three international disability organizations working in Cambodia of immoral fundraising tactics.
CNVLD Secretary-General Chris Minko, an Australian national who has been working in Cambodia’s disability sector since 1996, accused the organizations of using negative images of Cambodians to promote their international fundraising efforts.
Of the three organizations Minko singled out for criticism and against which he has made several other allegations, Handicap International has denied the allegations, Veterans International did not wish to comment and Cambodia Trust has called on the volleyball league chief to substantiate his claims.
In a lengthy e-mail sent to an aid watchdog group and foreign embassies, Minko accused HI of issuing flawed information and of emotionally blackmailing people from whom it wishes to solicit donations.
The e-mail included copies of a donor solicitation letter from HI that enclosed a miniature crutch made from bamboo and a photo of a young Cambodian girl named Mom who lost her leg to a landmine.
“One victim out of four is a child like little Mom,” the HI letter states. “Everyday in Cambodia, three people see their lives blown to pieces by a mine,” it adds.
Minko wrote in his complaint e-mail that the HI claim regarding the number of landmine casualties in Cambodia was inaccurate and that using Mom’s case, which he characterized as a “sob-story,” was a tactic that he considers “nothing less than moral and financial fraud.”
“There’s a way to portray the land mine issue through showing how survivors rebuild their lives rather than portray Cambodia as a place littered with landmines,” Minko said last week in an interview.
“It’s time to show positive developments, of which there are many in Cambodia, in order to encourage vital tourism which can have a major socio-economic impact on the nation,” he said.
Lucile Papon, HI-France’s Cambodia program director, whose name was signed to the fundraising letter with the attached mini crutch, said the group’s fund raising approach reflected the situation in Cambodia, though she admitted that the statistic of three landmine casualties per day in Cambodia was incorrect.
HI had not updated their information, she said, and the correct statistic in 2006 was 1.23 victims per day due to mines and UXO in Cambodia.
“I am not sure it’s manipulation to say that someone stepped on a landmine. It’s reality,” she said. “It’s used to sensitize people.”
Minko alleged that Cambodia Trust’s Web site also promotes a negative image of Cambodia by prominently displaying a photograph of a small disabled child using crutches.
“I am exhausted by the ongoing moral fraud taking place in order to raise funds for Western NGOs, the majority of which leaves the country and is not being spent where it’s supposed to be spent,” he added.
Minko has called for the formation of a body to oversee the multi-billion-dollar aid and development industry, which he says has gotten “out of control.”
“There is the need for an international regulatory body to measure and monitor the effectiveness and financial expenditures,” he said.
The Cambodia Trust denies promoting a negative image of Cambodia, and CT officials said they have specific guidelines to the contrary.
“CT is committed to ensuring that disabled people are portrayed in a positive manner,” according to a document provided by Jan Nye, CT community development supervisor.
The document contained recommendations for publicity information such as: “avoid making disabled people objects of pity or tragic figures” and “avoid presenting physical characteristics of any kind as determining factors of personality.”
Pining McAndrew, chief of party for Veterans International—where Minko worked as a consultant several years ago—declined to comment on Minko’s claims.
“We would rather concentrate on the work we’re doing with physically disabled Cambodians than comment on this issue,” she said Thursday at her office on the grounds of the Kien Khleang National Rehabilitation Center on Chroy Changvar peninsula.
Minko also said that CT, HI and VI have diversified far beyond their initial mandates and have become “huge fiefdoms” that do not spend their funds wisely or progress toward local integration of their projects.
“Why after 17 years of operating in Cambodia hasn’t there been localization?” he asked.
Mary Scott, CT country director, wrote by e-mail earlier this week that her organization came to Cambodia in the 1990s to provide “clinical services” and established the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics in 1994.
“Cambodia is the leader in ASEAN in the field of prosthetics and orthotics,” Scott wrote.
“It is the only country in ASEAN where all prosthetics and orthotics services are provided by international[ly] recognized prosthetist/orthotists—a result, in large part, to the work of CSPO,” she wrote.
McAndrew, who is from the Philippines, said Thursday that she is the only expatriate at VI, adding that their mission has always been to make Cambodia’s disabled population more mobile and self-reliant.
She also said that VI’s work outside of their three rehabilitation centers is a necessary extension of services because unless you help disabled people integrate in the community, “they will hang the [prosthetic] device on the wall and still beg on the streets,” she said.
Bruno Leclercq, country director for HI-Belgium, also challenged Minko’s criticism, saying that HI’s focus is clear: “to help people with disabilities regain their independence, dignity and rights,” adding that recent project expansions are in keeping with its mission.
Leclercq added that although financial independence from donors is difficult to achieve, HI has localized in terms of training Cambodian staff to run their programs.
Minko said that the issues in question are nearly two decades old, but everyone keeps quiet about them. “If this article goes to print,” he said, “at least it might spark debate about these issues.”
Leclercq, however, said he did not think that the CNVLD chief’s approach would lead to constructive conversation.
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