Street Watch

NGOs at the functioning heart of Grahamstown

If all the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Grahamstown were to stop working, the city would virtually grind to a halt, writes Emily Corke.

Despite being a small town, Grahamstown is home to many NGOs which play a major role in employment and development.

Director of Rhodes University Community Engagement (RUCE), Di Hornby, said, “They play a very important community developmental role that I don’t see government being able to play.”

Hornby explained that local NGOs facilitate development in communities, link people up using their own agency and get the community to drive their own, sustainable development.

“NGOs translate social development policy into community development action,” she said.

Director of Grahamstown Area Relief Association (GADRA), Advice and Community Work, Roger Domingo, share that NGOs provide huge sources of revenue directed at sustained community development.

“If you think about it from an economic point of view, GADRA is a R2-million enterprise. If we were to close our doors that is R2-million not being spent on community needs. It would have a real impact if all the NGOs were to just stop working,” he said.

Despite the large role that GADRA plays, 99% of its funding comes from sources outside of town, mostly from corporate donors.

“NGOs also employ a fair number of people here, so if we were to close our doors, many people would lose their jobs,” said Domingo.

Domingo said GADRA’s projects are informed by the community, which indicate their most urgent needs.

These needs include food security, jobs and disability services. “We put together our programme based on that and then we go to the donors; that should be the process.” said Domingo.

Hornby agreed that NGOs work best when they accelerate development that already exists. She said, “We add value to those schemes, through student volunteering.”

The huge Rhodes University student body found in Grahamstown is a prime source from which to recruit volunteers. To train student volunteers to be effective, she said, “we find out what the needs are in the community through the NGOs – and then we train them accordingly.”

Domingo has been working with student volunteers since 2004 and he is a firm believer in student participation.

“To make that engagement meaningful and worth the time, we would have to really ascertain the skills of the student,” he said. “It should have some sort of transformative effect on the lives of the people in the community and on the student.”

While Domingo has had positive interactions with students, he said some NGOs are wary of putting too much time into training them rather than focusing on the community.

“We train students so that they realise it is a mutually beneficial experience and they aren’t acting as Mother Teresa.” said Hornby.

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