Thursday, August 20, 2015

If you ever wanted to support JMD, now is the time

This is a hard post to write. 

For over ten years I have had the privilege of being involved in the development and support of Jembatan Masa Depan (JMD), which was originally comprised of tsunami survivors who wanted to help their communities recover from the devastation that claimed the lives of over 200,000 people in Aceh in 2004.  During that time, I have witnessed firsthand (and reported in this blog) what has been documented in many World Bank, UN and BRR (Indonesian recovery agency) “exit” documents: the greatest failure of the recovery effort was the international community’s lack of support and training of existing local agencies.  Instead, international NGOs created their own temporary programs, recruiting local staff and effectively destroying any local organizational capacity in the province.  None of the billions of dollars spent on reconstruction was allocated to administrative support of local organizations.  As a result, today there are no more than a handful of local NGOs in the province, none of which are deemed “administratively competent” enough to receive larger grant funds, especially funds for sustainable livelihoods, conservation, or services for women.  When small agencies are denied all but the smallest grant funds, which must go to direct services, they have no chance to expand their administrative capacity—or, for that matter, to fund an appropriate administrative and fiscal oversight component.

The post-tsunami/post-conflict multi-donor fund helped Aceh get back on its feet after one of the worst disasters in history.  But make no mistake, it made a lot of international NGOs very wealthy, and gutted Acehnese civil society to a point where I am concerned about its ever recovering. 

Building Bridges to the Future Foundation (BBF), the US-based non-profit we established to help support JMD, has begged the international donor community to change its funding policy to include appropriate capacity building and administrative costs in its grants to local NGOs in Aceh—some small compensation for the toll taken on locally-led initiatives over the past 10 years.  It has also urged donors to accept the fact that some agencies, such as JMD, actually managed to develop sound administrative and fiscal management skills despite the international community’s best efforts to the contrary. 

But sadly, 2015 is the same as 2005: no capacity building is forthcoming, no local organizations are encouraged to autonomously serve their province, and no international donor believes that Acehnese-led organization can deliver services without the help of a much higher-paid international “implementing partner.”  The absurdity of this was made especially clear when two of JMD’s EDFF (multi-donor economic development fund) proposals were appropriated by World Bank, modified slightly, and given to international organizations to implement, one of which hired JMD as a subcontractor for the work it felt JMD was “capable” of performing.

Since 2005 BBF has assisted JMD with this glaring issue by providing annual funding for all the agency’s administrative services and equipment, while small grants and sub-contracts have provided direct service costs.  This marks the last quarter that BBF will be able to do this.  JMD staff is now working on a plan for a year-long transition to autonomy (since they have about 12 months of operating expenses in reserve), at which point other administrative funds will have to be secured or the last sustainable livelihoods NGO in Aceh province will be forced to close.

I still have hope, however, that this extremely difficult challenge will turn into an unforeseen opportunity, as JMD works with its Board of Directors to re-visit its mission and vision, and searches for other agencies with whom it may be able to partner, providing an agricultural livelihoods arm that few current international organizations working in the province possess. 

I’m going to continue to post updates on JMD here from time to time, but I urge you all to visit their website ( as well as their Facebook page (Bridges to the Future/JMD) to keep track of all the good work this agency continues to do for the people of Aceh province.

Friday, August 7, 2015

“It’s reasonable now to talk about genocide prevention in Myanmar.”

The New York Times hasn’t let up on the Rohingya crisis, and it’s taken a nasty turn--as if it could get any nastier.  (Rohingya Women Flee Violence Only to Be Sold Into Marriage, August 2)
In true malicious-government fashion, Myanmar has forced so many Rohingya men to flee to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia that a new and nefarious demand has cropped up—Rohingya men want to start families where they live and so are paying traffikers (again, Rohingya) who see a good market and trick young women into traveling out of the country with their families—only to be sold to the Rohingya men.

For the Myanmar government, this is perfect.  Where have we heard this refrain before: “See? It isn’t our fault—they’re doing it to themselves.”  East Timor, Aceh . . . sound familiar?  You dehumanize a population to the point where it is impossible to act for the good of the group; everyone is relying on blind and desperate instinct, and morality falls away. As Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights says, “It’s reasonable now to talk about genocide prevention in Myanmar.”  And Rohingya activist Nur warns, “If this keeps up, in 30-40 years there will be no Rohingya culture.  Everything is shutting down on us.”

Ambiya Khatu, center, with her niece and mother, married a man in Malaysia who paid $1,050 for her release from smugglers. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

“I was allowed to call my parents, and they said that if I was willing, it would be better for all the family,” said Shahidah Yunus, 22. “I understood what I must do.”
She joined the hundreds of young Rohingya women from Myanmar sold into marriage to Rohingya men already in Malaysia as the price of escaping violence and poverty in their homeland.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Rohingya Update: As you can see, Myanmar is really taking the world’s message to heart . . .

The Burma Times seems to be the media outlet closest to the Rohingya crisis that is sticking its neck way, way out in reporting on what’s new in genocide-happy Myanmar.

Three reports appeared this week on its site, including reports of “barriers” imposed on Rohingya trying to leave the flood-affected area of Pungná cwéng, where already 9 people are missing, as well as prohibitions against entering the village with any type of aid.  (Rohingyas prevented from moving out of flood inundated village in Pungná cwéng)



Another article, No aid for Rohingyas, reports that “in Kyauktaw, Rohingyas were turned out of shelters while in Akyab they have been warned not to move out of their neighbourhoods even when they are submerged in flood water.”

“The Rohingya village in Pungná cwéng lies in the midst of hostile Rakhine territory and there has been a continuous blockade leading to chronic food shortages. 
“There was no food stored by the villages and in the midst of the floods, the Rohingyas are suffering from a lack of food and lack of drinking water.
"Much of the poultry and the livestock have also been washed away by the floods.
“In the last few days, the villagers are spending their times in knee deep water as they continue to be refused permission to reach the flood inundated village. At present, there is up to three feet of water.”

The articles note that “this is a crucial election year” and that possibly the government will provide at least some marginal, face-saving assistance to the Rohingya.

But I’m not holding my breath.  With a 90+ per cent Buddhist majority, who needs any other votes?  Let ‘em drown.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The True Asians: time to allow the Rohingya to receive “stateless passports”

I read an English summary of a really interesting article last week, by Rossen Yankov, a Bulgarian journalist, who was advocating for the issuance of a European passport for the Roma ethnic group, many of whom live in Bulgaria but being nomadic are really stateless and should be given stateless citizenship/passports. “They are not Bulgarian; they are European,” states Yankov.  The entire article, which was in Bulgarian, was difficult to translate, but lest we think that Yankov is nothing but a warm and fuzzy humanitarian, the objective behind his argument Is much like that of the majority in Myanmar: Rohingya may live here, and may have lived here for generations, but this isn’t really their nationality, so why should we have to bear the sole burden of caring for them?  Of course, Myanmar doesn’t spend any time thinking up solutions like Mr Yankov; they just torment and kill their ethnic minority, forcing them to either get out or die.  Which got me thinking: there are two types of nomads in the word: nomads by tradition, like the Roma, the Tuareg, the Berber . . . and then there are nomads by necessity, like the Rohingya.  
Shouldn’t the Rohingya be considered nomadic now?  Expelled from their country of origin—and make no mistake, Myanmar is where these particular individuals originated—they are forced to wander the world in search of employment, sustenance, peace.  And if they are considered nomads, wouldn’t the Roma/EU argument apply—that they should be given stateless citizenship/passports?

Some governments make concessions  for nomads—access to pasture, participation in government, voting rights that are fluid across states depending on where the Nomad is in the yearly travel cycle.  Some nomads stay within country borders, some do not.  

So what happens if a country through torture, genocide and exile, creates a nomadic tribe, and the world through its inaction is complicit in this creation-- should that group not be given the same opportunities that the traditional group receives?

Of the Roma, the largest minority in Europe, Yankov says, “They are the eternal strangers here, there, and everywhere else. . . . They are the true Europeans.”

The Rohingya, also, are eternal strangers everywhere.  Are they now not the true Asians?