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Service Programs

Utrecht Conference on Development Aid

Utrecht, Netherlands - "Character development is the most important factor when considering development aid." This was the clearest assertion of Yakubu Iddrisu, founder and executive director of the Ghanaian NGO Community Partnership for Youth and Women Development, at a UPF-Netherlands conference on "Development Aid: Perspectives and Examples" on September 19 in Utrecht. Huub Mudde, Manager of the Sustainable Development Center at the Maastricht School of Management, cited statistics about aid and mentioned concerns of donor nations.

Community Partnership for Youth and Women Development in Ghana

The conference was part of UPF-Netherlands ongoing support for another UPF partner, Youth Service Initiative, which every year sends student volunteers to help with its programs in northern Ghana.

Iddrisu's assertion had much in common with the the fundamental message of the first speaker, Hans Campman, President of the Family Federation for World Peace–Netherlands, in his presentation on "Insights Concerning How People Develop." Campman explained that each person has three lives—in the womb, in this physical world, and in the spiritual world—and that just as the main purpose of life in the womb is to prepare us for life on earth, the main purpose of our life here is to prepare us for the next world. That can best be done by "living for the well-being of others," as UPF's motto proclaims. Thus, helping, say, the people of Ghana benefits the givers as well as receivers; as the members of Youth Service Initiative testify.

Yakubu Iddrisu gave some background informatino about Ghana. Ghana, he said, has an open market system, where people negotiate over prices and customer relations are important. However, Ghana has slow economic growth. Ghana has a strong family system, both nuclear and extended families. Marriage is an obligation and involves the conscious aim of union of lineage and families. Communities are multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, but there is strong influences from clans and lineages. Education tends to be teacher-centered, with little child participation, and theoretical rather than practical. Overcrowding of classrooms means there is less attention for individuals, less creativity, and less participation

Women and children have limited opportunity to realize their full potential, and girls have less access to education. Young women leave their homes in economically distressed northern Ghana for urban areas in southern Ghana, where they work as porters moving heavy loads balanced on their heads. In an unfamiliar urban environment, they are vulnerable to exploitation for sex or money. At the same time, northern Ghana loses potentially educated workers who might contribute economically to their home communities.

As in many parts of Africa, Ghana struggles challenges of climate, disease, illiteracy, and government corruption. The way forward, according to Iddrisu, requires new approaches in education, investment, appropriate economic and social empowerment, and especially good governance and broad participation. His motto is: "With hearts, feet, and hands together we achieve more." What does not work is huge grants to governments and institutions, especially "colonial" donor-centered grants.

The Community Partnership for Youth and Women Development became a Ghanaian NGO in 2007. It trains youth and women in Northern Ghana to be self-supportive, stimulates local responsibility and initiatives, and encourages peaceful families and communities. Its focus is on children of primary school age, youth, and women. Its interrelated strands are youth development through character education and after school programs and women's social and economic empowerment through home management training, beekeeping and honey production.

After-school programs emphasize learning through play and interaction, with the "PAC-man" approach (Positivism, Activity, and Creativity), through which children can develop skills and gain confidence and self-esteem. It is creating a Discovery Center where learning can be more practical and experiential, with resources for training teachings and facilitators. It promotes introducing character education into the mainstream schools syllabus. Providing information and influencing attitudes and skills has brought good results. Increased access to play and instruction materials have resulted in increased self-expression. The economic empowerment program has trained 150 women and youth in modern beekeeping and honey production.

Academic Perspective: Maastricht School of Management

Huub Mudde, Manager of the Sustainable Development Center at the Maastricht School of Management, took a detailed look at more external factors. He started by introducing the Maastricht School of Management, which provides provides state-of-the-art management education to some 2,600 students from across the world, especially from emerging markets and developing countries. It offers a residential MBA in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and outreach MBAs in Peru, China, Egypt, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mongolia, Kuwait, Yemen, Romania and, together with the Eastern and Southern Africa Management Institute, in nine African countries.

Regarding poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals, he noted that sub-Saharan Africa was lagging far behind, the situation worsened by the world food crisis. In addition, countries giving development aid often felt that much of the money did not reach its intended destination because of corruption. Nevertheless, he affirmed that it is in the interests of all that people be helped to develop.

He cited many statistics. For example, in 1981, 52% of people in developing countries were in in extreme poverty, and by 2005, that had been reduced to 25%; but sub-Sahara Africa was lagging behind. With the 2008 food crises the situation has worsened, and in 2010, 64 million new people are in extreme poverty and 40 million more people are hungry.

There are many dilemmas in development aid, including whether to initiate new programs or support existing ones, how to deal with corruption, and whether to hold back until there is democracy and good governance. In the experience of the Maastricht School of Management, trade alone does not ensure development. Development also depends on education, regulatory reforms, and cooperation between public and private sectors.

Mudde gave statistics about the attitudes of people in contributing countries: 60% believed that improving the situation of poor countries was in the interest of rich countries, but a third of them believed that poverty would remain. Some 75% gave money to charity, bought fair-trade goods, and/or volunteered in some way. Three-fourths felt that aid contributed to better conditions in developing countries, but more than half felt that money was not well spent.

In conclusion, Mudde asserted that one's values underlie choices and every situation requires a specific approach. There can be no sustainability in one part of the world if there is poverty in another, he concluded.

After considerable discussion, Ambassador for Peace certificates were presented to both speakers and everyone enjoyed a chicken curry and rice lunch prepared by UPF-Netherlands volunteers.

Comments by Attendees

UPF-Netherlands PR manager Elfi Verstraeten found the conference a good mix of academic and practical approaches. She was particularly interested in Iddrisu's description of the customs, way of living, and culture of his people. Regarding the value of development aid, she mentioned a member of the Dutch cabinet who had resigned in protest of its intention to cut development aid.

Another attendee said that Mudde's presentation had helped clarify the situation, but Iddrisu's talk was particularly valuable in offering an opportunity to help a concrete project in which one could feel a personal connection and confidence that assist would reach people in need.

Earlier in the week, Iddrisu and Maartje Bos, who accompanies European youth on service-learning trips to Ghana, had been guest speakers at an International Day of Peace event sponsored by UPF in Dusseldorf, Germany, to raise awareness about the UN Millennium Development Goals. Bos said, "We sometimes arrogantly want to help the poor in Africa, but we can also learn from their family values and close relationships."

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