There may be no island as diverse as Zanzibar. With its 50/50 Arab/African population and visitors coming from both the west and the east, it is truly multicultural. Even more impressive than the diversity though is the way these different populations with a bloody history have managed to integrate into a fusion of culture that is unique only to Zanzibar.
Aside from culture, there is also a huge amount of economic variance: ranging from tourists and business men who come to stay in Stone Town’s five star hotel to the street children in every village on the island. Zanzibar has therefore drawn a large amount of NGO aid, which works in all sectors from education to conservation to microfinance.
Microfinance group meeting
I came here on a research grant to study different models of economic care with the hope of discovering which type was able to help the most children for the lowest cost. So far I have met with seven organizations representing four different ways of working with orphans.
These projects have ranged from providing funds for school fees to the extended families caring for orphans to holistic care that includes everything all the way to field trips. These organizations are 100% different. Even the way an orphan is defined can change depending on the origins of the NGO. For example, any NGO that has an Islamic base (of which there are many considering Zanzibar is 90% Muslim) defines an orphan as a child with a deceased father while western-based organizations like SOS Children’s Village defines an orphan as a child without a mother. Because of the great variation between these projects it is not simply a matter of who helps the most children but instead how should NGOs be helping children.
The question becomes do you help hundreds of children a lot where the effects of this aid can be easily tracked or do you help thousands of children a little while they stay with extended families? While there may be no right answer to this question, exploring it has allowed me to see large-scale aid predicaments in the reality of a small-scale island.