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* the project that never was

February 28, 2016

I was just a driver, so the whole story of what we were doing took several days to malagasy roadsunfold. It was a major visitation by donors (quite a few of them) from both Europe and the US, something done every several years for the donor reps to check up on what was happening with their funds. Because there were so many donors, I had been asked to also drive some of them, so had already spent several days driving, visiting various job sites, etc. Being just a driver, I wasn’t privy to conversations going on, documents being exchanged, etc.

But this day seemed different somehow. There were private discussions happening, some arguing going on and some firmly set jaws (I’d been with them long enough to have some confidence about facial expressions). We finally all crawled into our caravan of vehicles and headed out country from Morondava, a fairly good sized town on the west coast of Madagascar, where we’d been visiting a variety of projects. The day was hot and sunny as it is for most of the year there, the road, once we left the pavement, a dusty red gash through the forests. Having driven for an hour or so, we

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pulled over at a very small village at which point quite a lot of discussion was had which finally resulted in our disembarking from our vehicles and started walking. However, we didn’t get very far before the whole venture was called off and we were back in our cars, heading on to the next destination. Being just a driver, I wasn’t privy to the conversations, but was able to learn the following from one of the donor reps who was riding in my car.

The whole point of this visit had been for the donors to be able to verify something they had been growing increasingly concerned about, which was whether a reforestation project they had funded, from which they were getting glowing reports of progress being made, actually existed in real life? They had very specifically asked to see this project and then insisted on it when attempts were made to change the plans for what was to be seen that morning. And in so doing they had just verified what they’d feared, which was that the project existed only on paper and in the form of quite a bit of donor money which had been spent, apparently only theoretically on reforestation. While vehicles had been purchased, they weren’t being used on the project. Buildings may have been built somewhere, but again, not for the project. Salaries had been paid, but it was more than a bit mysterious as to who had actually received this money?

Here in the US we have a saying from a famous movie about baseball, “If you build it, they will come.” In this case the saying was more something like, “just because you paid for it doesn’t mean you necessarily built it”!

I was very thankful to have been just a driver that day!

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