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Meet the foot soldiers of relief aid

August 10th, 2011

We, the Commission, deliver European humanitarian aid in partnership with the world’s best respected organisations on the field. You certainly know most of them – UN agencies like the High Commissioner for Refugees, international organisations like the Red Cross, NGOs like Save the Children. This cooperation guarantees that our aid – your aid – is delivered in the most efficient and professional aid to the people who need it.

While we work with the biggest and the best, we also join forces with less-known, but equally worthy partners: local non-governmental and community-based organisations. They are great in what they do first because they are born out of the “self-help” desire of the needy, of their drive to unite in the face of life-threatening challenges. Second, they recruit local staff and volunteers and are usually based close to their theatre of operations. Third, and most important, they understand their communities much better. It is often through these partners that we reach people in need that are not easily accessible.

Take the example of Somalia, where today a third of the population is estimated to be in dire humanitarian need but where the Al-Shabab militants have made it extremely difficult for relief organisations to reach millions of people in need of assistance. In Mogadishu it would be impossible to feed the starving without local organisations like SAACID (say-eed) which means ‘to help’ in Somali. SAACID is serving 80,000 hot meals every day in kitchens throughout Mogadishu (see how). We fund SAACID’s work – this is one of the ways your solidarity transforms into the daily staple of thousands of Somalis.

There are similar examples elsewhere across the drought-ravaged Horn of Africa. Most of the region is not as dangerous as Somalia, but some projects would not have been culturally welcome unless they are implemented through trusted local agents who can convince shy communities to adopt life-saving practices.

One such partner, trusted both by the local communities and by the European Commission, is the Arid Lands Development Focus (ALDEF), a grass-roots organisation active among nomadic communities in northern Kenya. It has monitors who watch livestock prices, animal health, population movements, water and pasture availability. They keep their fingers on the pulse of the communities’ source of living. In this way, signs of stress trigger early relief measures and the collected data helps the Commission respond early enough to avoid disasters or at least contain their impact.

ALDEF’s staff are in daily contact with village elders and local chiefs, who are the first people that families contact if they’re in need of help. Chiefs are the first to know of a sickness, a death, a case of theft, or domestic dispute. They know the families which are headed by women, the children who are orphaned, the grannies who are too weak to fend for themselves. These local leaders work with organisations like ALDEF and help us help the most vulnerable, whenever they need us.

With the invaluable assistance of the local chiefs and community organisations, we make sure that our taxpayers’ money – your money – is always helping where needed the most.

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