Why Quality of Humanitarian Aid Matters


SUCRE, Bolivia — Most data about the fight against global poverty relies on numbers—40,000 children vaccinated, 5,000 wells built or 93 percent of girls enrolled in primary school. However, when one looks a bit closer, higher enrollment rates do not necessarily translate directly to more success on an individual level. Spreading assistance thinly to touch a maximum number of people can detract from how helpful the aid is to each individual. One foster home in Bolivia is showing that the quality of humanitarian aid matters.

The Average Bolivian Orphanage

In the case of Bolivian orphanages, usually the only alternative for kids who are removed from violent or neglecting homes, UNICEF has estimated that more than 9,000 children are crowded into commune-type homes and receive little-to-no individual attention. These dismal conditions can have long-term effects on kids’ development and deny them opportunities to learn to be successful adults. Niños con Valor recognizes that its capacity is limited, but for the kids that are there, it provides a quality upbringing comparable to what kids would receive in a typical family structure.

The organization poses the powerful question: when it comes to humanitarian assistance, does the bare minimum suffice, or should orphans in poor countries be raised with the love and resources that any parents would give their own children? In an interview, Tyson Malo, Director of Niños con Valor, shared his insight with The Borgen Project. He explained that there are healthy examples of state-run orphanages. However, “there are also homes where the situation is worse than the ones the kids are coming out of.” Niños, therefore, offers a much-needed alternative.

How Niños con Valor is Different

Niños con Valor is a privately-run foster home for kids needing to escape neglectful or abusive situations in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Despite the overwhelming need in the region, Niños con Valor is choosing to keep its capacity low—prioritizing quality over quantity in humanitarian assistance. It is unwilling to sacrifice offering a comprehensive upbringing and accommodating the complicated health conditions of many of its kids just to squeeze in some extra beds. The organization recognizes what is often swept under the rug – that quality of humanitarian aid matters.

The mission at Niños is to get to know every child and provide an “alternative but genuine family.” After all, “How much better off is a kid that has clean water but doesn’t have a loving support network?” Malo and the team encourage participation in extracurricular activities, emphasize education and celebrate life milestones for the kids they take care of, the same way that parents would. The level of growth the kids at Niños experience demonstrates how much quality of humanitarian aid matters. While the kids may have begun disadvantaged and living in poverty, because of Niños’ holistic care, they no longer identify with those terms.

Breaking the Cycle

This example of breaking out of cyclical poverty is one of the goals of global development and it is what is so incredible about Niños con Valor’s work. Bolivia has the highest domestic violence rate in Latin America. The Vice-Ministry of Equal Opportunities reported that 53 percent of Bolivian women experience domestic violence at some point in their life.

The kids at Niños, many of whom came from homes of generational abuse and neglect, are no longer part of that cycle. “Hopefully in their own families that will come in the future, there will be no more [trauma],” Malo says. Giving kids a loving environment to grow up in is the first step to eradicating Bolivia’s domestic violence problem. In turn, this will reduce the number of kids in need of homes in the future.

Making a Difficult Choice 

Niños demonstrates the benefits of focusing on the quality of aid rather than quantity but choosing that philosophy was not simple. Niños chooses to take in some children but must turn many others away because it lacks capacity. Malo explains this choice by noting that poverty is psychological and not just physical. It is important that both cycles must be broken for change to take place.

Malo explained that children without supportive families have a much harder time than those that lack basic necessities but have emotional support. He believes the “bitterness” that these children grow up with shapes who they are in the future. On the other hand, kids that grow up thoroughly cared for follow a different trajectory. “They are going to grow up to be incredibly grateful, thoughtful and compassionate individuals. Being able to change that in one kid is going to have a much larger impact than my own actions with many kids.”

Expanding The Quality Philosophy

As the global community continues in the fight against poverty, finding a balance between the quality and the quantity of humanitarian assistance given continues to be pertinent. Groups like the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Overseas Development Institute have made public statements asserting that quality of humanitarian aid matters. However, the implementation of these ideas has been slow. It is only through careful analysis that on-the-ground solutions will be reached.

Niños provides strong examples of the benefits of focusing on quality. A set of Niños’ twins are beginning university in the fall where they will pursue careers in medicine. From a background of generational domestic violence, these girls have worked hard to break out of the vicious cycle and pursue higher education. Malo claims, “It’s their work. We’re facilitation, and that’s the pay-off [of quality]: kids who really value themselves” and are going on to exciting careers where they will make a difference.

Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr


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