20090816

Confessions of a Social Worker

I cleverly manipulated facts and figures, won the confidence of donors and made my NGO a success


In the early 80s, with a first class post-graduate degree in social work, I came to this backward area in the Nilgiri hills to work among Adivasis. Their living conditions are still the same but mine have changed considerably. I cleverly manipulated facts and figures, won the confidence of donors and made my NGO a success. You see, I have to keep the Adivasis poor. What would happen to my business if all their problems get resolved?

Adivasis, Dalits, fishermen and every weak section of society are fodder to our business. Several NGO activists became rich after the tsunami struck. I was not able to get my share because I operate in the hills, far away from the Coromandel Coast.

I take the lion’s share of what I gather. My staff are underpaid and the beneficiaries of my projects get peanuts. This is not the case with my NGO alone. There are numerous such organisations in the country. I am just one among them. To me, it is business. Like any other venture, I am driven by profits. The values and ideals which appear in my brochures and pamphlets are only there to hoodwink funding agencies. A lasting solution to any problem is not a solution. Problems must exist, otherwise patronage will end.
I have no regrets. You can call it corruption of a kind. But even donors know where the money goes. A large number of them are as shady as me. The world would not change if I stop one day. I would be the only loser.

We are part and parcel of the system. Who says NGOs aim to change society? In fact, we help the system handle all voices of discord. We are engaged in a balancing act. The system needs us. The world needs us.
I liberally use ‘hallelujah’ during prayer services. It means ‘let us praise Yehova’. Some of my old colleagues have substituted it with ‘fundelujah’ when referring to me. There are people who accuse me of praying for more landslides, floods, droughts and epidemics so that there are more funds for rehabilitation work. That’s an exaggeration. Just because I love funds doesn’t mean I’m heartless and insensitive.

(The activist is the founder of an NGO working among tribals in Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu).

As told to K A Shaji

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