This week, its operations in the southern part of the country temporarily came to a stand still because of a dispute over retrenchment packages. As a leading centre of counselling, it is a mystery why the organisation has reportedly failed to handle its staff's exit packages professionally. Or is it a question of the physician failing to heal himself or herself? At the very least, an organisation that has successfully prepared people to face life living with HIV/AIDS should have done better in its retrenchment exercise if what we are hearing is true. But whichever way the stand-off pans out, the fate of Tebelopele is a stark reminder of the fickle nature of donor dependency.
Tebelopele VCT finds itself in a crisis because of the flow of donor funding. If it is any consolation, Tebelopele is not the only NGO dependent on donor funding in Botswana. The anti-AIDS war in many Third World countries is overwhelmingly dependent on donor cash and without the largesse from the West it is not whether the fight would have been the success that it is. But the sad reality is that when the donor funds dry-up, certain organisations set-up directly because of the foreign cash close shop.
Tebelopele is not the first NGO, especially in the anti-HIV/AIDS sector, to experience problems associated with donor cash. And it will not be the last. The fact that Botswana is now a middle-income economy has compounded the already precarious financial status of NGOs. Some foreign agencies have stopped funding NGO projects in Botswana because the country is rich enough to bankroll such activities. This has not taken cognisance of the fact that government revenue fluctuates while its expenditure is always expanding and never decreases.
Tebelopele seems to have made its case complicated by hiring people on permanent terms, thereby causing a legitimate expectation of long service. Conventional wisdom suggests that the organisation should have given contracts to its employees to avoid unnecessary problems.
The VCT has done very commendable work in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the country courtesy of liberal funding from foreign donors. Talk of VCT in the country and the first organisation that comes to mind is Tebelopele. But now, it is on the financial or management sick bed for what we hope will be a short-time. News that the VTC's American backers are rolling out another five-year funding programme should calm fears that the organisation will close shop. We hope that Tebelopele and other NGOs in a similar situation have learnt vital lessons in staff recruitment, retrenchment and donor funding.
"Healing yourself is connected to healing others."
- Yoko Ono