Wakefield Express's aid effort 'shames agencies'

By Sarah Lagan

Wakefield
Express deputy editor Richard Firth has claimed the speed with which
the paper’s campaign has rebuilt homes destroyed in the tsunami has
“put to shame” many global aid organisations.

Residents of the remote fishing village of Panama, Sri Lanka, have already benefited from the campaign, which raised £20,000.

It
was launched by Firth and editor Mark Bradley in the spring following a
meeting with the Sri Lankan-born head of Wakefield development agency,
Mohan de Silva, who had been in his native country at the time of the
disaster and who agreed to oversee the development work.

Firth said: “Two things stood out in this appeal. Firstly, the generosity of our readers.

“Secondly, the speed at which we were able to get the houses built has put many global aid agencies to shame.

Projects like this tend to get bogged down in bureaucracy, but we just went out there and did it.

“Barely anything else has happened in Panama since the tsunami.

“Our
hope now is that our work will get the ball rolling on other relief
projects in the area and we plan to revisit Panama every year to check
on progress.”

However, Oxfam campaigns press officer for
Yorkshire and the Northeast, Kim Tan, who was media officer for the
charity during its aid programme in Aceh, Indonesia, said: “I am
concerned when you have someone saying, ‘We’ve gone in and spent our
£20,000 and look how fast we’ve done it compared to other people’.

“It isn’t just about turning up with a lot of money and spending it as quickly as you can.

“I
really applaud the efforts of the paper, but this is a process that
takes time. You are trying to get members of the community to build
wells and houses while you help them with how to do it. In our
experience that is the long-term, sustainable way to do it rather than
just building a well and then in five years time you find they have
left it to deteriorate.”

The money left over from the Express’s
appeal will be spent on an IT project enabling four students to leave
Panama on a scholarship to then return to the village and teach what
they have learned.

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