We have heard the stories about free t-shirts and shoes, what follows is a story about a bad idea surrounding orphans. From the Guardian writer Simon Allison details the flawed NGO called Zoe's Ark.
My personal favourite terrible international aid idea comes courtesy of French NGO Zoe's Ark, whose founders saw a terrible problem and an easy solution. In 2007, with war raging in Darfur, they realised that the orphans left stranded by the conflict would need a new home. They also realised that there were plenty of French families who wanted to adopt, but were struggling due to France's complicated adoption system. So they hired a plane, flew to Chad and rounded up some orphans from a refugee camp near the Sudanese border, the costs covered by the cash advances paid by eager potential parents.
This is where the problems began. Before the plane could return to France, the Zoe's Ark crew were arrested by unhappy Chadian authorities, who quite rightly pointed out that the NGO should have complied with Chad's own adoption laws. Also, the Chadians noted, most of these Sudanese orphans were neither orphans nor were they from Sudan; they were local kids lured in by Zoe's Ark's false promises of a trip to the clinic or a better school (this was subsequently confirmed by UN agencies and the Red Cross). Blinded by their ignorance, moral righteousness and end-justifies-the-means mentality, Zoe's Ark was only just prevented from kidnapping dozens of children, all in the name of doing good.
They didn't escape unpunished. A court in Chad sentenced members of the group to eight years in prison, and ordered them to pay €6.3 million in damages to parents of the children. Shortly afterwards, they were transferred home and pardoned by Chad's president, Idriss Deby, probably thanks to extreme diplomatic pressure from France. The damages have yet to be paid.
This was not the end of the affair. In France, 103 expectant parents, all of whom had forked out between R25,000 and R50,000 (about £1,750 to £3,500) to Zoe's Ark, did not receive the little Sudanese orphan that had been promised them. This amounts to fraud, some claimed, and French authorities launched an investigation. On Monday in Paris the trial began of six members of the NGO, who have been charged with illegal involvement in adoption procedures, attempting to bring minors into the country illegally, and fraud. With its sensational, noxious mix of international intrigue and naïve idealism, the trial is receiving huge attention in France.