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the road to hell

The road to hell, so they say, is paved with good intentions. D found out the truthfulness in this adage first-hand recently. On a previous trip, Ambo had visited an orphanage that he wanted to support. The Embassy has a self-help fund that D oversees on Ambo’s behalf, which seeks out small, sustainable, income-generating projects. So D instructed the fund’s coordinators to work with the orphanage to put together an income-generating proposal. Because Ambo gave high priority to this project, the fund turned the application around quickly and within a matter of weeks, D had a contract offer on his desk.

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As D was planning Ambo’s subsequent travel, an opportunity presented itself to return to the orphanage so that Ambo could personally put pen to paper and fulfill the promise he made to the orphans and vulnerable children there. Everything seemed ready for the contract signing until the day before the trip, when all hell broke loose. The self-help coordinators came to tell D that they were having a problem nailing down exactly who would sign the contract on behalf of the orphanage, so D called the head administrator and had one of the most surreal conversations he has had since joining the foreign service. Despite his best efforts, D could not get the administrator to commit to signing the contract. Who has ever heard of an orphanage applying for a grant and then not wanting the money?!

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D dug a little deeper and was appalled at what he discovered. Turns out the orphanage was embroiled in a bitter dispute, with the home’s administrators battling a Nairobi-based NGO for control. There were allegations of fraud and mismanagement on both sides, the orphanage’s bank account had been frozen, and it was unclear whether any of the money donated to it actually reached the kids. By the time this news came to light, it was too late to cancel the trip so D was left trying to make the best of a potentially embarrassing situation. He changed the contract to a ceremonial letter of intent, which gave Ambo the opportunity to fulfill his promise without generating a whole firestorm of bad press. It also enabled Ambo to confront the home’s administrators. The local authorities accompanied Ambo’s visit and the district commissioner personally promised to follow up and make sure this mess was cleaned up within the next month. Let’s hope the administrators can get their act together soon. The orphanage won’t receive this grant that it badly needs until they do. Unfortunately, while the adults squabble over who controls the orphanage, it is the kids whom they are supposed to be helping who suffer.

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