Sunday, July 20, 2008


Irish Aid in action

As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee I was asked to go to Tanzania and Uganda to see the Irish Aid program in operation. I was delighted to accept, because I know from talking to people that there are concerns about ensuring that our money is well spent and is making a difference.

A group from the committee flew out at 6am on Wednesday for Dar es Salaam via Tanzania. It's a nine hour flight in quite cramped conditions and I felt a bit sore and tired upon arrival. We were met at the airport by the Irish Ambassador to Tanzania, along with here staff and brought to our hotel.

We were up at 6am the next morning and were taken to the Dodoma region, where we viewed at first hand the benefits of the Irish aid program. We met some local farmers who have benefited from assistance and are now able to provide sufficient food for their families, with some left over to trade.

We also went to a local primary school. There were about 70 children to the class, all were extremely well-behaved and eager to learn. 90% of children get a primary education, which is a significant increase in the last five years. The government has been able to commit to a program of school building and teacher recruitment largely as a result of aid from Ireland and other donor countries.

Later we met with the Prime Minister. He went into detail about how they are improving their accountability and transparency. They have had some major successes with fighting corruption. His pre-decessor was brought down because of dubious behaviour. So, the system here is working at stamping out corruption. The Prime Minister has been educated by Irish Missionaries and made a point of recognising that Ireland has been helping the Tanzanian people "since time immemorial", as he put it.

Over the next few days we visited hospitals and schools which have received funding from Ireland, either directly or indirectly. We also met some tremendously inspiring Irishmen and Irishwomen, who are working here to improve conditions for local people in need. At one hospital I spoke to a young mother whose child had a cleft lip. The child was about to be operated on. On the next bed was a child who had successfully undergone the operation the previous week. The comparison between the two was astounding. It's a reasonably simple operation but only possible because of the donations from the Irish people.

We also visited a cancer centre which provided the only free treatment in Tanzania. We met a young Doctor from Ireland there who told us that the drugs for the children's chemo are largely paid for by the Irish. Many of the kids were well on the road to recovery, although some had extremely large tumours protruding from their necks. Thanks to our support over 70% of the children will make a complete recovery.

Over dinner on Friday night we met many of the Irish aid community. I spoke to many, including Sister Angela, the head of the Medical Missionaries of Mary here in Tanzania. The MMM, who set up and ran Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda (where I was born) do great work here, and have a base in Arousha in the north of the country.

Everywhere we have gone we have received a tremendous welcome - people are very well aware of the work that the Irish aid program is doing here and are appreciative of the efforts of the aid community.

Now it's on to Uganda for a look at the aid program in operation there.

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