Wetenschap - 14 mei 1998

International Page

International Page

International Page
NGOs not neutral in development interventions
In these days of privatisation and shrinking government funding, there seems to be a common vision among funding agencies that local NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are the key to increasing people's participation in the process of carrying out development interventions. Saturday's discussion at the fourth ISOW-Career Day raised the idea that NGOs are not necessarily the perfect solution to improving the record
A group of thirty international students from eight different departments chose to ignore the balmy weather this weekend and attended the discussion on development interventions and the transfer of social norms, led by Rutgerd Boelens of the Irrigation Department. Using case studies of irrigation projects in the Andes, Boelens defended the argument for increasing local people's participation (the users) in the process of project decision-making (usually carried out by the designers). In his five years working in Ecuador, Boelens found that this was not put into practice and that the typical result of expensive irrigation projects was collapse shortly after completion
According to Boelens the way forward is to create platforms in which all interests can be included and openly discussed. The challenge is to find appropriate actors who represent the interests of local people as well as independent mediators to facilitate the platforms. Both these roles are increasingly being taken on by local NGOs. Many of the students at the ISOW meeting work for NGOs in their home countries. The trend towards increasing financial support for NGOs has led to a proliferation of these organisations in recent years
Leisure & Environment MSc student, Mauricio Puerta raised a point that became central to the discussion that followed: We must not allow ourselves to think of only good or bad - that State intervention is always bad and that NGOs are always good. This is too simplistic.
Facipulation
What is often forgotten is that mediators also have their own interests in mind, particularly when it has to do with their own survival and funding. MAKS student Xavier Moya added: There is no such thing as neutral. We need to be careful about facipulation, where facilitators may have hidden agendas and engage in manipulation of the platforms to meet their own interests
NGOs are not immune to this tendency either, and students provided different examples of problems that they have noticed with NGOs in their home countries falling into the same sort of trap usually attributed to State bureaucracy. Armando Ussivane, from Soil & Water, stated that in Mozambique setting up an NGO can often become part of playing the development game in which you do things in order to go along with the rules of funding agencies. For example, an NGO may relocate to a specific area in order to be eligible for funding. In Peru, it is becoming very difficult to keep track of NGOs as it is now common to find one-person ghost NGOs which were started by people who left another NGO because of conflicts. A comment on the situation in Costa Rica was that NGOs do not necessarily understand the farming communities better as staff are often from urban areas. Other students discussed the importance of recognising that cooperation with the State needs to be maintained as the latter still has an important role to play. NGOs should also work for change through influencing policy-making
WAU is shirking its responsibility to tell the truth
A piece of art at the Wageningen Arboretum is proving controversial: Paul Perry's Nuclear Garden looks like a Japanese raked gravel garden with a huge granite boulder in the middle. Perry had intended to place three pieces of uranium in it; he chose uranium 238 because, with a half-life of 4.47 billion years, it has a harmless level of radioactivity. However, at the last minute, the University banned the use of uranium in the piece, causing Perry to hang up a poster display (in English) with a discussion on nuclear reactors and radioactivity. Perry contends that the granite boulder itself contains more natural radioactivity than the uranium 238 which he had intended to place inside it. He finds that the University as an educational institution is shirking its responsibility to tell the truth in order to avoid a confrontation with public opinion
Saturday was the opening of the art exhibition in the Arboretum, which continues until September 20th. The exhibition was designed by three North American conceptual artists, David Kremers, Mike Tyler and Paul Perry. The artists were chosen because they are interested in linking science to art. The aim of exhibition is not only to feature the changing natural processes within the Arboretum, but also to encourage people to experience the park differently in terms of space and time. Tyler explains: When we started discussing the project a year ago, we came up with the idea of showing the Arboretum as a starship. With this in mind, two experiential walks have been developed. Kremers designed a turf maze using strips of blue-coloured timothy grass throughout the garden. The pattern you follow on these strips gets you off the normal paths and is laid out to highlight trees in the garden at different times of the year. Kremers has also set up a miniature universe by attaching 1,000 fluorescent tags to certain trees, which remain visible throughout the night
The second walk was conceived by Tyler who makes a comparison between the layout of trees in the garden and that of stars in the sky. Tyler's journey includes an additional dimension: sound. The radio signals of 40-50 astronomical objects (stars, quasars, pulsars, etc.) can be heard at different locations in the garden by using an electronic book obtained at the coach-house at the entrance. These will be ready within the next two weeks; bring identification if you want to make use of one. You can get the most out of these walks by making several visits to observe the growth processes of summer as well as the changing radio-signals. The artists intend to continue discussing their ideas over the summer on their website (www:wau.nl/bob - in English and Dutch) and hope that the public will join in with comments and reactions
WAU signs still in Dutch only
The WAU has decided to set up a new system of signs outside its buildings: only the names of the buildings will be given. This system replaces the current signs which display the names of the WAU departments in Dutch only. Using the names of buildings on signs has already been adopted by other universities and avoids the whole issue of language. The limiting factor at the moment is money, says Jan Blok of the Buildings & Ground Office of the University. However, next year's budget should allow the necessary changes to be made
Two years ago international students complained that signs around the university were incomprehensible because they were all written in Dutch. The International Student Panel (ISP) at that time worked hard to change this situation for non-Dutch students, leading to a policy whereby signs inside buildings could be translated upon request by the relevant department. The sign-boards with department and section names outside the buildings, however, are still written in Dutch. According to Blok there is not enough room on the current boards to include English text. Initially the University thought of making a second set of signs in English to place beside the Dutch ones. However, the fact that the names of departments keep changing and the current overhaul of the university's organisational structure led to the decision to use the names of the buildings instead

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