Since I’ve been at COCAP, I’ve been asked to write and edit several grant proposals for different COCAP member organizations. Some are relatively strong with a clear focus and idea for a project. Others seem muddled in the minor details – you know, like trying to write clearly in a foreign language. A lot of the text I receive is translated from Nepali by someone who has maybe a couple of years of English under their belt. A lack of vocabulary is often the main problem. I’m not knocking the work of these writers. I’m so impressed by their abilities in and efforts to learn English. Actually, I feel it’s a shame that one of the requirements of many of these grants is that they be written in English.
To be honest, I’m a novice in terms of writing grants. But I’ve been anointed the resident guru of anything relating to English, so I’m expected to throw these suckers together in a couple of hours flat. Most recently, I was asked to assist a representative of a member organization with a proposal. The grant proposal needed to be postmarked by 3:00 pm the next day. That shouldn’t be too bad, right? Wrong. The grant happened to be a mammoth European Commission proposal. The application form and the guidelines alone were about 50 pages of reading. As I read the requirements, my head began to spin. What goes where to whom and when? There were two different deadlines, four main sections and a multitude of subsections – all written in formal, business-like English. The list of criteria alone was eight pages. I couldn’t imagine trying to wade through this if English was my second language.
As I started to edit the written proposal given to me, I started to realize that the project was ineligible based on the criteria specified on page 13 of the guidelines. And when was the “Concept Note” submitted? As a new requirement for the grant, a concept note had to be submitted for approval before submitting the actual grant. He didn’t know when it had been or if it had been submitted. He was just given the assignment with the EC packets, and told to write. I had seen him at the office every day the past week. I continued to work on it as much as possible, and waited for him to return to the office. He never showed up. I’m not sure what happened, but I’m assuming the proposal was never sent.
The grants were for projects to be completed in Nepal only. You would think that there would be one person with Nepalese language competency (or they could hire one) to assess these grants, so that some deserving projects from organizations without English writers could be given a chance. I hate to complain and get on my soap box about this, because I know that there are limitations for any organization whether it’s a random European NGO or the European Commission. But it seems like there’s something lost somewhere from being translated from Nepali to English, and then altered again to fit rather narrow criteria.
In a slightly unrelated story, there was a news article today about a loan program from the Agricultural Developmental Bank (ADB). Dalit farmers, who were lured by the prospects of easy loans for cattle farming, have not been able to repay their debts since the program started five years ago. Apparently, the locals refuse to buy the milk produced from the cows because they are from “untouchables.” Despite attempts from the Dalits to go to the local collection depots earlier than any other farmer to hide the origin of the milk, the program is suffering massive losses.
I suppose the connection between these two stories is the lack of understanding of some donor agencies of what’s happening on the ground. (Ok, I’m being a little simplistic here.) But perhaps if there was a better understanding, the EC wouldn’t limit grant approval to organizations with English writing and reading capabilities. Or the ADB would be sensitive to the cultural issues that may prevent the success of a seemingly great idea. I guess it’s just sad to see so many potential projects being wasted.
Posted By Lori Tornoe Mizuno (Nepal)
Posted Aug 19th, 2006