Women's group slammed for how foreign aid cash was spent

FOREIGN AID: Members of the International Women's Society Lucy Scorey, Loida Petersen, Thu Ngoc Nguyen and Norma Jensen in Manicani Island. Photo: contributed
FOREIGN AID: Members of the International Women's Society Lucy Scorey, Loida Petersen, Thu Ngoc Nguyen and Norma Jensen in Manicani Island. Photo: contributed contributed

A BUNDABERG women's organisation has been controversially divided over the way four members distributed thousands of dollars in foreign aid to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

The Bundaberg International Women's Society raised $17,100 following a series of fundraising events after the 2013 disaster, including a concert at the Moncrieff Theatre in February.

As the group is not a registered organisation, a sub committee was formed to handle the funds for the sake of "transparency".

Audrey-May Thomson was elected treasurer of the sub committee that then asked the rest of the society for suggestions of where the money should go.

"I researched a little island called Victory Island," Mrs Thomson said.

"They have 100 fishing boats and 80 of them were lost (in the typhoon).

"They have families with 12 and 14 children and families lost almost half of their children."

The devastated city of Tacloban in the Philippines, Wednesday Dec. 4, 2013. The city was ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan last month, but rebuilding efforts are already underway. (AAP Image/Neda Vanovac) NO ARCHIVING
The devastated city of Tacloban in the Philippines, Wednesday Dec. 4, 2013. The city was ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan last month, but rebuilding efforts are already underway. (AAP Image/Neda Vanovac) NO ARCHIVING NEDA VANOVAC

Mrs Thomson said she had received calls from Queensland Fisheries, keen to donate to the cause, and an Australian-based aid organisation, Gawad Kalinga, had also guaranteed it could source and deliver fibreglass boats, at $700 each, to the devastated island.

Mrs Thomson said the majority of the women's society was excited and supportive of the idea.

But the day after Mrs Thomson left on a personal overseas holiday on March 6, International Women's Society President Norma Jensen dissolved the committee, citing the group had not been "working in harmony".

Mrs Jensen, and three other society members, announced they would instead be travelling to Manicani Island, where the women spent $3700 on 18 ceiling fans, a surround sound system and 28 bags of cement for a church; $6200 on a co-operative shell craft project for women and $500 on materials for soap making and a dishwasher liquid co-operative project.

"My biggest disappointment is we spent Bundaberg people's money on one of the wealthiest organisations in the world - the Catholic Church," Mrs Thomson said.

"A sound system for the church? Come on, what are they going to do, rock and roll?

"I did not raise money to feed someone's faith - I raised money to put food in children's bellies."

A further $3500 was spent on building materials for another church, a tricycle to take children to and from school, as well as almost $4000 to build a poultry house, which included 100 one-month old broiler chickens.

Mrs Thomson said she was further shocked after learning the women had purchased vitamins.

"I said, 'oh thank goodness, at long last we've bought something for the children'," she said.

"But we bought bloody vitamins for the chickens."

Mrs Thomson said there was absolutely no suggestion the women had misappropriated the funds, but that they had "squandered" a good opportunity.

"My disappointment is how we spent that $17,100 without discussions with the group," she said.

"The group didn't know how it was to be spent until the four people came back.

"What is the long-term projection for the things that we did?

"Where does the income go and how is it distributed equitably?"

Mrs Thomson then resigned from the society in "utter disgust and horror" and, since then, at least another six women had resigned.

"We felt if we picked a smaller place we could make a bigger impact instead of picking a big place and making a mediocre impact," she said.

But Mrs Jensen has defended the group's decision to travel to Manicani Island.

"The decision was left with the team going over there, to make the decision on the ground to provide what was needed at the time," she said.

Mrs Jensen also said there were "too many boats" in the Philippines.

However, correspondence from Gawad Kalingar to Mrs Thomson about the plight of Victory Island suggests otherwise.

"You were targeting a really needy area and they are desperate - they still need four more boats. They lost every single one of their coconut (trees)," a spokeswoman from Gawad Kalingar said in a text message to Mrs Thomson.

Topics:  philippines

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