The Little NGO That Could … And Does!

Are you, like me, wondering how you can help Syrians today?

This Upworthy list includes a lot of places to donate. After the fiasco in Haiti, I would put the International Red Cross at the bottom of your list, and elevate an organization that was just an afterthought to Upworthy. When it comes to international development, Questscope is a story of an NGO that does it right.

Back in 2008, while I was unemployed in Jordan, I wrote a grant for Questscope. They had been one of many organizations who received about a million dollars each from the United Nations to create an informal education program for Iraqi refugees and Jordanian high school dropouts. Questscope was the only organization to successfully field their project, so at the end of the grant period, the UN came back to them. “This time, do you want forty million, or a hundred million?” they asked.

For all the good it does, the UN is unfortunately an organization too often impeded by a combination of grift and lax oversight. Questscope could easily have taken advantage.

Instead, they were honest. They told the UN that they couldn’t possibly scale their operations to forty times its size in a year, let alone a hundred times. “We’ll take four million this year,” they said.

“Great!” said the UN. “Just complete this grant application and we’ll get you the money.”

That was where I came in. The application was in English, and while there were excellent English speakers in the office, writing like a native speaker is a different animal. They found me. They provided all the relevant statistics and other information, and over the course of a week in their offices, I wrote a four million dollar grant. It was my first grant writing experience, and it was exhilarating, in part because it was impossible not to make Questscope look amazing.

Naturally, I wanted to work there! I was unemployed, and on the verge of borrowing rent money from my mother, but it wasn’t desperation that drove me. It was admiration. Questscope was doing everything right, were making a real, measurable, needed difference on the ground, and I wanted to be a part of it.

Dr. Curt Rhodes, the founder and International Director of Questscope, often worked remotely from abroad, but happened to be in the Amman office at the end of my week there. I was excited to meet him, and made sure to have a copy of my resume on hand. He was a friendly and enthusiastic man, and a thoughtful development professional. I awkwardly pitched myself as an employee, and he gave a genuine but solemn smile.

While he empathized with my desire, he said, “We have made the decision here at Questscope to hire only local staff. I’m sure you’re really qualified, but we know that there are many very well qualified Jordanians who can and deserve the chance to do this work. As part of our mission, we believe we should not only be serving Jordanians, but employing them, too.”

Paradoxically, that made me want to work there even more. Dr. Rhodes, a white man with fancy Western degrees and connections, didn’t come to Jordan as a savior bearing a white man’s burden. He came to work alongside Jordanians as they helped each other and their Iraqi and Syrian neighbors to bear their own burdens, and in their own way. Over the years, I’ve met several amazing Jordanian professionals who had worked at Questscope, and spoke with great respect of the work that organization does. This is the truest kind of development work, and the results prove that this approach can be successful.

Questscope expanded to run programs in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Northern Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Mauritania and Sudan, and has touched the lives of over 200,000 of the Middle East’s most vulnerable people. A big focus of their work now is the massive Za’atari refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan, and the plight of 600,000 internally displaced Syrians. A look at their staff today shows that Dr. Rhodes remains committed to the principle of hiring from within the population he serves.

When I despair for Syria and displaced Syrians, when I long to take my skills to Syria’s borders and save her people, I remember that the best response is to support Syrians who are already helping each other. You can, too, with your donation to Questscope or any of the organizations on Upworthy‘s list.

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