During my second year as a Peace Corps volunteer, I helped put together a conference for the empowerment of girls in the northern part of the country. Gathering girls from three different provinces, they attended a workshop on girls’ issues, health, rights, and a short technical training in areas such as sewing, computers, first aid, mural painting, etc. Overall, I really enjoyed myself and felt that bringing these girls to the city to meet other girls and learn important information to bring back to their own groups was such a valuable experience. Prior to the conference, all of the chaperones received and signed a contract agreeing to the modest amount of money they would be given for the four days, plus travel. I only knew to present them with these contracts because of the arguments our conference predecessors had faced.
One thing that definitely darkens the mood of trying to gather a large group of people to provide important information, opportunities, and activities is per diems. I know that this is a problem that people deal with a lot when it comes to training seminars or workshops in Mozambique and numerous other countries. Per diems are a set amount of money that you pay people every day that is supposed to make up for what that person would have made had they been home. It can also account for the loss of that person to care for the family and the home. Often, these per diems are a lot of money and people have grown to expect it when they attend workshops.
This is a great article to check out called "Per diems undermine health interventions, systems and research in Africa: burying our heads in the sand" by Valéry Ridde. The author discusses "perdiemitis" and I think they really hit the nail on the head.
Per diems are an out-of-control monster in my opinion. What it comes down to is that you are paying people to teach them new skills or information, when they should naturally have that thirst for knowledge and that desire to improve their communities. Also, their jobs will already pay them a salary so it seems unnecessary to give large per diems. It’s fine to give a modest sum, but if people are attending a workshop only because they are going to receive per diem, i.e., only learning when it benefits them, you`ve got a bigger problem on your hands. When they return to their community, do you think they will properly put that information to use?
The problem is: how do you revert to a system of volunteerism and a genuine desire for knowledge (with money only paid for hotels, food, and transportation during a conference or seminar), when per diems have been doled out for years? Because the truth is that practices in health, governance, technology, etc., aren’t going to improve until people have a vested interest that isn`t purely financial gain. I’m not saying that everyone is in it for the money, but I do think that some people are and this impedes development. I think that true development will happen when there is a better and more genuine conversation with communities and people, rather than by just throwing money at people and expecting change.