Case history 1 - Bob Nelson

Bob Nelson: "If you are weak, you become one of them"

The Times, London, May 2, 2000

BOB NELSON, 23, a former pig farmer from Huntly, near Aberdeen, enrolled with Tvind after seeing an ad headed "Africa needs you". He rang the number and was invited to Denmark for an "information weekend", which he described as exciting. He was promised training, then work on an aid project in Africa.

Unable to afford the £2,000 advance fee, he agreed to work as a volunteer for three months at a clothes-sorting centre in Norway to defray the costs. Once there, he says he was expected to work up to 16 hours a day in return for living expenses of £30 a week. When he demurred his boss was unsympathetic. "He was a workaholic and wouldn't accept criticism. The place was in chaos. We were given more work than we could cope with but there was no reasoning with him."

In February 1999 he went to the Travelling Folk High School in Denmark, where he expected to learn practical skills. But he says: "There was no proper training. The teachers had no respect for the students and the students held the staff in contempt."

After eight weeks he was sent out to raise money on the streets of Copenhagen, selling college newspapers to passers-by. Students had a target of £100 a day and were told that if they did not achieve it, they could not go to Africa. But Nelson grew suspicious when people on the street told him he was raising money on false pretences. "Everyone in Denmark knows about Tvind and most people despise it," he says. "They would tell me to ask the teachers about Mogens Amdi Petersen, and about where the money was going. When I did the teachers got defensive and hostile and wouldn't talk about it."

Nelson hoped his time in Mozambique would prove better. But when he arrived in Maputo with one other solidarity worker there was no one to meet him; he had to find his own way to the ADPP compound. He handed over his passport and had to travel without proper documents for the next five months. At Tvind's teacher training college in Nacala, where he was supposed to train young Africans, the administration was chaotic. "There was no leadership, we felt lost. It was six or seven weeks before there was a proper meeting and we were told what to do. The school was tense. The Danish project leaders had tunnel vision. The Africans hated the Danes, called them neo-colonialists."

Eventually, Nelson left the project a month early, retrieved his passport and made his way home through Zimbabwe and South Africa. "These people use the prospect of going to Africa as bait; once you are hooked they get what they want from you," he says. "It's all about money and getting people to join. They make you work veryhard and undermine your independence. They get you to do things over and over without questioning anything. After a while you stop thinking for yourself; if you are weak, you end up becoming one of them.

"They don't care for anyone but themselves. I met lots of genuine, lovely people who were being used and abused in the same way."

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