The UK’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) came under fire this weekend from some of the UK’s leading media outlets, after it emerged that the charity also does lifesaving development work overseas.
Critics raised concerns that the British donors might not want their donations being spent overseas.
“I would say 99% of the British public giving money to them have not the faintest idea it’s being diverted to projects overseas,” said Tory MP Nigel Evans, reported the Mail.
Andrew Bridgen, another Tory MP, told the Times: “It is the Royal National Lifeboat institution, not the Royal International Lifeboat Institution.”
#RNLI_disgrace I love the RNLI. The fact that they are an international humanitarian organisation just makes me respect them even more. Please show your support by becoming a shoreline member https://t.co/uLi1OVPzdi— Sarah Perrin #FBPE (@Sarahjaneperrin) September 16, 2019
The RNLI was founded in 1824 and previously limited its operations to the UK and Ireland. But in recent years it has expanded its work to cover the British Isles, Tanzania, and Bangladesh.
But the efforts to shame the charity for working internationlly too seem to have seriously backfired — with #RNLI_disgrace having been taken over by people saying they’ve upped their donations to the charity now they know more about its international work.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 320,000 people drown every year around the world — and the RNLI has been working in recent years to expand its reach to help save lives globally, as well as just in the UK and Ireland.
“We believe that with others, we should use our lifesaving expertise to try and help tackle this,” said the RNLI in a statement. “Our work so far has shown that simple, inexpensive solutions are very effective; a relatively low investment in overseas projects goes a long way and makes a big difference.”
The RLNI’s international drowning prevention work currently includes:
- Educating children in water safety and survival swimming
- Training personnel in lifeguarding, search and rescue, and lifesaving leadership skills
- International advocacy to champion the drowning prevention cause at a global level
Some of the specific projects include the Panje Project in Tanzania, which sends people to teach swimming in areas where drowning rates are particularly high.
This project has been criticised for providing burkinis to women and girls.
In it’s response, the RNLI highlighted that “the burkini, which is a full length swim suit, is an innovative (and cheap) way of enabling girls in strict Muslim countries to get into the water without compromising their cultural and religious beliefs.”
It's swimming schemes like this one in Bangladesh the @RNLI has helped devise. A country where around 40 children drown every single day. They work with local groups and use their expertise to teach others essential skills. They should be admired not criticised pic.twitter.com/YIVuoFngPQ— Becky Horsbrugh (@BeckyRLH) September 15, 2019
Direct debit set up. Had no idea this vital service was running at a loss. Thank you @RNLI for everything you do. Also, what amazing results in reducing drowning in vulnerable locations from just 2p in the pound. Inspirational. #RNLI_disgrace— James Lambert 🔶️ #FBPE (@JamesLambert76) September 16, 2019
Unfortunately there are a few that think only certain lives matter.— Carlos Fandango 🇬🇧🇪🇸🇪🇺🌹 (@MrChorizo) September 16, 2019
Fortunately there are many that think all lives matter. I will be making a donation today. #RNLI#RNLI_disgracehttps://t.co/MiXp2RBD72
“The RNLI have been involved in the Panje Project with the majority of the RNLI’s involvement funded by a donor who specifically wanted the money to go towards this project,” it added.
The charity also works to provide free creches run by local women in Bangladesh — where around 40 children a day die from drowning — to help stop children playing by rivers and reducing a child’s risk of drowning by 82%, according to the RNLI, as well as providing “essential early childhood development.”
Alongside the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research Bangladesh (CIPRB), the RNLI has helped to fund 10,000 creche places for some of Bangladesh’s most vulnerable children, it said.
All public donations made to the RNLI’s recent appeal to support these creches were also matched by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) from the UK aid budget.
The government of the Isle of Man also announced in June that it was giving over £57,000 from its international development budget to support the RNLI’s work in Bangladesh.
Another project, announced in 2016, has seen the charity provide training to Greek, German, Dutch, and Swedish organisations to help save the lives migrants crossing from Turkey to Greece.
The charity also highlighted that its international work hasn’t had an impact on its continued efforts closer to home — with the RNLI’s life boats launched 8,964 times in the UK and Ireland last year.
The hard right rags attempted attack on @RNLI funding, on the basis of xenophobic thinking, has backfired.— Will Black (@WillBlackWriter) September 16, 2019
There is no #RNLI_disgrace as they do a brilliant job. The disgrace is with those who would want a child to die because it has brown skin
#RNLI_disgrace Haven’t donated since I was a little girl when my Grandma used to take me to visit the station at Cromer in Norfolk. Changed that today thanks to “The Daily Fail”. Reminded me of the fantastic job you do for ALL precious souls in extremis— Emily Taylor (@EmilyTaylor27) September 16, 2019
Just set up a direct debit, would encourage everyone who can afford to make any donation to do so, just to send a message that most people dont have a problem with the RNLI saving peoples lives irrespective of their nationality #RNLI_disgracepic.twitter.com/Il0Jv5YXPS— Josh Booth (@MarinerWY) September 16, 2019
“Providing the very best service in the UK and Ireland remains our priority, but we also wish to use our expertise, knowledge, and influence to help others save lives across the world, particularly where drowning rates are high,” said the charity’s CEO Mark Dowie.
Alongside its work around the world, the charity also seems to have been criticised for hiring a new safeguarding officer to promote health, safety, and wellbeing — following the safeguarding issues that emerged within the charity sector following the Oxfam scandal last year.
The charity — which also has a national team of health, safety, and environment advisers, and a diversity leadership group tasked with promoting the International Day Against Homophobia — was accused of “becoming obsessed with political correctness.”
The RNLI responded by saying that “as an emergency service, the RNLI must adhere to the very highest standards of safety and behave in a way that meets the expectations of a modern emergency responder.”
“As a charity, we take our ethical and legal responsibilities very seriously,” it added. “This means that we expect our staff and volunteers to behave appropriately towards each other, supporters, and members of the public. We do not consider this political correctness.”