The US Department of State compiled a map showing the location and number of aid worker victims since 2001. It is careful to mark the important point that the majority of these workers are national staff members. When the headlines report kidnapped or killed staff they often lead with the Westerners. That makes sense given that these headlines are coming from western media outlets appealing to a western audience.
What is disconcerting is to see the steady rise in the number of victims from 90 in 2001 to 308 in 2011. Part of this is attributable to the war in Afghanistan and the genocide and ensuing humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Regardless, it is a depressing trend to observe.
I’m still on holiday break but I wanted to publish this guest post from “Tales from the Hood,” an aid worker-blogger who has provided many of us with great insights and perspective from inside the humanitarian industry.
“Tales” was posted anonymously, in part to avoid causing trouble for his organization or himself. But this was also because he cares about promoting knowledge and understanding more than his personal brand.
Tales is now moving on to new things, putting the blog to bed. I’m not alone in seeing this as a loss and so I hope to convince him to continue posting here on Humanosphere.
For a start, here’s his answer to my holiday query in which I ask if we are entering a new phase for humanity in which the concept of “charity” needs to be reconfigured and if we need some new lingo for these folks we call philanthropists, humanitarians or, worse, do-gooders.
Tales from the Hood:
Three things I wish more “ordinary people” understood about humanitarian aid:
1) It’s possible to do aid wrong. There’s always some woman at the Christmas party who, once she discovers what I do for a living, wants to talk my ear off about some awful idea she has about how to help poor children in El Salvador or Cambodia. She’s watched the Brian Williams “Make A Difference” segments, maybe Googled a few things, and now she’s got it all figured out. Then she gets somewhere between hurt and mad when I tell her that her idea won’t work. It’s clearly come as a surprise for her to learn that it’s possible to do aid wrong. Continue reading →
I’ve always liked that phrase, about cutting off your nose to get back at your face. It’s both wonderfully absurd and so bloody descriptive of our tendency to act against our own interests.
Today, I want to defend aid and development workers against themselves.
To be clear, I am not really an expert on this stuff. I am a journalist and, I accept, a lower form of life with no special insights into … well, much of anything.
Worse, as someone of Scandinavian bent, I am predisposed to holding a relatively bleak view of humanity and distrusting those who smile too much and/or claim they’re primarily motivated to help others.
Yet my job is to write about these folks who aspire to reduce global poverty, prevent deaths from unacceptably stupid causes like dirty water or lack of basic preventive health measures like vaccination — and generally keep slogging along trying to make the world a better place for the poor, for all of us.
I have to admit I am, despite myself, constantly amazed, encouraged and even inspired by these people.
So what the heck is their problem?
Why do they keep flogging themselves, even celebrating those who criticize and ridicule them? Why are they so passionate and engaged about what’s wrong with what they do? Continue reading →