Video: Aid worker in Uganda questions his ability to see reality

By Michael Hobbes, special to Humanosphere
In April I was in Uganda reporting on a human rights project. Standard stuff: Give a training, interview some government officials, convene some NGOs, write a report and fly out before the weekend.
If I’m honest, I like these trips. I learn stuff, I meet interesting people, I ride the steep part of the learning curve for a few days, hear stories that make the political concepts I spend all day researching real.

I’m also, if I’m really honest, guiltier and guiltier about doing them. I leave, after all, at the hard part. Ten days learning about the complexities and contradictions of a poor country is interesting for me, I guess, as a person, but what did it really do for the people living there, whose job is to fix them?
I was in Uganda when I heard the Humanosphere podcast interview with Kentaro Toyama.
Poverty isn’t a technical problem, Toyama says, and it’s not going to be solved with technical solutions. None of the government officials we interviewed in Uganda told us that they lacked streetlights or water pumps. They told us they had minuscule budgets, unclear mandates, that their most important tasks were snatched away from them by the politicians up the chain.
I made this video illustrating a few of the things I heard there, how I felt afterwards. Acknowledging that you’re part of the problem isn’t the same as solving it, I know. But I’m putting this up in case anyone else on Humanosphere can relate, and has any ideas for doing it better.
Michael Hobbes is a human rights consultant based in Berlin. Hobbes blogs at Rottin’ in Denmark and has written about development for The New Republic, Huffington Post and other publications. Originally from Seattle, he has so far remained true to his vow to never return to the U.S.

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