It's true that talking to the chaperones will provoke defensiveness. But if you have the opportunity, try talking to the young people. I did this once successfully in an airport waiting for a plane to carry home a bunch of high school students returning from a "mission trip" in El Salvador. They already sensed there was something phony about the "holiness" of the experience, considering they didn't even speak Spanish, and once they thought about the money and skills involved, they were quickly converted. Of course, I spent an hour or so building trust with them before talking frankly. But I think the youths, having invested less time, money and worldview--and always eager for contrary narratives--are ready to listen.
Similarly, a large part of my job involves sharing this message with college-aged youth who've signed up for "service projects" that transform partway through to "learning experiences." I've started using your blog as a resource and required reading for that. It's not just learning how their original intentions don't match up with practice, but also learning about how our personal and political choices affect others, domestically and abroad, and that the best volunteering happens in our own communities, where we can commit long term, and see and interpret the effects.
June 16, 2010 at 08:39 AM
Saundra, I've been thinking about the interpersonal aspect of this... of telling someone, personally, that their charitable effort really isn't. I think the difficulty of that interaction shouldn't be underestimated, as you note (and I've been in the same position, too). But what I struggle with is, how bad does it need to be in Haiti, in order make it right and *socially acceptable* to tell, say, Mother Teresa or apple-cheeked youth that their charity doesn't help? How hot does the flame need to be before you tell your kid to stop touching the stove? That analogy may not work but there are certain situations that demand/excuse being "rude," if doing so relays a desperate truth or saves a life. What is that point with Haiti? -- That's the question I ask myself when confronted with Mother Teresa's and other cuddly bunnies whose aid doesn't really help and may even hurt. My actions don't yet conform to my answer.
June 16, 2010 at 06:43 AM
Agreed, having meetings in the local language is definitely one of the Lessons Not Learned after so many disaster responses. There is also the problem with power differentials that come when so much aid money goes to international organizations.
June 14, 2010 at 03:25 PM
Another effect of the influx of foreigners via north American and European NGOs is that so many information and decision-making fora are conducted in English to suit the new arrivals. Where does this leave Haitians looking to rebuild their country, the majority of whom speak Creole and French? Problems do not arise only from t-shirt clad teenagers...
Matt Davies |
June 14, 2010 at 03:19 PM
"Is my message getting far enough, no obviously not. But hopefully if people like you help spread the word there'll be more avenues open for myself and others to help get the word out."
I'm working on it. I'm in Haiti next week; will continue to check your blog for updates.
All best, C.
June 14, 2010 at 01:08 PM
I didn't speak to the chaperons as it would have done little good. Imagine if you'd invested a lot of time and energy into this trip and then just when you were about to set out some stranger approaches you in the airport and tells you what you're doing is a bad idea. Your reaction would likely be defensive and instead of swaying your opinion I'd only manage to more firmly cement it. I've learned the hard way that the only time to really make an impact is before the project is even off the ground.
So how do you catch them before they've gone too far? I agree that blogs like this run the risk of preaching to the choir. It's quite a concern of mine. Which is why I also blog for the Huffington Post, make myself available to all newspapers and radio stations that want to interview me, I am developing a radio show for syndication, I teach classes on good donorship, and I speak to university service clubs.
Is my message getting far enough, no obviously not. But hopefully if people like you help spread the word there'll be more avenues open for myself and others to help get the word out.
June 14, 2010 at 10:44 AM
Did you express the above concerns to the group's chaperones? Unless you speak directly to non-aid industry audiences, your message won't get out. I presume you're preaching to the choir with the audience that frequents this blog.
June 14, 2010 at 10:11 AM
I agree with the heart of this message, that good intentions are not enough. I am a currently serving Peace Corps volunteer, and every day many of us wonder what we are really doing here.
However, I must disagree with your statement about donating funds. Though with recovery efforts, donating funds can be critical, particularly with Haiti, in general, I have noticed that money causes more problems, just like good intention.
At least where I am serving, the notion that money comes from abroad helps dilute the local economy as much as imported free goods, because people wait for handouts instead of earning their own wage. It also sets a terrible precedent for when organizations are able to send over truly experienced individuals, but host country nationals are not willing to go see them simply because there are no stipends or allowances involved.
Young people do bring a few things. Oftentimes they bring cheer or spirit when locals can be feeling downtrodden and neglected, especially if the government is not able to help service a stricken area immediately. In this way, the volunteers can act as motivators to help get everybody to work together.
I apologize if my comments are too general and not targeting disaster relief aid in particular, but when I saw your comment about donating money being more worthwhile than, "youthful exuberance," as the president of Ethiopia put it a few years ago, I was just as concerned that it might affect the on the ground situation just as poorly.
Jonathan McLean |
June 14, 2010 at 07:12 AM
that's a very great thought, i never thought of it that way, see i was one of the people you are talking about. now that i saw that, what em i going for that the people there cant do??????? thanks who ever u are.
June 13, 2010 at 04:01 PM
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