When Compassion Fails to Help

Following the blogs of some experienced aid workers and some individuals on the ground in Haiti has really convinced me of something: knee-jerk compassion is often not very compassionate. I know several individuals who went (and are in) Haiti in volunteer capacities — and I respect their right to choose their response to the disaster — but I must admit that my level of skepticism as to the overall effectiveness of this kind of “aid” (called “disaster tourism” in the development industry) is quite high. I’ll simply leave you with a few quotes that I feel capture the issue quite appropriately:

Unless you are an experienced aid worker and have a position with an experienced aid organization, PLEASE don’t go to Haiti. Tsunami survivors tell of friends, neighbors, and complete strangers helping each other out in the first hours, days, and months after the tsunami. While still gathered on the mountainside waiting for the water to recede, people were already planning how they were going to rebuild their lives. If this were you, would you want to sit by passively and watch strangers rebuild your community or would you want to gather your neighbors together and do it yourself? [By Saundra, Don’t Go to Haiti, on her blog, Good Intentions Are Not Enough; one of my favourite blogs on issues related to aid and development.]
By all accounts the Haitians are sick to death of being assessed and – for goodness sake – photographed. And who can blame them? If I had a dollar for every white dude I’ve seen walking around with a photogs vest and big camera shooting pictures of rubble or people bathing, I could totally have a much nicer motorcycle than the one I have now… How would you like an endless stream of foreigners poking a lens in your face in front of the rubble of your house for days on end? … [By J. from the blog Tales From the Hood: Transactions that Matter]
…overseas volunteering is very rarely a good idea. Basically, it displaces local labor and prevents capacity from developing in country. It can, at times, be worse than doing nothing. [By Alanna Shaikh, guest post on Good Intentions Are Not Enough]
It’s clear that, for most of these travelers, their hearts are in their right places, and they want to do good by what they see as these “poor helpless looking kids” they think they are helping.  What’s not clear is how to slap them upside the head with a dose of reality that let’s them know they are supporting a movement towards harmful child rights violations, without making then too afraid to trust anyone in the future. [By Daniela Papi, A Protest Against Orphanage Tourism]

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