I think that it is hard to be open about the balance of the give and take of aid because people want to it to seem like their efforts are genuine, and not for self-benefit. Realistically, I think there are some situations where sharing this balance is appropriate, and other situations where it might be better to keep this to yourself. Sometimes it is appropriate to admit that you are benefiting from the aid you are providing, but in other circumstances, this information can be potentially offensive to people such as aid organization employees or recipients as well. This phrasing changes my perception of myself because I see myself as not only a “giver”, but also a “receiver”. In this sense I believe that recipients of aid are not only “recipients”, but also “givers” as well. I believe that serving underprivileged populations gives us as providers of aid, not only the chance to give aid, but also the chance learn through an array of experiences and interactions too.
The second iteration of the Critical Development Forum seminar is about to get underway! Keep an eye on this page for contributions by students in the seminar over the next 11 weeks.
Post by Daniel U.
Singing my songs! I was pleased with the project as a whole and I’m definitely going to be working on this more. Check out the posted recording below
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
(Posted by Dean)
-participant response to week 10
It’s rare that I can get the responses really in dialogue with one another - but this really is a wonderful response to the participant response posted below.
This participant response to week 10 raises some really good points:
Part way through the quarter, I started to feel cornered. Every way that I turned I was participating in an unethical practice that could have astounding effects on distant communities without being cognizant about such effects. In a way, this class left me feeling hopeless and guilty for the life that I have lived and look to live in the future…
…While I understand economics remains a significant barrier to the success of our world, I began to feel as if we were losing sight of these individuals, ourselves. One of the things that I was surprised we didn’t talk much about was the power of education. Instead, we talked, even if it wasn’t explicit, about activism. While I think it is important to advocate for things that you are passionate about, it can be ill conceived through actions. Take Occupy Seattle for a moment: one of the largest protests for the movement was an attempt to shut down ports on the west coast. Not only did this affect the individual ports but those that depend on the ports for their livelihoods. While I may not be highly educated on the subject, there was significant backlash from the longshoremen who did not ask to be represented by Occupy despite Occupy’s claim that they were fighting for them. Nor did Hawaii, which is dependent on imports from ports such as Seattle. Advocating for or against something is an extremely powerful effort but at the same time, it should not be idealized but instead thoughtfully constructed.
(Assuming they meant the power of educating people in the North), I have to ask what the end goal is. Is it a bunch of people “aware” of an issue? What does that awareness, in and of itself, do? Is it enough to be aware that the world is careening of a cliff, or do we have to mobilize to change its course? And if we have to mobilize based on our education…well isn’t that “activism”? Education is absolutely key - if it wasn’t, this class wouldn’t exist. But it’s not an end in itself.
It’s important to remember that “activism” is - like any other term - a buzzword. It has a strange negative connotation. Indeed, the first thing you thought of is Occupy. But is protesting the only way one becomes an “activist”? One of the most empowering (if I may use a buzzword) things I’ve been learning about recently is community organizing. It’s activism in the sense that it serves to change social and political structures, rather than engage in charity per se. But it involves comparatively few rallies and protests. Instead, the work is much more strategic and calculated. I’d encourage you to look into the work of organizations locally like the Sound Alliance. The challenge is, of course, making that strategy work for global issues - and that’s what I’m struggling to learn.
Also, the port shutdown is an entirely different debate which I’m happy to discuss elsewhere - I too was a bit skeptical of it. But there’s more to the story than what the media said. The point you have is key however- “activist” actions need critical reflection just as much as an NGO project. They fail too. But my personal opinion is that when they are well thought out and succeed, the change is on another magnitude altogether.
On a final note - I think too much guilt is a bad thing. What we need is anger, constructively channeled. But perhaps a little guilt is a necessary first step. We all have to realize we came from (to varying degrees) affluence and privilege, and that privilege did not emerge in a vacuum. Recognizing that there are local and global forces and structures that gave us “unearned privilege” - advantages based on our place of birth, our parent’s skin, our gender etc. is the first step. It’s hard. It makes you feel like crap. But we have to think about it, wrestle with it, and finally come out pissed off at the structures that gave us the very privilege we take with us every single day. And when we do, we’ll know we’re ready to really change the world from the ground up.
Throughout this class, I’ve begun to understand that my role in the process of development cannot just be the minimum amount of action to clear my guilty American conscience. The process of redeveloping the world into a place where everyone can coexist doesn’t start in the middle of Africa. It starts here with us. We cannot expect to bring massive, sweeping changes that will eliminate poverty and provide everyone with healthcare and clean water without expecting change to happen in our lives as well.
The other thing that struck me was the optimism in Paul Hawken’s address. His words on how interconnected we are and the quote he used from Charles Darwin gave life to the idea that we are all apart of a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven”. This made me think of another quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “When I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small, because they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.” I think if we all realized how interconnected we are, and then thought about how our actions really influence ourselves and everyone else, we might be just be a little bit better off.
-participant response to week 10
(My goodness, these responses are so wonderful! - Dean)
-participant response to week 9
I wonder this constantly. One might say that Occupy was just the start of exactly that on a national level. But the next step: occupy the world.
-a participant’s response for week 9
I think that last line perhaps sums up the distinction between NGOs and solidarity groups nicely: NGOs “sell” a well-intentioned service (often to governments like our own via contracts), solidarity organizations call on you personally to act. (Though granted they both ask you for money!)
-Gilbert Rist, in The History of Development (p.229). It’s an absolutely monumental book, though you’ll have to wade through rather dense analysis mixed with this sort of biting wit.
(posted by Dean)