A blog comes in handy at times, like when Nora Schenkel‘s piece in the New York Times yesterday was not open for comments. “I Came to Haiti to Do Good…” is one of those pieces that elicits mixed feelings for me as I just came from Haiti just last week. Here’s the messages that a NYT reader could take away from her essay:
- Aid workers are privileged, removed from reality, and wasting their time. (Some are, yes.)
- Haitians are stuck in a cycle of dependency (not a characterization with which I agree) and aid is not helping. (A lot of it is definitely not. I do agree.)
Such frank reflections about the difficulty of “doing good” are still too much of a rarity in the aid industry and in the popular media. As @pj_blue pointed out on Twitter yesterday:
So good for Nora for sharing the realities of her experience and for getting out of the system once she realized it was not for her. The tension between the root causes what aid is trying to solve (poverty, inequality) and aid actors’ own contributions to those dynamics is certainly a difficult one to navigate, especially as a person begins this work. Though as @monasf shared via Twitter:
I must confess I myself was riding around in a white vehicle last week. Of course, I was doing so to talk with Haitians about how they are able push back on the aid system and on systematic injustices in general.
Everywhere I go these days, I’m interacting with a growing cadre of skilled professionals that openly, bravely, and constructively question “business as usual” in the aid industry. If I had written a personal narrative essay for the New York Times this week, I guess it would have read a little more optimistic and it would have included more about assuming our personal responsibilities in supporting those who are bringing about progress and development in Haiti and elsewhere.
I would have wanted to tell the world–change is upon us and here’s how we can all start bringing it about.