Would you adopt a village in Ethiopia?
Below, see excerpts from an email conversation between myself and a new blogger about how language matters within aid relationships.
L: I just started blogging a few weeks ago because I am working on a project with ORG X on adopting a small village in Ethiopia.
J: I would humbly urge you to reconsider the phrase that you are “adopting” a village in Ethiopia. This sets up the people you are trying to serve as child-like victims who need saving. I’m sure this is not what you intend to convey, but I believe language really matters.
L: I can see how the language of “adopting a village” might be seen in a negative light. The money ORG X raises is used to fund whatever initiatives the people and community leaders want—all community driven. None of the ORG X folks push an agenda. They just bring money and resources that the village leaders have access to. The effort is to help the village develop necessary infrastructure to become more sustainable. The “adoption” is a 3-5 year commitment of funds to help the village get itself out of poverty.
J: Language is tough, isn’t it? Adoption has its “bad” connotations and I see on the website that that’s the word used by ORG X itself. Yet it’s concise, it embodies a longer-term commitment. Support seems too loose by comparison and empowerment is great but it’s a phrase that has unfortunately lost much of its true meaning from overuse. It’s more words, but maybe you could simply share that you are dedicated to helping the people of Village X to improve their lives through X, X, and X over the next few years. In this phrase, the people are the agents of change. And this seems more in line with what you’ve described above.
L: Exactly! That was what I was struggling with. Maybe something like…commit? Or partner? Or sign on? Or something using the word “sister city”? I only used the word adopt because they used it. I guess to me it feels more personal—I think what they are trying to convey is the one-on-one feel though maybe it seems more parent/child than friend/friend.
Maybe “befriend” Village X? Partner with this sister city and help them raise themselves from poverty?
I want to make sure the language is strong enough to evoke attention here. And you know how people here can be. I definitely don’t want it to come off like a savior kind of thing. More like sharing resources because if the roles were reversed, I would hope people would share with my community. Maybe a “virtual” sister city (since I am sourcing from the internet?)
What advice would you offer?