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The Call for A System of Humanitarian Aid that Does No Harm


You’re sitting down on the couch watching the news. A story about the civil war in Syria flashes onto your television screen. In a grave tone, the reporter says that the death toll rests at over 93,000 and the United Nations just launched an appeal to the world, asking for five billion dollars for humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees (BBC). My heart, like yours, breaks for the Syrian people as their country is torn apart by violence that has been going on since 2011 with the Arab spring uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad. You want to do something, anything and want the leaders of our world to take action. But is five billion dollars in humanitarian aid really the answer to the problems in Syria?

My definitive answer to this question is no. Enormous sums of money will not help alleviate the suffering in Syria. The system of aid that in place today is so flawed that it would only serve to worsen or perpetuate conditions for those in humanitarian crises or establish an unequal system of dependency upon the providers of aid.

In the past, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have responded to humanitarian crises similar to the one unfolding in Syria and the results have been disastrous. For instance, “…on 6 April 1994, the genocide by extremist Rwandan Hutus of their Tutsi fellow citizens began… In the space of three months 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by their extremist Hutu compatriots” (Polman 16).  The Hutu army and extremist Hutu citizen militias that had perpetrated the killings against their fellow countrymen then fled the country, running from a Ugandan Tutsi army and were given refuge by the United Nations and NGOs in Goma, a bordering city in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the camp, the Hutus gained strength from food and medicine provided to them by the aid community that flocked to the refugee camps. Reinvigorated by the provision of aid, members of the Hutu military and militias then continued their killing sprees. The Hutus received overwhelmingly sympathetic press coverage as a “PR war between aid organizations” (Polman 20) broke out as they stole an estimated “60% of all aid supplies being distributed, partly for their own use, partly to sell back to civilians in the camps” (28). The aid organizations chose to hide these statistics as best they could to prevent loss of donations and this continued for two years. This situation embodies much of what is wrong with our system of humanitarian aid today. The preservation of neutrality took precedence over justice, the jockeying by aid organizations to maintain the attention of the press for donations, the perpetuation of a crisis by the provision of aid, the skimming of resources by corrupt individuals who use it for personal gain. Lastly, the entire aid community failed to listen to the perceptions of the native Rwandans, Tutsi or Hutu, and as a result failed to provide aid in a way that effectively and efficiently solved the crisis.

This is not the only example of such an instance of how our system of aid has failed those in need. The examples go on and on; Haiti, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, the list never ends.

Before the next big famine or refugee crisis, we as a community of global citizens need to begin the call for a reform of humanitarian aid. At the present, there exist few measures that maintain the accountability of aid organizations. Whether they are multi-lateral bodies like the United Nations or small, homegrown organizations called “My Own NGOs,” or “MONGOs,” there are no enforceable rules and few efforts to truthfully assess effectiveness of past projects. Today, there is far too much “…general cultural insensitivity, poor accountability and bad technique among humanitarian agencies” (Donini 186) and I believe it is preventable.

First and foremost, the press needs to begin holding aid organizations accountable to the general public financially, politically and ethically. The media can no longer pander to the organizations to gain access to situations that will guarantee viewership and should instead them to the same standard they do businesses, politicians, etc. This will allow an improved method of informing citizens, which will enable an even higher level of accountability to take root. Second, aid organizations need to develop a stronger sense of collectivism and community in the recognition that many, if not all, are fighting for the same thing: the betterment of circumstances for mankind everywhere. This will ensure a more efficient distribution of financial resources and will prevent the loss of aid money to corrupt bodies in the form of taxes, levies or theft. Third, the international community needs to create a standard, critical procedure by which aid organizations can measure effectiveness and native perception of crises efforts and allow this to dictate action in country. This will guarantee a continual trajectory of improvement towards the creation of a better aid system and increased accountability.

The people of Syria deserve better than the system of aid that was present in Goma. They deserve a humanitarian response that will empower them to perhaps find a solution to the violence and that will, most of all, do them no harm. It is now our responsibility, as global citizens, to make our voices heard and issue a collective call for the measures above, so that  we can be the generation that ushers in a system of humanitarian aid that truly does no harm.

Works Cited:

Donini, Antonio. “Humanitarianism, Perceptions, Power.” In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid. Doctors without Borders, n.d. Web. 20 June 2013.

Polman, Linda. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Penguin, 2011. Print.

“Syria Crisis: UN Launches Largest Ever Aid Appeal.” BBC News. BBC, 06 July 2013. Web. 20 June 2013. <>.


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The Shift From “Giving” to “Partnering”

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In 2004, Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General said, “The aid we give them is not charity, it is their right.” (Polman 144).  I believe that as citizens of this world, we are bound to our fellow global citizens.  We have a duty and a responsibility to act on their behalf when they need help.  When writing about my views on global citizenship, I said, “Part of the definition of citizenship states that a citizen should be loyal to their fellow citizens within the nation.  If someone is a global citizen, then they should be concerned for all the people of the world.  We have the responsibility to act on the behalf of our fellow citizens.”  This is the foundation of the humanitarian aid industry.  To make our effort valuable to this noble cause, we must make the shift from “giving to others” to “working with partners.”

“The consequence is that the ‘otherness’ of the humanitarian enterprise undermines the effectiveness of assistance and protection activities.” (Donini, Abu-Sada 186).  The effectiveness of aid is limited by how much the providers of aid can connect and establish relationships with the populations they help.  People receiving aid often perceive aid workers as people who are there to deliver supplies without establishing relationships, decreasing the value of the aid.  In her TED talk, Jessica Jackley urges the aid industry to interact with people in need in a way that “validates their dignity, validates a partnership relationship, not the traditional donor-beneficiary weirdness that can happen- instead, a relationship that can promote respect and hope and this optimism that together we can move forward.”

Sometimes we view aid as something we can check off our to-do list, something that makes us feel good.  Focusing on the fact that we are helping our fellow human beings, rather than giving food to some people on the other side of the world, can help us realize the value of aid.  Effective aid must be given in a partnership mentality.  Many Western humanitarian organizations could take a page from the Chinese book.  Working with people in humanitarian territories, the Chinese never use “the term ‘donor-recipient’…using ‘partner’ instead.  China believes that assistance is not unilateral, but mutual.  Both China and Africa appreciate each other and cooperate with each other.” (Anshan, Abu-Sada 127).  For example, while providing aid services in Africa, the Chinese will “usually help local doctors by offering free lectures, training courses, and operations teaching.” (Anshan, Abu-Sada 129).  In this way, the Chinese help the African people become self-sufficient, so that the relationships formed are not built on shipments of medicine alone.

None of us are free.

None of us are free.

None of us are free, if one of us are chained.

None of us are free.

And there are people still in darkness,

And they just can’t see the light.

If you don’t say it’s wrong then that says it right.

We got try to feel for each other, let our brothers know that we care.

Got to get the message, send it out loud and clear.

These lyrics to Solomon Burke’s song “None Of Us Are Free” perfectly expound the importance of humanitarian aid.  We are all tied together, and until we realize this, we are all trapped.  If someone on the other side of the world is suffering, it is our duty to do what we can to help.  That is our brother or sister, and we must act on their behalf if they are not able to do so themselves.


Works Cited


Abu-Sada, Caroline, ed. In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid. N.p.: MSF-USA, 2012. Print.

Burke, Solomon. “Solomon Burke – None Of Us Are Free (HD).” YouTube. YouTube, 11 Oct. 2011. Web. 30 June 2013. <>.

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic, 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

“Global Citizens.” United Nations Association Greater Seattle Chapter. UNA Seattle, n.d. Web. 30 June 2013. <>.

Jessica Jackley: Poverty, Money- and Love. Perf. Jessica Jackley. TED Talks. TED, Oct. 2010. Web. 6 June 2013. <>.

Polman, Linda, and Liz Waters. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Penguin, 2011. Print.


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Today, a global citizen is defined as anyone who works to make the world a better place (VIDEA). Humanitarian aid is defined as aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of emergencies (“Defining Humanitarian Aid”). In 1980, The World Book Dictionary defined humanitarian as “a person who is devoted to the welfare of all human beings,” and aid as “help or assistance (Barnhart & Barnhart).” More or less these definitions are the same as they were 33 years ago, but it is the perception of a global citizen and humanitarian aid by other people that has changed over the years. Through reading other blog posts on these topics, various research and reading books about global citizens and humanitarian aid, I have learned that these definitions should probably be changed because they are giving a false meaning to the words “global citizen” and “humanitarian aid.”

After reading War Games, In the Eyes of Others, and Emergency Sex, it is clear that humanitarian aid is not what it appears to be. Western cultures come across as very ethnocentric in their work of humanitarian aid, though the United States can act like a coward sometimes in its’ efforts to bring peace to warring countries. Also, the money that naive Americans are donating to humanitarian aid funds, because it seems like a good cause, is often getting taken in transition, so their efforts to help someone in need is pretty much pointless.

In War Games, by Linda Polman, it mentions that “we have local customs authorities who want to squeeze out money from our relief supplies. We have guerrilla leaders and paramilitaries and generals and government people who basically don’t care if people die as long as their prestige is massaged (Polman, 88).” This statement in itself says that not every cent of humanitarian aid money is put towards relief for others. People of a higher social class don’t seem to care whether or not the people in their country receiving help get it or not. As long as they continue to be flourished with luxuries. Knowing this information, I find it hard to believe that people are still donating money to relief funds. In the following video, President Obama announces an extra $155 million will be sent to Syria for humanitarian aid. But how much of this money will actually go towards helping those who need it? With $155 million we could be helping many people in our own country, which should be our first priority.

In the book In the Eyes of Others, it dissects how humanitarian aid is seen by people in other countries. This book focuses on the impact of Western cultures going into foreign lands and attempting to repair what has been broken. However, this book uncovers the truth about humanitarian aid and how ethnocentric the work being done can be. In one part of the book about humanitarian aid perceived as western domination, it states, “humanitarian aid is the ‘showcase’ for Western domination of Africa, the symbol of poverty (Abu-Sada, 117).” People in Western cultures believe that they are superior to other nations and this book by Caroline Abu-Sada definitely proves this. When traveling to other countries to provide humanitarian aid, people of Western cultures try and infuse their culture on the people they are there to help. Sometimes this is done unintentionally and other times it is done on purpose. You can’t just go into another country and expect everyone to start acting like you just because you believe where you come from is better. A personal experience of mine, when I traveled to Jamaica on a service trip, reminded me of a Western culture influencing people in another country. The group I was with did not intentionally try to change the people of Jamaica, but it is clear to me that we had some influence on the children at the school we worked with. I remember one of the kids at the school took my phone one day and started playing music, a song by Akon, a popular artist in America. The student had never heard of him before but fell in love with the song. Little things like this happened throughout our trip, and I am just now realizing that we, as Westerners, had an impact on the people of Jamaica through culture whether we meant to do it or not.

Counter to this, America and Western cultures can also be cowards in a time of war when other countries need help. In Emergency Sex, the war in Haiti is talked about at one point. As things were getting worse and worse, America decided to send a ship of soldiers over to help bring peace to this warring country. It is mentioned that the American ship arrives and “a gang of drunken macoutes (a militia in Haiti responsible for numerous deaths and rapes) with crude weapons…so President Clinton orders the American soldiers and their chip to withdraw from the docks and from Haiti. It’s too dangerous (Cain, Postlewait & Thomson, 170).” It goes on to say that the Americans could have easily taken out the macoutes, but this shows an act of fear on the Americans part. If we are so ethnocentric and wanting other countries to be like us, are we saying that we want them to be cowards? I would certainly hope the answer is no.

In conclusion, humanitarian aid is not at all what we expect it to be and probably wouldn’t know without a little research. To be a good global citizen, we do not have to travel 12+ hours on a plane to a country that is broken and needs help. We can start by helping our own country, which is far from perfect. Messing with other countries is how humanitarian aid gets its’ negative views from other people. As one of my peers said, “before a country can go fixing others, it must fix itself (Dash Jepsen).”

Poverty statistics in America



“Syrian Crisis- Obama Announces $155 Million Humanitarian Assistance.” YouTube. YouTube, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 June 2013. <>.
“Defining Humanitarian Aid | Global Humanitarian Assistance.” Global Humanitarian Assistance. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2013. <>.
“VIDEA – What Is a Global Citizen?” VIDEA – What Is a Global Citizen? N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2013. <>.
 Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury, 2004. Print.
Polman, Linda. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Viking, 2010. Print.
Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. United States: MSF-USA, 2012. Print.
Barnhart, Clarence L., and Robert K. Barnhart. The Word Book Dictionary. 1980 ed. Vol. 1. N.p.: Doubleday &, 1979. Print.
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Kenneth Cain’s Journey

“The problem is that no matter how good your intentions, eventually you want to kill someone yourself.” (Cain 193).

In “Emergency Sex”, all three of the characters presented experience substantial development over the course of their journeys. Of the three, the character I believed experienced the most significant growth was Kenneth Cain. Partly because of this, Cain is also my favorite character of the three. In the beginning he is easily the most relatable. He has huge aspirations for his studies concerning his thesis paper, as well as his future; “the truth is that this is the first time in my life I have been implicated in anything bigger than myself. I want to go” (Cain 10).

Right away, Cain comes off as a very likeable character; he’s about to start his studies concerning his thesis which he is extremely passionate about, albeit very dangerous as well. In the very first chapter he is trying his best to stay professional but can’t stop thinking about how attracted he is to the woman he is staying with in Israel. After sealing themselves off in a room and putting on gas masks to stay protected from the missiles being dropped he eventually makes his move. This scene is great because depicts the harsh inhuman realties of war outside the US contrasted with the unintended all-too-human feelings of attraction towards the people around us.

“I just watched a missile land, and people died. They’re bleeding and burning right now. That Scud hit and killed people. I keep repeating it all in my mind to keep it all real […] This is ridiculous. I’m in a sealed room with the door open and my gas mask half off thinking of adolescent sex.” (Cain 16-17).

While in Cambodia, Cain seems to be having the time of his life. He’s staying in a house filled with humanitarian workers from all over the world, meeting new and interesting people left and right. One scene when he’s having a party at his house helps to show his general disbelief at how much fun he’s having. “This is the best party I’ve ever been to, and it’s my house. I never dreamed I’d attend a party like this, never mind host it” (Cain 65). Cain has the time of his life in Cambodia, but moods quickly change when he begins working in Somalia.

Cain’s outlook on his journey immediately transforms after an ambush on a courthouse in Mogadishu during a ceremony he attends. This is the first time Cain is experiencing the violence that always been present in the regions around him. What was first fear turns into anger. There are many different ways that fear manifests itself in the human mind; with Cain, his fear has become so extreme that he expresses his longing for violence during the ambush. “I want to kill the boss. I want to drag him out into the line of fire headfirst and watch his body buckle and jerk as the bullets hit him. I want to watch him bleed to death.” (Cain 150). For a number of days after the attack he feels numb, in a total state of disbelief. When Cain finally goes to Rwanda and later Liberia, he conveys this feeling of hopelessness. After everything he’s witnessed combined with everything he’s tried to contribute, he’s seen more bad than good.

“I think I’m actually starting to understand. I was hell-bent on being an effective humanitarian in Cambodia and Somalia. But a naïve fog is finally lifting. Revealed is a train wreck of illusions, the depravity of someone else’s war, the futility of a competence stillborn there. To understand this you have to become this.” (Cain 219).

Kenneth Cain started humanitarian work in a number of different countries, leaving most of them with a feeling of hopelessness, almost depression. He tried to do good, but after witnessing events like the ambush in Somalia and the genocide in Rwanda, his faith in humanity was weakened. At the end of his moral career, Cain decided to reflect on his experiences by writing about them. “I am a witness. I have a voice. I have to write it down.” (Cain 290). Cain is able to look back on the past decade he experienced and acknowledge where there was success and failure. Cain stays working at the UN and is hopeful for what the future holds and the role he will play in it.


Arcaro, Tom. “Moral Career.” 2013. Audio.

Cain, Kenneth. “How Many More Must Die before Kofi Quits?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 03 Apr. 2005. Web.

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. “Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures.” London. 2004. Print.



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My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

“Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

– Psalm 77:7-9


How does God let bad things happen to innocent people? This is a question that I, as a person of faith have to ask myself every time I open a newspaper and read about the newest and most horrifying human event to present itself in the news. Andrew Thomson, the United Nations peacekeeper who identifies most strongly with faith in the book, Emergency Sex, is forced to consider this question time and time again as he encounters atrocities in such places as Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Haiti.

Andrew was born and raised in New Zealand and his parents had worked as Christian missionaries in the Solomon Islands and Fiji. He was raised in a Christian household and over the course of his life had developed what could be described as a strong Christian faith. He chronicles his father teaching him how to pray and affirming to him that the God they prayed to was a just and merciful God, saying, “My father taught me [sic] when I was a boy…he would kneel beside the wooden bed, showing me how to pray to a good God” (108). Many years after learning how to pray from his father in August of 1993, he writes, “It’s been over twenty years since I prayed besides my bed with my father. But as I take my first steps on Haitian soil, I’m still answerable to those beliefs…” (108).

Then, in 1995, he was sent to Kibuye, Rwanda. Rwanda was the site of the massive genocide of the Tutsi’s by Hutu militias, who were then given refuge by the United Nations. It was Andrew’s task to exhume bodies that were in mass graves in Kibuye. His “…team had been digging for weeks… pulling out corpses under a screaming sun” (234). The area he was tasked to unearth was the site of a massacre ordered by the Hutu governor after ensuring innocent Tutsi civilians refuge, only to then call for their death by his Hutu forces. The dead that Andrew was encountering were “…unarmed civilians, mostly women and children, almost all of whom died of blunt or sharp-force trauma” (235). The irony of the situation, despite the appalling circumstances surrounding the massacre was that the killings had all occurred in a church and it was here that he truly began questioning the presence of God. Still in Rwanda in February of 1996, Andrew reflects on the killings, writing, “This is one church where a lot of prayers went unanswered” (243). At one point, he climbed up the three-story bell tower of the church, perhaps to shorten the distance between himself and a seemingly uninterested God, and reflected. “Above is God, below are hundreds of cadavers stacked like cordwood between the pews and the altar… After many hours I decide God was here, maybe not far above where I’m sitting now, watching and listening. He heard all the desperate prayers, from the kids and the half-dead women, from the believers, the doubters, and the nonbelievers… And God just pissed all those prayers back down to earth, leaving everyone to die” (243). It is at this point that Andrew comes to the same question I voice at the beginning of this essay. “This can’t be the same God I prayed to as a missionary kid or at the communion rail as a medical student. This is a pitiless stranger and to pray to him up here in this bell tower would be absurd” (243). He later on comes to the conclusion that it is people who commit the wrongdoings against their fellow man and that God is not responsible for stopping genocides like the one he witnesses the aftermath of, reassuring himself of the conviction that the God he worships is a God that is Good. It is only people who can put a stop to the darkness penetrating the earth. Coming to this understanding, Andrew climbs down the bell tower, and puts his work gloves back on. In what could only be described as a devastatingly raw act of worship, once again undertakes the task of pulling cadavers from the dirt. Of this, he says, “…not the body and blood of Christ for my sins but ten more cadavers. It’s salvation through exhumation, a new creed” (244).

Andrew is not alone in experiencing a crisis of faith after exposure to some of the greater cruelties present on this earth. Mother Teresa, often hailed as one of the greatest women of faith in history, found herself struggling as she came to terms with what she perceived as an unfeeling and silent God as she began working with the poor and sick in Calcutta, India. Letters written from the year 1949, when she began working in Calcutta, until her death, were made public in 2007 in which she describes an incredible darkness and an unutterable feeling of being “unwanted” and unloved” by God. She says in one letter, “I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of the darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” Mother Teresa witnessed some of the most destitute populations present at the time and as a response, came to question the goodness and presence of God. And yet, in the face of all of this, she and Andrew both fought on and continued to tend to those, both dead and alive, who it seemed God had abandoned. Despite their crises of faith, he and Mother Teresa took on the responsibility of being those who would seek to put an end to the darkness they witnessed on earth in an answer to a silent God.


Works Cited:

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. London: Ebury, 2004. Print.

“Episode 4: Andrew Thomson.” ENOUGH ROPE with Andrew Denton. ABC Australia, 2011. Web. 18 June 2013. <>.

Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Moore, Malcolm. “Mother Teresa’s 40-year Faith Crisis'” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 24 Aug. 2007. Web. <>.


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Assignment 5


Although many American college students talk about “saving the world” and “helping those in need”, it is just as likely to see that same student wearing a pair of Nike tennis shoes that were made by Chinese child laborers. In American culture, as it is popular to keep up with the latest style, it seems equally as popular to seem engaged in the issues of the world. However, it does not seem that someone interested in the well being of the world would purchase goods from a company known to exploit its workers. In American culture, it seems people only accept the role of global citizenship when it is convenient for them. When helping others is going to inhibit personal style or success, then the duties of global citizenship are pushed to the side. In Western countries like America, it is very common to see our needs as superior to other countries around the world. The influence of ethnocentrism, or “the belief in the superiority of one’s own ethnic group”, can create sense of separation between the “us” and the “others” (Wordnet). In trying to help the “others”, we often blur the lines between what we believe is best of them and what they actually want and need.  Below is a chart that highlights how certain beliefs or tendencies can contribute to ethnocentric behaviors.

Some of our ethnocentric attitudes highlighted in this chart come from traits and ideas we deal with everyday. In the article “Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance: Becoming a Responsible World Citizen”, Dr. Tom Arcaro discusses the overlapping definitions of patriotism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, and racism. Arcaro asks us to consider “can you be patriotic without being nationalistic? Can you be nationalistic without being somewhat ethnocentric? Can you be ethnocentric without being somewhat racist?” (7). He sites the Pledge of Allegiance, a pledge American students recite everyday, as an act of patriotism. But doest it instill more than that? Does it imply we protect our country and hold American and its citizens above all other citizens of the world? In this way, ethnocentric attitudes in our society seem almost inescapable, and therefore play an extensive role in humanitarian aid.  

Because many of these attitudes can be found in both donors and volunteers in aid industries alike, ethnocentrism has a profound effect on the effectiveness of humanitarian aid. No one in the aid industry is asking if the recipients of aid are satisfied with the care they receive or if the care is fulfilling all of their need. And, sadly, that doesn’t seem to be a concern for most aid organizations. Instead, they are more concerned about their image as it is perceived by donors and the Western community.

Ethnocentric tendencies in humanitarian aid can often be linked back to donor interests taking priority over the actual needs of victims. Aid organizations bring care to victims suffering all over the world through whatever services the donors believe will be most beneficial. However, very rarely are the victims ever consulted as to what kind of aid they would find most helpful. For many westerns, it seems the goal of providing aid is to make themselves feel accomplished by providing the services they feel are most necessary, which are likely not the services victims need most. In her book War Games, Linda Polman discusses how MONGOs delivered useless aide items to many areas of crisis. Polman sites examples of shipping “frostbite medication to victims of tropical disasters, and starving Somalis received laxatives, slimming cures, and electric blankets” (49). In these examples, donors are unaware of the true needs of the victims. They provide ineffective aid, wasting both time and money.

When reflecting on the work of MSF, Caroline Abu-Sada recognizes that motivations for people within this organization “largely depend on personal paths rather than general trends” (38). She continues to suggest that “the organization as an institution must assert its own motivations, which its members are expected to adopt” (38).  With unity in motivation, it is more possible to address the needs of victims rather than focus on personal interests. Aid donors are often so blinded by their own interests and fail to see the larger causes of suffering. Cole explains that unseen by most Westerners, “beyond the immediate attention that he rightly pays hungry mouths, child soldiers, or raped civilians, there are more complex and more widespread problems”(Cole). In this way, the ethnocentric attitudes of Americans can of understanding what assistance can be provided and what goals are unrealistic . Instead, Americans become caught up in the idea of “saving the world” when in actuality, they can not even accurately access the needs of the victims they are giving aide to. In Teju Cole’s article The White-Savior Industrial Complex he comments on how ethnocentric attitudes of westerns, specifically Americans, hinder the effectiveness of humanitarian aid. Cole comments that contrary to the current practices of the aide industry, “there is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them” (Cole).  Abu-Sada agrees that the opinions of the victims are often overlooked. She explains that “perhaps because of excessive confidence in the power of humanitarian organizations, there has been a tendency to neglect these negotiation processes” (63). And after these aid organizations feel that their work is complete, they leave that specific region to visit another suffering area of the world. But after humanitarian aid has been deemed “complete”, who decides if the humanitarian work was effective or not? Who decides if the needs of the victims were actually met? Cole agrues that personal interests of the donors, such their emotional needs, play a large role assessing the effectiveness of an aid project. He explains that sites of humanitarian aid are “a liberated space in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied.” (Cole).

An add used by MSF to attract donors. Children are often used to attract Western donors even if they do not represent the main population effected by the crisis. This can lead to ineffective spending.


To address situations like these, Abu-Sada argues that mutual respect for a cultures and an attitude of humility must be utilized when providing aide. Abu-Sada recognizes that “international staff do not always have a good understanding of the political, economic, and cultural contexts in which they work” (62).  She goes on to suggest that “MSF should get back in to the habit of negoticating with the parties involved: politicians, ministries of health, and local people” (63). Overall, it seems that ethnocentrism seems to really create a lack on communication between victims and aid providers. By making the needs of victims a priority, aid industries could be much more effective in their distribution of aide.


Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. MSF-USA, 2012. Print.

Arcaro, Tom. “Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance: Becoming a Responsible World Citizen.” 13 June 2013

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Polman, Linda. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Viking, 2010. Print.

“WordNet Search – 3.1.” WordNet Search – 3.1 Web. 13 June 2013. <>.


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The Aid Worker’s Burden


Ethnocentrism is the primary flaw within the mentality of the present-day aid community. Put plainly, ethnocentrism is a mentality of cultural or ethnic superiority that one either consciously or subconsciously uses as a means of measuring or comparing the culture or ethnicity of others. What happens now in the aid sphere is that those in the “developed” world see a “problem” in the developing world, as compared to their standard of living and cultural understandings, and then have an irresistible urge to respond, oftentimes in a way that hurts the beneficiaries rather than helps them. Aid groups see “others” with less than “us”, who have different, or perhaps “worse” living conditions than us, those who have lesser economic opportunities than us, and feel pity and a consequential motivation to change their circumstances. This emotional and (often unintentionally) condescending response, as Teju Cole highlights in his article in The Atlantic, has created the widely accepted and little acknowledged mentality within the aid community that, “The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm.” This enthusiasm blinds the aid community and serves to drive actions that are well intentioned but ultimately harmful to those they intend to help.

Take, for instance, the shoe company TOMS. TOMS has a business model of “One for One,” stating that, “For every purchase, TOMS will help a person in need. One for One.” TOMS was founded by a young man named Blake Mycoskie after he traveled to Argentina in 2006 and saw that there were children were walking around without shoes. Ignorance, based largely in ethnocentrism, hindered him from asking those in the country of Argentina what other, more pressing needs might exist, and he decided to start a for-profit business that would give one pair of shoes to a child in a developing country for every pair of shoes bought by another person on the other side of the world. Mycoskie, acting without significant knowledge of the economy of the countries he was seeking to aid, failed to recognize the impact it would have and unfortunately, “Wanting to do something to help is no excuse for not knowing the consequences of what you’re doing” (Wadmans). In the end, the ethnocentric model of TOMS has put shoes on the feet of over one million children, but at the cost of destabilizing developing local economies that rely upon the purchase of secondhand apparel and accessories by citizens, disempowering those who are acting as the recipients of free goods and failing to listen to the greater needs of the beneficiaries, and last but not least, not seeking to develop a sustainable solution to the issue at hand.

Ethnocentrism in aid propagates the outlook within the aid community that those who are on the receiving end of aid are lucky to be beneficiaries and yet, “Local circumstances alter the way humanitarian action is perceived, filtering it through a cultural, religious or political lens” (Abu-Sada 27). Noting this, it is of the utmost importance that we follow in the footsteps of the NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres, and place unblinking attention on how recipients perceive aid, the factors influencing perception and the perceptions of recipients by aid workers in order to best govern interactions and interventions and combat ethnocentrism in humanitarian action. Once more humanitarian organizations commence intensive introspection, such as what MSF did with their Perception Project regarding the perceptions of their distribution of aid and the intentions behind it, they can begin altering approaches so that they more effectively and sensitively address the actual needs of communities being served. Aid groups can then address real, pressing needs of communities rather than a projection of perceived needs and do so in a way that empowers local people groups and enables them through partnership or investment. The end goal of this will be that long-term sustainable solutions to foundational issues begin to emerge. As William Easterly says in his article “The White Man’s Burden,” Poverty never has been ended and never will be ended by foreign experts or foreign aid. Poverty will end as it has ended everywhere else, by homegrown political, economic, and social reformers and entrepreneurs that unleash the power of democracy and free markets.” Only after ethnorelativism is attained and a healthy dose of humility infiltrates the humanitarian aid community, can the disempowering impact of aid be addressed and the international system of aid be healed again.

 Works Cited:

Abu-Sada, Caroline. In the Eyes of Others. United States: MSF-USA, n.d. Print.

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. N.p., 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Davenport, Cheryl. “The Broken “Buy-One, Give-One” Model: 3 Ways To Save Toms Shoes.” Fast Company. Fast Company, 04 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 June 2013. <>.

“One For One Movement – A Pair Of New Shoes Is Given To A Child In Need With Every Pair Purchased.” One For One Movement – A Pair Of New Shoes Is Given To A Child In Need With Every Pair Purchased | TOMS, n.d. Web. 13 June 2013. <>.

Wadhams, Nick. “Bad Charity? (All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!).” Time Inc., 12 May 2010. Web. <Wadhams, Nick. “Bad Charity? (All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!).” Time Magazine 12 May 2010: n. pag. Web. .>.

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A. Nicot – Assignment 5: Ethnocentrism and the White Savior

My internet service has been acting up due to the copious floods in the region of the world where I am right now, so forgive the absence of the previous two assignments, I’ll see about getting those up as soon as possible – I shouldn’t expect many other delays, after talking with my ISP.


France bringing “civilization, liberty, and peace” to Morocco (or possibly Algeria).

Before commenting on Ethnocentrism as a force, I think it would be wise to take some time to talk about the less important but nevertheless irritating “white savior” complex. In his editorial reply to some received criticism, Easterly identifies the modern “white savior” mentality, which consists of Europeans and Americans (mostly anglophones) supporting charitable action or humanitarian intervention in African countries, usually attributed out of  a desire to feel good as opposed to a desire to do good. Easterly makes a connection between this complex and the historic notion of the “White Man’s Burden,” which I contend is in fact quite dissimilar. Whereas white saviors advocate increased charitable donation to poverty-stricken countries (Jeffry Sachs, identified as the man making the comments displeasing to Easterly, mentions $75 billion annual donations), they take a purely materialist view of the problem. That is, they, with the bureaucratic entities of the higher orders (mainly the UN and it’s various subordinate entities such as UNESCO or UNICEF) argue that money will somehow solve the problems.

This is not the case in reality, and was not the case with the White Man’s Burden. Real aid to these sorts of Third-World wastelands (to put it bluntly) comes in the aid of active development. China understands this, even though they tend to do a sub-par job with their infrastructure development. But China sees that it’s a quid pro quo exchange of services and goods. They come and build the roads and the power structures, they fund schools and so on instead of just dumping the money into the governments, and in return, they obtain resources and privileges in commerce. Similarly, 19th Century neo-colonial Empires exchanged what was understood to be civilization (schools, medicine, religion, participation in Empire itself) in exchange for resources (manual labour, troops, minerals, lumber, etc.). The relationship was proportional to the level of development between the two parties. It was the act of domination, of establishing a hierarchy of civilizations, and of the greater uplifting the lesser. In the eyes of the 19th Century European, in any case.

This puts it miles away from modern “white saviors” who are motivated purely by humanist, soft, charitable ambitions and demand nothing in return but gratitude (and the inevitable adulation of their supporters on the home front, for their “bravery” and “courage” and so forth). Naturally, one can observe that the first model, the Colonial one (and as successor the more equilateral arrangements between China and African countries) as more effective at raising standards of living in Africa proper. After all, when the Empires left, Africa was left with so much more than what it had before, and so many more resources to spare besides. The dichotomy between the two concepts is the first point is the first ting I wanted to address, since Easterly and Cole (from his Atlantic editorial) seem to suggest that the one derives from the other. One was born of a sense of superiority and moral duty, the other was not.

One can see from this that the white savior complex is not mandated from an explicit ethnocentrism, whereas old-style colonial relationships were openly so. So how do some cry “ethnocentrism” (one should note as well that this term is used, for no good reason, in an almost entirely negative manner by all) when it comes to modern humanitarian missions? I recall reading the book Dancing Skeletons, an extensive study by Katherine Dettwyler about the state of the health of West African tribesmen in Mali. I hate to bring in anecdotes, but it seems to adequately summarize the concerns over ethnocentrism. In this book, Dettwyler chronicles the various diseases and afflictions that had befallen this particular tribe of Bambara, including but not limited to urinating blood, intestinal parasites, widespread malnutrition, and the like. Now, the interesting part of this account comes when analyzing the causes of these tragedies and the reasons for their persistence: native Bambara culture. Indeed, in their traditional way of life, the Bambara treat ailments by rubbing feces into open wounds, keeping essential proteins contained in meat away from the young because it was felt the elders deserved it more, or thinking that goiters the size of basketballs are part of a healthy physique; thinking that blood in urine for boys is the equivalent of menstruation in girls – a sign of maturity. These are all indigenous beliefs and practices of the Bambara people. Now, Kettwyler detailed in her book how she did her best to treat these people, but concern was raised amongst my fellow students and my professor about this. Apparently, there is no right to alter these people’s culture just to make them healthier. Naturally I was dumbfounded. It was suggested to me that Western medication is a Western cultural artifact that should not be imposed upon the tribesmen. Naturally, I concluded that if juggling rocks would allow a people to establish good health amongst themselves, then there should be no problem with not giving them pills and injections. But that simply isn’t the case. The mortality rate has always been high in certain parts of the world specifically because of cultural practices which are objectively dangerous for the human body. Circumcision for example. But let us look at a hypothetical European example: as many know, the French do not pasteurize their cheese. Now obviously this might seem dangerous to those who understand that this increases the likelihood of contracting disease. Which is why cheese is made in sanitary conditions and it’s ingredients carefully selected. No artisanal fromagerie culture is sacrificed, nobody dies (or at least very rarely). The proposition to introduce objectively superior practices, in this case healthcare ones, was and is perceived as ethnocentric.

Nobody was making a fuss about child soldiers in Europe until the latter half of the Twentieth Century.

It is interesting to note that such cases of humanitarian aid, perceived as ethnocentric, are not motivated by a feeling of superiority of the white as is implied by the term “white savior” but by a feeling of guilt and contrition. Essentially white guilt. Would it not be more ethnocentric to not be contrite, to refuse apology, and to say “enough is enough, not one cent more, we’ll deal with our own problems?”

The Kony 2012 campaign, while absolutely laughable from the start, was not ethnocentric. It was not, as Teju Cole heavily implied, for the benefit of the white man’s superiority complex. It was a commercial event and nothing more. A symptom of the decadence of Western civilization, where people believe they can make a difference in the world by sitting on their backsides and buying shirts and posters online after watching a moderately long video on the internet. Where ignorance is the substitute for knowledge and feel-goodery the substitute of genuine charitable spirit. False emotion (as outlined in the David Jefferess piece) attempts to supplant real and genuine attempts to aid Africans who suffer. the Catholic Church runs through it’s extensive charitable network services which benefit the suffering and demands nothing in return. It doesn’t even demand recognition. Things like the Kony 2012 campaign insult both Africans and Europeans/Americans who support it – the former for patronizing them and the latter for stealing from them by playing their emotions.

On a lighter note, this series of comedy sketches are spoofs of the “white savior” image and how Africans many perceive it:


Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic, 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Dettwyler, Katherine A. Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1994. Print.

Easterly, William. “The White Man’s Burden.” The New York Review of Books. N.p., 11 Jan. 2007. Web. 12 June 2013. <>.

Jefferess, David. “Humanitarian Relations: Emotion and the Limits of Critique.” Critical Literacy Journal 7.1 (2013): n. pag. Http:// Web. 13 June 2013. <>.


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Ethnocentrism and its Influence

Finding aid is becoming more and more of a problem for those that need it. In the Democratic Republic of Congo the MONUC had similar colored vehicles to MSF, which caused confusion among the local population in seeing if MSF was actually neutral or not (“In the Eyes of Others…” 10-11). However, MSF’s own ethnocentrism has left them not understanding the people that they are helping, which caused the study discussed in In the Eyes of Others. Working past that ethnocentrism that is engrained within all of us was MSF asking questions to those who they were trying to provide support, and I appreciated that they did this more qualitatively than quantitatively, because I feel like representing these people into number form would not be an improvement, but reducing their answers to words may give us a more complete view. MSF says that how their organization is displayed is affected by other humanitarian aid organizations and politics that are not acting as how they believe they should act, and that they can make change on their own. But isn’t part of the problem discussed in War Games is that organizations and governments are not working together? That the solution to some of these problems is getting everyone on the same page? By working together, asking questions and seeing the effects of what is happening, people can make a better impact on the humanitarian industry than trying to fix it solely as one organization. Trying to fix it all as a single organization seems ethnocentric to me as well. The people MSF and other humanitarian aid organizations are trying to help feel distant from them because they are trying to apply their culture to another culture, which is bringing in bias. The local people cannot understand why MSF chose their name, what it means in French, or even the buildings they use because they are so unlike their own (“In the Eyes of Others…” 25).

A crowd of young people wearing Kony 2012 T-Shirts make the peace sign

“6- Feverish worry over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice. Worry about that” (Cole).

“…the new paradigm of the “war on terror” has replaced the post-Cole War paradigm of the 1990s. This shift saw the radicalization of certain political actors and the politicization of humanitarian aid…” (“In the Eyes of Others…” 11). Humanitarian aid has changed from it neutrality, even against its own will. As I discussed before, the imagery of humanitarian aid organizations have been tampered with in order to cause confusion among those who need help, and ethnocentrism looms over these agencies. The War on Terror is silly when you think about it. Americans in response to 9/11 declare war on an ill-defined groups called “terrorists”. It is hard to find where you apply this term as well. Can a terrorist be someone who is an American? They cause “terror” and horrific acts, why can they not be called terrorists but foreigners can? This is American ethnocentrism at work, and Kam and Kinder have done a study on how the War on Terror is fueled by ethnocentrism, which they found to be true according to their analyses of interviewed opinion as well as election data (Kam and Kinder).We as Americans think we are the best, “free” and richer than the rest of the world, and that it is our place to step in to other countries and tell them what is wrong without understanding the whole situation and who actually is even guilty. If we were truly invested in making the world a better place, we would work without military influence and instead talk before impulsively acting. This all relates to humanitarian aid because as we see with MSF, they believe, like America, they can do better than everyone else. We must share our ideas on all levels to make the world a better place.


“5- The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege” (Cole).

The White Savior Industrial Complex is an idealism that has been engrained in our country’s past, and is held strong in our ethnocentric present. Even this picture below shows many modern movies that depict white people of a certain privilege helping minority groups within this country make a stand. Who says that these minority groups could not work past their problems without Caucasians having to lead the way? As Cole said in one of this tweets (which is quoted above), helping these other people in need comes from a place in which white people want to feel emotionally better about their actions in the world, and reminds them of their own place. These movies that are shown below create emotional responses in people as well, and the trend of seeing white people in a spot of privilege is reenforcing this idea of ethnocentrism. It is not surprising that these ideals are translated into all actions we do since they seem to be unconscious for the most part, and therefore we can see this in humanitarian aid. When looking at the Radi-Aid website after watching one of their videos, their own goals are as follows: “1. Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes…2. We want better information about what is going on in the world…3. Media: Show respect…4. Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions…” (“Why Africa for Norway?”). I feel like their satirical presentation of this information will catch people’s eye and allow for more people to realize the ethnocentrism that is being used within the aid industry, as well as their everyday lives. “If you don’t finish your food, that’s some that won’t go to the starving kids in Africa” is something that I’ve heard plenty of times throughout my life, but there are not just starving kids and people in Africa, but everywhere across the globe.



Works Cited:

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. N.p., 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 13 June 2013. <>.

“In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid.” In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2013. <>.

Kam, Cindy D., and Donald R. Kinder. “Terror and Ethnocentrism: Foundations of American Support for the War on Terrorism.” JSTOR. Cambridge University Press, May 2007. Web. 13 June 2013.

Polman, Linda. War Games. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

“Why Africa for Norway?” Africa for Norway. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2013. <>.


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Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit by J

Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit

There is a web site dedicated to “Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like” that I was alerted to on my trip to Haiti last summer and I now visit 4Mfrequently.  It is a treasure trove of insight and information -albeit in slanted/satirical fashion- about the realities of the humanitarian aid world from the perspective of the workers “on the ground.”  On this site I learned about and have now read the book “Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit by J.

I have since learned that I have only one degree of separation between myself and the mysterious “J,” and I have has communication with him on Facebook.  I messaged the FB page for the book the site and explained a bit about our course, mentioning the books we were reading. He said, “Should you have need, I’d be more than happy to make myself available for interview or Q&A from yourself and/or your students.”

His book is a great companion piece (IMHO) to Emergency Sex, which you are reading after Abu-Sada’s (ed) MSF work In the Eyes of Others.  From a sociological perspective both of these books are using, though in lay form, Erving Goffman‘s concept of the Moral career.  [Click the link to get a short description.]

Since we have well begun our session together it would be unfair to require this new reading but I can -and do- strongly recommend that you do the quick download and read the book as you read Emergency Sex. I will communicate with J and I hope to record and post an interview with him on this blog.  Moral career.  I will keep you posted.

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