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Midterm

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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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQoEJbTOTLo

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

20121110_FBM977

References:

“Syrian Crisis- Obama Announces $155 Million Humanitarian Assistance.” YouTube. YouTube, 29 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 June 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxK9iJ2PsVI>.
“Defining Humanitarian Aid | Global Humanitarian Assistance.” Global Humanitarian Assistance. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2013. <http://www.globalhumanitarianassistance.org/data-guides/defining-humanitarian-aid>.
“VIDEA – What Is a Global Citizen?” VIDEA – What Is a Global Citizen? N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2013. <http://www.videa.ca/global/citizen.html>.
 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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Moving from Ethnocentric to Global

“Neutrality and impartiality, the studies show, are not theoretical concepts or pie-in-the-sky constructs; they are essential ingredients of effective humanitarian action” (Donini). 

Hands on a globe

Our Western ethnocentric viewpoint is engrained in us. So engrained, in fact, that many people are unaware of it. So many people I know have such a sense of undying patriotism, that they may hear about the problems our country has, but they always leaving the solving to other citizens (whoever they may be) and go on proclaiming that America is the greatest country in the world. And as the greatest country in the world, we must help other “developing” countries. We must help the entire world meet the standard we have set as global citizens.

For instance, the Kony 2012 campaign. As said by Cole, “…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). Americans rely on the media to tell them the important issues in the world. But the real question that Americans should be asking more is where is the media getting its information from and can it be trusted?

The media is paid to focus on certain stories. Free travel tickets to areas where humanitarian aid agencies are set up in war zones, with free lodging and also a free tour. ““Where will we find the starving babies?” And they never answer explicitly. We get the picture just the same” (Polman 39). The media needs stories to deliver, since we as Americans turn on our radios, computers and TVs to get all the news we can fit into our brains, and aid agencies need public attention on war zones and disaster areas in order for people to see a situation at its most extreme and send money for the agencies to use. At times, the situation is made to look worse than it even is because in reality, less than half of one percent of a population is affected (Polman 42). Has anyone watched the news and noticed how graphic their stories are? For instance, go to the link below. For the past week this story has been all over the Chicago news, and every single time without fail they show a picture of this autistic boy strapped down to a bed. Is this picture necessary to show? Normally we see mug shots or school photos and surely there were pictures his family had taken that the media could have used, but instead we get a picture that gives an even more extreme element to the media’s stories. The majority of Americans watch these news stories and gasp at the amputees in Goma or kids stabbed by family members and take in the information without questioning it.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/12/alex-spourdalakis-killed_n_3429030.html

Americans, seeing these stretched and extremed news stories send their money to these humanitarian aid agencies, as was their goal. But many do not realize what is happening to their money either. Aid organizations need to work with the countries in which these crisises are happening and there is “No access to war zones without payment, whatever form it may take…Warlords try to siphon off as large a proportion of the value of aid supplies as they can” (Polman 89).

If this is the standard we have set for being a global citizen, then we need to aim higher. If we are going to make a difference in the world, we need to understand the problems with what is currently happening and what has happened in the past in order to make a better future. Donating your old winter coats to tsunami relief will not help, nor will clothing pieces that are inappropriate in the culture you are sending to, which is also something Western countries are getting wrong.

Our ethnocentrism is clouding our judgement on what to do with those who need aid. For instance, people who are receiving aid 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 their culture (“In the Eyes of Others…” 25). But unlike some, MSF chose to reach out and understand how they are affecting the people they provide with aid and how they can improve. In order to become true global citizens and being more aware in not only our own country, but the world, we must approach a view of neutrality and have no bias. Part of the problem in finding an unbiased view is not relying on past interpretations by those of your own culture or language, but understanding the voice of the locals who need the help. To be a global citizen, one must take the effort to see through the veils of what others want us to see, to see what is really happening and take informed action to correct the problems instead of relying on others to do it.

 

Works Cited:

Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic. N.p., 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 13 June 2013. <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/>.

Donini, Antonio. “Humanitarianism, Perceptions, Power.” In the Eyes of Others. Ed. Caroline Abu-Sada. N.p.: Doctors Without Borders, 2012. Print.

“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. <http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/publications/book/perceptions/>.

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

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Midterm

Due by 10:00PM Thursday, June 20th.

Public scholarship is an important contribution from the academy to the general population.  From publisher’s web site here is a short description of the contents of one book (Practising Public Scholarship: Experiences and Possibilities Beyond the Academy) on the subject:

A cross-disciplinary collection of 20 essays describing the journey to public scholarship, exploring the pleasures and perils associated with breaching the town-gown divide.

  • Includes contributions from departments of geography, comparative literature, sociology, communications, history, English, public health, and biology
  • Discusses their efforts to reach beyond the academy and to make their ideas and research broadly accessible to a wider audience
  • Opens the way for a new kind of democratic politics—one based on grounded concepts and meaningful social participation
  • Includes deeply personal accounts about the journey to becoming a public scholar and to intervening politically in the world, while remaining within a university system
  • Provides a broad prescription for social change, both within and outside the university

For your midterm you are to produce one kind of public scholarship, namely an “op-ed” or opinion-editorial essay that typically finds a home on the editorial page of newspapers. Specifically, you are to write a 600-800 word (typical length for an op-ed) essay that comments on the topics of this course:  what does being a “global citizen” mean and how, as global citizens, should we view humanitarian aid efforts past and present?  You need to touch on some of the ideas, issues and examples from our class keeping in mind that your essay must be intended for a general audience that, though intelligent, may be uninformed about the topics we have covered.

The grading rubric for this midterm is the same as for all assignments in this course (see syllabus), but more specifically for this particular format I will be looking for

  • the clarity and comprehensiveness of your definitions and descriptions
  • the framing and explanation of your examples
  • the depth of analysis displayed in your argument
  • the overall readability of the essay

There are numerous web sites that give some basic tips for writing op-eds, and I encourage you to scan through a few of them and take note of the advice which is given.  One example is the the oped project which is specifically geared toward women.  Here is one example of an op-ed that I did early last year and one published just a couple weeks ago.

There are several objectives of this assignment including (1) to provide me with evidence that you have learned from the material we have covered and provide some basis for a grade, (2) to provide you with another opportunity to both give and receive critical feedback from your colleagues, and (3) to provide a service opportunity where your work will -hopefully- inform the general reading public.  These op-ed essays may become one of our chapters in our book.

Using the feedback (in the comments) from your colleagues me and Sami to revise and polish your essay, you are strongly encouraged to submit your op-ed to your hometown newspaper (or other comparable publication).  Please copy me on any email submissions that you make.  If you need help in this process, please let me know.

 

Make sure that you check the box next to Midterm under Categories before you click the “Publish” button.

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