The Western Vector

“Humanitarian action works as a powerful vector for Western ideas and modes of behavior.  It is a powerful mechanism for shaping the relationships between the “modernized” outsiders and the multitude of the insiders.  Technical knowledge and expertise –the nutritionist, the camp managers, the protection officer – are never neutral.  Try as they may, aid workers carry baggage, practice, and ideology that shape the relationship.  And power.”

– Antonio Donini


When thinking about the above statement from Donini’s article in Abu-Sada’s book In the Eyes of Others, I am faced with many ideas that are associated with humanitarian aid.  The statement is very thought provoking and can be broken down and discussed.


The first sentence from Donini essentially states that humanitarian aid is a “vector for Western ideas.”  I interpret this statement to mean that as humanitarian aid has grown, so has the influences that come along with it.  The Western “modernized” world feels an obligation to help and many of these aid workers, or organizations, do so with motives different than just offering aid.


The second sentence brings up the idea that there is a difference between the aid workers, or “outsiders”, and the people receiving aid, or “insiders”.  To me, this statement is referring to the influence the outsiders can have on the insiders, both positive and negative.


The last two sentences can be lumped together for interpretation.  I take this to mean that the influences that are exerted by the outsiders are not necessarily intentional.  No matter how neutral or unbiased they can try to be, the fact is that they bring along with them many influences from their own “developed world”.


The breakdown of this statement leads me into applying it to a recent article on Elon’s E-net.  The article, Students visit Malawi for Service Opportunites, discusses the activities that 10 Elon students had a chance to experience and participate in.  The fact that this article just discusses the positive influence from the student’s perspective proves Donini’s statement to be accurate.  The opportunity to visit and “help” in Malawi served the students with the opportunity to experience the culture in Malawi.  However, does this visit actually provide the Malawian people with the aid that they need or deserve?  Is the influence the students have on the young Malawian children taken into account?


The example of the Elon students is very similar to that of many other institutions and humanitarian aid organizations.  With the world expanding and the availability of social media, the Western world feels an obligation to help.  The fact that so many outsiders are willing to push their help upon locals or insiders without asking the relevant questions.  Are we providing the help these people need and what impact am I having on the people I am helping?


Works Cited:

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

N.d. Photograph. n.p. Web. 16 Jun 2013. <>.

Townsend, Eric. “Students Visit Malawi for Service Opportunities.” E-Net! Elon University News & Information. Elon, 13 June 2013. Web. 16 June 2013.

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