As a foreigner working in development field in developing countries, I gotta have a dilemma that potentially compromises the success of the projects: am I living here like a foreigner or like a local? For the projects to be effective, I must think like the locals. And so as to do so, I first have to experience the way the locals live. But is it always true?
Some criticises on “extravagant” style of life of foreign aid workers in developing countries, arguing that they live too far away from the poor to understand how they cope with their problems; hire housemaids and cooks they can hardly afford in their country of origin, send their kids to the best school in the country. If the workers fail to find the problems of the poor, they fail to succeed in making any changes. I think that argument has a point. Yet I can only agree with one thing: changes are made when problems were identified. But how to identify problems, I have a somewhat different view.
‘Being the poor’ idea, I imagine, came from the failure of the colonialism-like aid method. Donor countries failed to solve poverty and erect corruption-free governments. Why? The rich did not know what the poor really cared about. They would be given cows to mobilise their crops for a better offer in the market but they may not have anything to feed the cows.
Or is it about enforcing morality out of defiance against, well, the role of foreign assistance in many misguided decisions that lead the hope for development to hopelessness. Sometimes, I feel, I’m inflicted to have compassion towards the people and the situation they’re in. It’s true that I feel more sensitive towards people and their circumstances now when I’m working in a village compared to the time I was working in the office in the capital city. Now I hear people die every two weeks around this village and they’re not old enough to deserve some long rest, so to speak. The more I experience this, the firmer I stand to the idea that sympathy doesn’t get anything done, but my skills, knowledge, and creativity will. If I had electricity and washing machine, I would’ve happily done my laundry myself instead of hiring a cleaner. And there are other things I would’ve happily done if the setting was as convenient as the place I came from. I wouldn’t spend my whole day on fetching water and cooking my lunch. And that’s not because it’s not worth it but because I have other things that I came here for. Working in development should not be approached with love, emotions or sacrifice and such. Children nor the “poor” should not be rescued out of love , but out of the rights! Because we all deserve to live with dignity. So it’s simple what the right method is. Do your job. Compassion is a choice. But getting things done is not a choice but it’s what you’re here for. Do your job and do it well.
I don’t have to look poor just because I feel guilty about being slightly wealthier than my neighbours. What I do after work should not be the talk of development. The result should be the talk of development.