Thursday, February 5, 2015

The First Question is the Hardest but the Most Necessary

The first question that a foreigner ought to ask before starting or joining a ‘development project’ in a foreign country is ‘Why are not the local people doing this themselves?’ The answer might be very telling with insight as to where the best solution if any lies and where to direct energy and resources.
Usually, there is enough local talent and know-how to do anything these days, regardless of nationality. If however, money seems to be the limiting factor, then local bureaucrats are likely interfering and causing disruptions and delays.
More importantly, if it has not been done yet, then perhaps the local people simply do not want this change foisted on them by outsiders.
If anything, before taking action, consider leaving the task in local hands and then work to free them from oppressive governance. Part of that is not inadvertently assisting the bureaucrats by dumping funds into a deviant system, thereby propping it up and complicating the process and prolonging troubles. “I wish all NGOs would shut down. We are not beggars!” declared a shop owner in Pokhara, Nepal regarding the development situation in Nepal.
Again, if you, dear reader, are one of the  ‘aid workers’ actually making progress, then well done, you have succeeded where many others have not!

However, if the desire to donate money or materials to local people is tempting, then the following from The Center for Responsible Travel ( offers valuable guidelines for those wishing to make a difference while traveling:

“Travelers’ desire to help, interact, and learn from those they meet during their holiday is clearly positive. However, there are sometimes unintended consequences from these good intentions. Misguided contributions can perpetuate cycles of dependency, cause corruption, burden communities with unwanted or inappropriate donations, and require recipients to spend time and resources to handle ‘gifts’ they didn’t request or cannot use…when, how, and what to contribute needs to be decided by the host community, not the tourist or the tourism company.”

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