I keep my mouth shut when I’m around soft-hearted, pro-active and well-meaning Australian friends who bemoan world poverty and have all the answers to the problems of the Third World.
Having grown up in the third world, I’m afraid that my comments and input would strike them as cynical. How can I explain the way growing up among individuals from the very communities being planned for—among neighbors, with names and faces, not statistics or text book profiles of “poor” people—has turned me against charity, against the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young foreigners who’ve come to take their ‘holidays’ in poverty, who glow with pride in the selfless and noble way they have been ‘slumming it’ among these people (in much that same way a boy scout is proud of a badge for surviving summer camp).
It’s annoying, the way the do-gooders smile at everyone…the look of sadness and pity in their eyes every time some mother and her kids come into view, the gentle, almost commiserating, way that they talk to locals about what they perceive to be the hardships of this life. Most of all, it’s annoying that they often turn up uninvited, announcing that they are going to help these poor people out of their wretched lives…when, up until that very moment, it never occurred to them that their lives were wretched, and the fact the young NGO worker thinks so is a knife in the heart of everything you’ve ever been content with or quietly proud of.
My friend Kat and I had short exchange on some event that was very similar in circumstances, and she popinted me to this TED talk, which had me laughing and cheering till the end. It is wonderful, just so wonderful, that Ernesto Sirolli—who has been deeply involved with these sort of foreign aid projects for developing countries—came out in September last year and finally called the bullshit that has been going on in the name of charity and altruism.
This is an amazing TED talk…the bravest I’ve seen and not as self-congratulatory as so many of the TED talks are.