Before I get started, this is a rant meaning I am annoyed, I am not taking into consideration exceptions and the ‘other’ side of all this! And I know the ‘other’ side, but I just want to rant! Nevertheless all that I am saying is true in some (I suspect most) cases anyway.
Facts first: I work for a humanitarian organisation. The organisation works with refugees, people affected by conflict and disasters and people living in extreme poverty. I am a mental health professional.
Here’s some things we ‘humanitarians’ do:
We think ‘dignity’ is made of underwear, mentrual pads, torch lights and whistles and that we can wrap it in a towel, pack it in a bucket and distribute it. We call them ‘dignity kits’.
We think gender mainstreaming means reaching a higher percentage of women and girls through our activities. We will still work with adolescent girls with the sole objective of improving their maternal health.
When we do ‘life skills’ training for adolescents, we will talk only about cisgender and heterosexual identities because we will talk queer and non-binary gender identities when we are working on those aspects (mostly in developed countries). And then preach to the world about diversity.
When we say ‘protection’ we mean reaching the most vulnerable Socio-economic groups through our activities. We measure this by ‘disaggregated’ data on the different vulnerable groups we reached.
We would like to think that what we do is better than nothing, that we are saving lives and we are but we could be doing so much more. My problem is not that we do all of the above, my problem is that we so often stop there, we are not ambitious enough, idealistic enough. We are sometimes too ‘practical’, satisfied with lower standards than we would accept for ourselves, our lives. There is a lot we do not control, but there is a lot we don’t even aspire to affect and that bothers me.
And I know many people who are trying to change all of this from the inside, I have great respect for them and I wish them the resilience to keep at it, to keep raising their voices in cluster and advocacy meetings despite the number of people rolling their eyes at the table. I wish them strength on days like these when you feel useless, worthless, you want to give it all up cause what difference does it make? But somebody heard you and somebody will repeat it at another cluster meeting and another coordination meeting and thus goes the ripple of the butterfly effect. I hope. In any case its these people who keep me going.
Sometimes, I tell myself, I am one of these people trying to change it from the inside, but its only so I can sleep in the night. I don’t have the anatomy for it, I suppose. And thus the eternal dilemma- to be or not to be a ‘humanitarian’?