Aid: The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Seriously. Humanitarian aid is complex. Seriously complex. And open for ab-use, miss-use,.. and wrong-use. As an aidworker, I am standing in the midst of it all, often shaking my head in disbelief. Part of me gets cynical and sarcastic at times. Specifically when it concerns something that starts with good intentions. But then the road to hell is paved with good intentions: It is not because you mean "well", that you do "well".

Yesterday I got really cynical. I aired some of it on Twitter, suggesting a number of initiatives which I meant as sarcastic jokes, only to find out some of those stupid suggestions had actually been implemented. Seriously.
I also found fellow aidworker/blogger "Tales from the Hood" wrote about the same subject, Twitter-tagging it "#SWEDOW" - or "Stuff WE DOn't Want".

Let me just list the initiatives I meant as a joke yesterday (mostly inspired by 1millionshirts), with after-thoughts between "[ ]":

  • I will start where people can donate their old flipflops to Africa [This one is for real]
  • for old toothbrushes... I mean dental hygiene in Africa is a real must
  • to ship used... ah.. no, that won't work
  • ... donate your old shades for a good cause. ! On top of that, they might look cool too! [This one actually does that]
  • will donate old weaponry to the Armies of Africa, as stability is a real must
  • ... I mean the sun must be a real bitch in Africa, right?
  • -- so that the NGOs can do a free pick for any kind of assessment reports, and not spend time doing their own
  • - so you don't have to make your own donor reports at the end of your project... we will auto-generate it for you.
  • -- send your used car tires to poor Africans today!!!
  • : ship those old windshield wiper, in preparation of the rainy season... shipping cost: $120 a pair. yeah
    >> at this point fellow aid-fanatic @Katrinskaya intervened and pointed to her excellent post #1millionsextoys for Africa. Yeah!
  • -- to ship all that useless stuff to the poor kids in Africa
  • Don't burry your granny with her set! can use them!
  • (as we will never learn, and the lessons are always the same: "read the previous lessons learned")
  • - how many of us don't have old propane stoves from our camping days stowed in our garage? They can use them in Africa!
  • - I mean those poor poor people going to the well everyday. How to store water? We will airfreight them used PET bottles...!
  • -- so they can see what they miss... (dah.. that is real scarcastic... stop it!)
  • -- why throw away your hair, while in poor Africa, they have to buy extensions? [This one comes close. Not for Africa but for the Gulf Oil Spill]
  • on "Date for Africa Day" signed agreement with and [You ain't gonna believe this: Date For Change. Quote: Your money goes to charity. The first time a guy sends a message it costs at least $1 and that money, once again, goes to charity. And the best part is... we can raise millions with your help]
  • aims to fund an extra 1 million UN employees in an effort to exterminate unemployment in Africa
And while I was at it, I also found ways to get rid of your 1millionOldBras...

Picture courtesy CordAid


Colleen 16 May, 2010 16:01  

Agreed! With the sentiment that is, and not the wonderfully sarcastic, scarily real potential 1million-give-to-Africa-syndrome ideas. I've written on the subject before. I have a dozen half-drafted posts on the subject of why "good intentions are not enough" but feel like I'm talking to a brick wall. It seems the minimum bar of entry for this industry is a warm or guilty feeling in your gut rather than anything real or some common sense and innovation.

No suggestions, but nice to hear from a fellow cynic.

Peter 16 May, 2010 18:20  

Only two things are infinite:
the universe and human stupidity,
and I'm not sure about the former.

~ Albert Einstein

... It is indeed the need "to do good, to feel good"... At least they give us something to bitch about... ! ;-)

Karen 29 July, 2010 01:03  

Although I'd love to believe peoples' old crap could go to help those in need, I (like you) don't buy it. As an aspiring aid worker, I'm beginning to slowly learn the different types of aid and realize which ones work and which ones don't.

In my opinion, its more important to provide the necessities (food, water...) rather than useless garbage like bikes and bras (and now I know where all those women in Sierra Leone got theirs!). Who really cares about owning a pair of flip flops, a bike, you name it, when they don't have food?

Thanks for the good laughs on your ideas. I'm shocked (or maybe I shouldn't be) that some are actually real...

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