#41 Personal Drama
One of the most difficult things about being an Expat Aid Worker is that almost by definition it seems you cannot really identify with your beneficiaries. You know what I mean…. What does someone with a Master’s Degree in “International Development” (you had a partial scholarship) from an Ivy League school (you wrote your thesis on something way sexy, like, say, “post-conflict economic recovery” or “integrating ICT-based crowd-sourcing in local civil society capacity building initiatives”, and presented said thesis at a bunch of academic conferences) really have in common with inner-Favela women entrepreneurs recovering from addiction? Or with semi-nomadic herders in the Gobi desert trying to maintain subsistence in the context of global climate change?
Your instinctive answer: Nothing.
But wait. Don’t sell yourself too short, too soon…
Thankfully personal drama has the potential to even out those pesky disparities and put the sensitive Expat Aid Worker in touch with her or his beneficiaries on a much deeper level.
Did your dog just die? See, that’s loss. Be sure to bring that up in the focus group discussion with Iraqi refugee widows. They’ll know that you feel their pain. Did your girlfriend of – oh – seven months just dump you for some lower-Manhattan-based twat who choreographs performance art about the disenfranchisement of horticulturalist clans in the Amazon River Basin? Dude, that’s betrayal. You totally get what those Vietnamese 13-year-olds trafficked into Phnom Penh brothels are going through. Tell them your story. Feel the solidarity. Or maybe you feel trapped? Are you stuck in a warren of dead-end cubicle-based jobs, falling behind on your cable TV bill, and gaining weight from emotional eating? All those earthquake survivors need someone with your level of insight – someone who really understands what they’re going through – to just come there and hold them.
So next time you make one of those life-saving field monitoring visits, or maybe get deployed to the scene of a mega-disaster, remember: This is about you, too. Personal healing is a perfectly legitimate reason for wanting to help the poor. Let people know about your struggles to get the tailor in town to understand how you want that cust0m-fitted cocktail dress cut. Or about how pissed you got when that dude from [INGO X] totally cut you off mid-comment in the last advocacy cluster meeting. These are the things that make you human. Like them. The differences between us all are really differences of degree, rather than actual substance.
Embrace the personal drama.