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#15 Links Expat Aid Workers Like

June 29, 2012

Doesn’t look familiar at all…. from ‘Aid Blogging: A Cautionary Tale by Aaron Ausland.

As you can see, we’re so busy ‘saving the world’ (and doing email, reports, planning, meetings, expense reports and scanning job boards just in case) that we’ve been doing a poor job of keeping up with #LEAWL and writing snarky tweets….

Luckily folks like Aaron Ausland are picking up the slack. Check out Aid Blogging: A Cautionary Tale and Deflating the SOKKET Ball. We’re very glad Aaron’s not very busy saving the world because he’s helping save our sanity.

Stuff we liked over the past couple of weeks include this cartoon (sent over by Rash Brax). See more of his work here.

A link we didn’t actually like so much was this “Foreigners are Dangerous” video.

Back to stuff we liked – Dave Algoso ponders the use of that term ‘the field,’ considering that ‘everyone’s office is someone else’s field.’

Leaving aside the question of other-ness, I try to avoid thinking in terms of “the field” for a different reason: this framing is horribly imprecise, mostly because it’s always relative. When I visit our regional offices, that’s the field to me but not to our regional managers. When we then travel from the regional office out to surrounding communities, that’s the field for the regional manager but not for their staff who work in those communities. Some of those staff have no offices, so all their work is fieldwork! And of course, our office in Nairobi often has visitors from the US headquarters. My office is their field.

Not only is “the field” defined by where we sit, but how we approach the field is a reflection of our own professional perspective. If we show up in someone else’s office, then the set of assumptions we bring with us will determine how we interact with those we meet. Do we assume that they are mere implementers of the plans written above their heads? Or that they are the ones making the real impact, whose direct knowledge of the context and the program need to be supported by those at the “higher” levels?

Morealtitude (the man who brought us  field visit bingo) gives us some emergency survival tips

Of course, you can rely on a combination of dumb luck and your own spark of personal genius should an emergency arise on your doorstep- and you can never, of course, plan for every eventuality. But if it comes down to a choice between running through some common-sense preparatory steps for a possible crisis, or sitting back and hoping for the best, well, my parents have known all along which way I lean.

Skeptical Third World Kid asks all the right questions.

Steve Song comments on the White Liberal Do-Gooder club (the first rule of the White Liberal Do-Gooder Club is don’t talk about White Liberal Do-Gooder club…)

So poor me, Western child of privilege doesn’t know who his tribe is. In a very real sense it is laughable to talk about this sort of angst in the context of say the average mother from Khayalitsha who shoulders daily burdens and responsibilities that dwarf my imagination. That was a bit of a digression but it brings me to my fundamental question. Is it legitimate for white middle-class North Americans and Europeans to come to Africa with the intention of “helping” of “doing good”? I think the answer to the question phrased in that particular way is a resounding “NO”. It isn’t legitimate because nobody really wants to be “done unto” and it reeks of paternalism and power imbalance.

Let me try another question then. Is it legitimate for white middle-class North Americans and Europeans to fall in love with a part of Africa and want to be useful? The answer to this question is a resounding “YES” but with qualifications. It ain’t easy and there are some important rules which are true most of the time except when they aren’t. And knowing when they’re true may take a lifetime.

Angelica also ponders her place in the ‘aid world’ in Maybe development work should be more like making good wine….  

Over  the last three years I’ve flown across the continents to analyze best practices and lessons learned with all types of organizations and in all types of scenarios.  An amazing experience and a privilege….But I feel like there are pieces of the puzzle still missing. So maybe there is another step. Maybe, like with good wine, I have to let the grapes macerate, age. And maybe this is where the current career ladder structure also gets it wrong. It comes across as a race, and a race implies you can’t get off, even if you don’t know which way you are headed. Maybe we need to start thinking about the need to think both fast and slow. Maybe we need to understand that to be really effective  and creative we need not only exposure to play and variety…but also time, time for reflection, time for the dust to settle, for the crap to sink leaving clearer and fuller bodied ideas above.
Now a days it’s all about numbers.  How much you can do. Who have you met. What grade you are at. How fast did you get there. It reminds me a bit of those Europe in a week tours, where you get to tick off all the main sites, but really, don’t get to experience any of it.

Tales from the Hood wants to know what it would take to make you walk away from a job in the aid world.

As I talk to aid workers of all ages (early 20’s through post-retirement), in all roles (cubicle farmers, marketers, hardened field veterans…), working for most every kind of aid organization (tiny startup charities to mammoth UN agencies), feeling some level of being dissed/abused/maligned/taken for granted/underpaid is anecdotally the most common theme.

So, draw the lines for yourself now: what would it take to make you walk? What would it take to make you walk away from a job in the aid world? What would it take to make you walk from your current job? What would it take to make you leave the aid world/humanitarian sector entirely?

A young aid worker gives us a lesson in arrogance:

At the moment, my readers are asking themselves, “Well, who the heck are you, Travis, and what gives you the right more so over other authors to post/publish over others?” Well, I never said I have more of a right, but I feel I have more of a background to be taken seriously and to publish my opinions and material at more and better venues then some of our fellow colleagues. One can read my bio in the ‘About Me’ section of my blog. Besides being the ‘black sheep’ or kalabante (rascal/scoundrel/one who disturbs in Pula Fuuta) during my two years in graduate school, I provided alternate opinions and views to approaching both peacebuilding and international development to my classmates. After my last year of classes, I flew to Senegal to conduct field research in West Africa’s longest ongoing conflict – in the region of Casamance – and learn another dialect of Pulaar for 6 months. This, in my personal and professional, gives me the background and basis to post on my blog and be published.

I get upset when people have opinions, more so professional ones, and are allowed to vocalize their opinions when they have no background to be able to even attempt to step upon their soap-box.

Speaking of #fails, a reader suggests we crowd source the worst #EAWFails.

I was wondering can we have a little section where people send in the silliest I should know better mistakes they have made (and hope no one saw?)
Maybe on the links section one week? maybe we can make up a new drinking game made up of silly mistakes expat aid workers make (and wish no one was watching).
I have some embarrassing ones and am rapidly adding to my collection but I was kinda hoping if you liked the idea others could post first! (There is nothing like feeling like an idiot when you tell the stupid things you have done).

If you have an #EAWFail you want to share, send it to us at stuffexpataidworkerslike [at] If we get enough, we’ll start posting them. They can be anonymous or you can man/woman-up and own them.

In AidSource news, in case you are sick of Yammer, NGOs, organizations, institutions, etc. can now have private space on AidSource.

As always, check out the Aid Source Pinterest for the latest random assortment of stuff and the AidSource collective blog for some more good pieces this past couple of weeks, such as this one.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2012 6:03 pm

    Dude, I seriously thought you were making the arrogant aid worker up – sort of like a Bill Westerly caricature or something. Than I realized he had a substantial history of posts at his blog and was really for real. Holy crap! I almost responded to his post at AidSource in character, you know, playing along with the joke. Geez, then I would have come across as REALLY mean instead of only, I don’t know, avuncular mean. I was wondering if he puts “classroom rapscallion” on his CV.

  2. July 1, 2012 1:11 pm

    I guess a “thank you” is in order for posting a segment of my post from AidSource on your recent blog post. I’ve recieved much feedback from that post, mostly negative. The post itself ‘missed the mark’ so to speak, as people got too caught up with the ‘arrogance’ and missed the actual message of the post. Was it the aid workers who were mostly upset, or development workers and peacebuilders alike?

  3. Casual Observer permalink
    July 2, 2012 1:20 pm


    Regarding your question:

    1) I can only write for myself here, but I wasn’t “upset,” by anything in your post. I was flabbergasted, or bemused I’m not sure, at the audacious level of ignorance you displayed (ignorance meaning a total lack of information/knowledge/awareness on your part given the chosen topic);

    2) I believe the composition of people who had a “negative” reaction to your post = anyone at all, regardless of profession who happened to read it.

    I should disqualify my statement by pointing out that I’m assuming anyone who read it, and had a “negative” reaction, does not share your same level, depth, and scope of ignorance (and a quick browse of your other posts along with your numerous aspirational, self-assertions regarding who you are, what you claim to be/do, I’d say this is a regular phenomenon regarding your philosophical ramblings).

    3) The fact that you chose to use “quotation marks” at key instances of your comment here, indicates that both your ignorance, as well as the arrogance you allude to, continues unabated and/or unexamined.

    4) Lastly, “thank you,” because you’re a great subject for a game of “illogical bingo!”

    Just re-read your post and see how many logical fallacies you committed with that post (hint–it’s a lot).

    For example, based on the criteria you identified and extrapolated in that post, you’re qualified to speak on about 3-4 things, but yet you stray far beyond and outside those subjects. This is an example of “hypocrisy,” a major subject of the SEAWL master post where you were referenced and the site generally.

    Even though I think hypocrisy is left out of the poster, I didn’t check before linking it here, it’s easier for a casual observer to use than take the time to list all of your shortcomings, regardless of language choice, in narrative form. Plus it comes with pretty little pictures!

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