Friday, April 15, 2011

As an Intruder

Thought I'd ramble a bit more about development.

It is risky to come to conclusions based on a single anecdote, but the impact of the one that I am about to mention was so strong that I am about to do just that.

A couple of months ago, I was asked by a Korean NGO to select two students to receive solar lamps (lamps charged by solar panels) as part of their pilot lamp distribution project.  I naturally thought of the students that I gave scholarships to; Rose was the first in my mind.  Rose's situation is abject, and abject maybe too much of an overused word to describe the level of decrepitude she lives in.  Her home makes me ponder the statement: some lives are less valuable. 

So Rose received a solar lamp, and she was glad.  But as any NGO work goes, in fact any professional work, there had to be follow-ups, observations, reports, and pictures.  Recently, the NGO contacted me again to visit her for these purposes.  I let Rose know, and she was visibly upset.  It puzzled me, why would a recepient of a donated lamp be upset?  Is this another cultural barrier?  I insisted that she lets the visitors do their work, as it is a commensurate cost of the free lamp.  She reluctantly agreed, but also forced me to promise that this would be the last visit by a foreigner.  I promised.

Then a couple of days ago, I received a phone call from her father.  He expressed similar discomfort, citing that the neighbors have taken note of the frequent visits, and are bothering them.  I soon relayed the message to the NGO, and they agreed to replace the visit with a conversation.

Although the magnitude of this development work was small, it still disturbed the local population.  So many in this field try to minimize the negative consequences, but they are intrusive in nature.  Whether it be a thirty minute visit, semester long research, or large scale food distribution, the development work and the worker do not remain outside, but are very much inside, embedded and even uncomfortably stuck.

1 comment:

kabcity said...

Hmm...two of our white team members are going to visit some villages in a few weeks. I will let you know how that goes.