I ran across an interesting article a while ago which caught my attention:
The article, written by Pippa Biddle, encourages volunteers NOT to join organizations and/or trips which involve helping communities facing certain crises (lack of shelter, famine/drought, disease, etc.) on the basis that, she found, most volunteers weren’t suited to help in these situations at all. While I can’t say I’m very surprised at this diagnosis (Building homes is quite different between even Rochester and South Carolina; if you don’t know the basics of construction in places like those, how could you imagine yourself as being a suitable volunteer for building homes in another country? And even if you did know, who’s to say you would have any idea what to do in a country like Tanzania? As far as the language barrier is concerned, take a couple years of a foreign language, go to country who has that language as its primary, and see if you have any damn idea what people are saying in simple conversation.), it was still a little shocking to run across an article which actively discourages people from volunteering for trips such as the ones she cited (unless, of course, you actually know how to help the people you’re visiting).
This article makes me think that Honig perhaps forgot one example of the foreign-founder: the one who doesn’t do much good at all or the one who just gets in the way of a people who already have the ability to take care of themselves. It’s an interesting dilemma, one that I don’t think was considered by any of the writers we have discussed so far. Perhaps they would explain this example as the foreign-founder who entered a people who had already established themselves and, therefore, were not in need of the type of aid which the foreign-founder could provide. However, the countries cited seemed to have actual crippling issues, and here we have a situation in which the foreign-founder(s) either helped minimally, made no difference, or made the situation worse.
From the case in Tanzania, it seems making things worse would apply:
“Our mission while at the orphanage was to build a library. Turns out that we, a group of highly educated private boarding school students were so bad at the most basic construction work that each night the men had to take down the structurally unsound bricks we had laid and rebuild the structure so that, when we woke up in the morning, we would be unaware of our failure. It is likely that this was a daily ritual. Us mixing cement and laying bricks for 6+ hours, them undoing our work after the sun set, re-laying the bricks, and then acting as if nothing had happened so that the cycle could continue.
Basically, we failed at the sole purpose of our being there.”
She later explains a similar outcome in the Dominican Republic:
“Within days, it was obvious that my rudimentary Spanish set me so far apart from the local Dominican staff that I might as well have been an alien. Try caring for children who have a serious medical condition, and are not inclined to listen, in a language that you barely speak. It isn’t easy.”
Perhaps these accounts show another possible foreign-founder scenario or perhaps they show that the foreign-founder is a flawed concept in itself and that, if a person/group/nation is going to help another, the problem needs to be addressed in a different way (in some ways, this is exactly what I think Honig is suggesting). If a lot of these programs run into similar problems, it would seem that the effort to help is causing more problems than it’s solving.