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Humanitarian work or the poisoned gift

Updated: Jan 20

Written by: Sabrine Mouelhi


Like many other people, I spend a lot of time scrolling down my timeline on social medias. It is always full of heart-felt stories, about a group of persons uniting together to help those in need, pictures of prestigious people with wide smiles, gifting important packages to others who were less fortunate in their lives. And it is a nice image, a selfless act of benevolence that one, who have everything in their life, still spend a part of their own time in order to attend to the poor, the miserable, the forgotten, mostly, the masses of undeveloped countries. Yes, it is a nice image, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.


Now, I already hear you say: “How can Humanitarian work go wrong? How can helping others go wrong?” And my answer is only two words: “Humanitarian Tourism”: One person or more goes to an orphanage in an underdeveloped in order to work there. All of the trip expenses are theirs to pay, and they can be pretty high. Once they reach the destination, they work very hard, teaching children, building some facilities etc. The children there are so welcoming, and friendly, the benevolent workers feel like they are having a real impact on those poor orphans’ life. However, there is a number of problems with this process. First, it is usually done through a profit-making company. Second, a study shows that in the Cambodia as an example, the number of orphanages has increased by 75% between 2005 and 2010. Third, the orphans are not “real” orphans. Most of them has still at least one parent alive but they are put in these structures because their parent(s) cannot afford to take care of them. This cause two mains issues: one is that the issue itself (poverty) is not addressed -the orphanage itself never improves, always remaining shabby, plus the parents stay poor-, and two, children live in an unstable environment in those orphanages, at risk of being abused.

My goal is not to demean Humanitarian work in general, and advocate for it to cease.

Humanitarian work is important of course, and it is admirable how many people decide to dedicate their time assisting those in need. Still, we have to keep in mind that not all help is helpful. We need to be careful about the way we help others. We need to provide a support that is based on their needs, a support that aims to make them dependent on themselves not us. Indeed, as an Arab saying goes: “Don’t give me a fish, but teach me how to fish.”

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