[OPINION] What does it take to be an aid worker?
In the light of the recent reported Oxfam controversy involving several cases of sexual misconduct, any social development worker or aid worker would feel affected by it. There were allegations of procuring sevices of local prostitutes. Even worse, however, is what is believed a cover-up of the allegation by higher-ranking officials in the Oxfam hierarchy. This is a saddening news for any self-respecting and committed development worker due to their nature of the job, the responsibilities it entails, and the expectations that go with it.
This incident makes us think about being in this kind of profession – a profession that not only demands technical knowledge and expertise but also humanitarian values and the will to serve. Development workers have an enormous privilege accorded to them by their beneficiary communities. This takes form in the trust given to them by local residents when they accept them as cooperators in addressing local and pressing social issues.
Being an aid worker
They let them into their lives in the hopes of resolving the complicated web of problems of poverty, health, environmental concerns, among others. But more than the trust given by the community is the privilege of service – of being put in a situation where one’s professional abilities is directed towards helping others. (READ: Oxfam unveils action plan after 'stain' of sex scandal)
This is the kind of privilege embedded in being a development worker because it is through helping others that one also grow and develop as a person.
Exploiting this privilege for one’s selfish gratification is totally wrong. Given the nature of humanitarian work, it is an imperative that the job falls on people who seriously have the mind and heart for service.
Following the scandal, Oxfam’s Regional Director for Asia, Lan Mercado has expressed in a television interview that she welcomes scrunity into Oxfam’s activities. She maintained that policies and procedures must be even more strengthened and that Oxfam will roll out more efforts to address the organizational culture that makes women and children vulnerable to objectification and exploitation. She emphasized that Oxfam’s efforts along this line would be a continuing agenda.
Such efforts within aid and charity initiatives must be taken seriously in the humanitarian world. It is never too late for any organization to work on this internal organizational culture and develop a code of conduct for personnel especially when they are out in the field.
The Oxfam fiasco has opened the gate for more NGOs to look internally into their code of conduct. An external viewpoint that takes into consideration the situation in the community and understand existing local cultures before projects are implemented is also necessary in understanding context and developing paradigms.
The term being politically correct is a rather overused and worn-out lingo in this field of work but its significance as a guidepost for professional conduct has never been more warranted in these these critical times.
I remember being 20 and fresh from college in the 80s when I was hired as a researcher by an NGO working with farmers in rural communities in the Philippines. From time to time, there would be consultants and specialists sent by our so-called funders from organizations.
At a young age, I knew then that there seemed to be a marked difference on how we regard our foreign visitors but that difference quickly dissipated when we see how committed and passionate they are in bringing about productive results in their short term assignments.
As a young and idealist development worker groping and learning her way in the field, their presence lent, to some extent, a wealth of knowledge that the locality has benefitted from without sacrificing authenticity and integrity. There is also the important aspect of respect for cultural nuances and community characteristics between concerned parties which is another important factor in cooperation.
Such type of conduct, although unwritten, speaks loud in action and creates impact. Effortless or with much effort, there seems to be a general creed to be proper and politically correct along the lines of social development and humanitarian principles. That was of course in the 80s when social development work weighs in gold, when lines are much more defined and easier to pace.
While the field continuously evolves with the development of the times, it does not mean the basic values and principles of being social development agents have also changed. There are lessons to be learned, indeed. We can start by looking into the so-called internal organizational culture – a rather tough nut to crack – and delve into it to make the improvements. – Rappler.com
Tess Raposas is a freelance journalist/writer, a mother of two, and a sports enthusiast who loves to cook.