Tuesday, 11 October 2016

First World Outreach

On CBC.ca there is a story about a couple from Canada who tried to make a difference in the life of a young orphaned Haitian boy who was physically disabled. They wanted to provide short term medical care, to give him the chance to walk and to give him a chance at life.

It is a grotesque story of good intentions lacking any basic understanding of First World egocentric insight. Imagine taking a white kid - not your own - out of Canada for an operation, to a country where no one spoke the kids language because you thought this would help him in the long run. It would not be acceptable, it would not be viewed as charitable and the motives of the couple would be questioned.

There was no intention of adopting this child from the get-go. There was no question to the community how could we make a difference for him here, how could we best support you to provide the best possible care in his home.

But so often, as First World folks we desire to help those less fortunate, those struggling with poverty and natural disasters, from trauma after trauma. But we like to do it on our terms. We like to feel that we have had a personal touch, we like fancy volunteer titles, we like to do outreach jobs that feel like we are "doing something." No one volunteers to spend $4000 to fly to another country to clean toilets, to feed cows or to wash dishes. We like to impose our ideas, our ways and our approach to communities to “help” them.

My Masters practicum / internship was on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. I wanted to work with street entrenched youth and conduct research on the barriers they faced. When I started at a very low-barrier drop-in program for street kids and working women (aka prostitutes) my job for the first month was to clean the drop-in center and serve lunch. I was told straight up: you want to be helpful, we need cleaning. You want to talk to the youth, make yourself useful.

The CBC story talks about the heart wrenching decision it was to take this boy back to Haiti after caring for him for a couple of YEARS. They excuse the disruption of attachment and bonding by basically saying he was already damaged goods. An ADHD diagnosis for this child is really a PTSD diagnosis. Where was the discourse on how outrageously wrong this was?

We do have a responsibility to advocate for those in need. We do have a luxury of helping others from a Canadian standpoint, but why can’t we ever look in our own backyard? What about our own atrocities and helping Canadians living without clean water and access to health care? Have you ever looked North? The CBC story didn’t end feeling rosy, but it also didn’t even come close to the couple recognizing that their North American egocentricity caused greater damage than good. So he can walk down an unpaved street with no sidewalks in a community that you tore him from? Where could he walk? What did you fix?

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