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WATCH: The Do Gooders

Wrong Kind of Green

February 4, 2015

by Lisa Intee

do gooders

‘NGOs are increasingly motivated by self interest, they need money, they need to pay themselves in their jobs and in order to get those contracts they have to keep quiet about what’s going on and that’s really shitty to see. What they are doing is talking about it as a humanitarian crisis, when in fact what we have is a people where every aspect of their lives is being militarily and economically controlled and oppressed,’ said Ruthven.

This documentary was worth watching. The film maker, Chloe Ruthven, seems unclear about her aims in the documentary, nonetheless it is revealing. As one review put it: “As an investigative documentary, The Do Gooders is a failure. As a depiction of an interfering foreigner failing to help anyone, it’s a curiously honest account of the state of the world. The possibility that it doesn’t mean to be is even more revealing.”

Chloe begins by discussing the work her grandparents did as aid workers in Palestine and it seems that she is making a film about retracing their steps and examining the aid workers in Palestine today. It shows a place saturated with ‘internationals’, ranging from gap year style youths to bloggers and journalists, imposing either their ideas or cameras on people. It seems there is a whole industry set up to manage all this- from organisations to manage volunteers to bars and restaurants for foreigners to meet and mingle in after a day’s voluntourism. On a whole other level, there are the large ‘aid’ groups like USAID driving around in fancy cars funding dubious projects.

The direction then changes as the film maker hires Lubna, a Palestinian woman, to drive her and translate for her. Chloe stays in Lubna’s home in her bed, leaving Lubna to sleep on a mat on the floor whilst continually pointing her camera at Lubna. We then get to see the situation from the point of view of a Palestinian. Lubna makes a lot of remarks to Chloe that are insightful. She tells her “You are always interviewing white people” and takes her to interview Palestinian people. Lubna’s insight and comments and Chloe’s reactions are what make this documentary so revealing. Whilst Chloe shows the aid industry to be a self-serving sham for the most part, her own sense of entitlement is also revealing. When Lubna meets other Palestinian people and speaks to them in Arabic, Chloe feels left out and has a temper tantrum and storms off in tears. The comments Lubna has made along the lines of (paraphrasing) “why don’t you learn Arabic if you want to spend time here?” and (again paraphrasing) “I don’t think you see your white privilege” seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Towards the end, there is more questioning regarding the aquifers and road-building, showing the absolute injustices that Palestinians face. Lubna and Chloe then visit a community organisation run by Palestinian women who have refused funding as the funding comes with ties to it. This appears to be a rare example of a grassroots organisation. One reviewer (see below for link) points out: “At the moment there are 144 humanitarian organisations working in Palestine, of which 51 are UN agencies, 78 international NGOs and only 15 local organisations. Any local organisations require a number of internationals on their board to be deemed legit and get funding.”

What particularly stood out for me were two comments Lubna made. The first was along the lines of “Why do you come here to help, we don’t need help – we need Israel to stop occupying our land, why don’t you become activists in your own countries?” The second and most poignant was when Lubna sees a settlement for the first time and the contrast between the dry land and the irrigated and watered land in the settlement is acute. They are in a park in a settlement and the grass is green, there are trees and the houses look like expensive villas. Lubna is clearly in shock, biting back tears and says very simply: “This is apartheid”.

Watch the film: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/51260/The-Do-Gooders

 

 

 

 

 

 

FLASHBACK: The Missionary Position – NGOs and Development in Africa

 

Firoze Manji
Fahamu – learning for change
14 Standingford House, Oxford OX4 1BA
Carl O’Coill

Hull School of Architecture, University
of Lincoln, George Street, Hull HU1 3BW
Published in International Affairs 78 3 (2002) 567-83

 

NGOs face a stark choice. If they stand in favour of the emancipation of humankind (whether at home or abroad), then the focus of their work has inevitably to be in the political domain, supporting those social movements that seek to challenge a social system that benefits a few and impoverishes the many. The closing years of apartheid in Africa were illustrative of the choice that NGOs face today: either they supported the emerging popular movements (in South Africa and internationally) that supported the overthrow of a brutal system of exploitation, or they stayed silent and continued their philanthropic work, and became thereby complicit in the crimes of the system of apartheid.

 

Africa in the closing years of the 20th Century will be remembered for two historic events. One was the rise of the popular movements that led to the end of the colonial empire and the downfall of apartheid; the other, a human catastrophe of immense proportions involving the massacre of nearly a million people in Rwanda. If the one was achieved through the mobilisation of the majority for the goal of emancipation, the other was fuelled by pressures to comply with an externally defined agenda for social development. These events represent the
extremes of hope and despair that came to characterise much of the continent in the closing years of the millennium. Every country in the region contains, albeit to varying degrees, the mixture of factors that can lead to either outcome – a future built on respect for human dignity, or one torn apart by conflicts such as those seen in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Development, it seems, has failed. In many post-colonial countries real per capita GDP has fallen and welfare gains achieved since independence in areas like food consumption health and education have been reversed. The statistics are
disturbing. In Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole per-capita incomes dropped by 21% in real terms between 1981 and 1989.1 Madagascar and Mali now have per capita incomes of $799 and $753 down from $1,258 and $898 25 years ago. In 16 other Sub-Saharan countries per capita incomes were also lower in 1999 than in 1975.2 Nearly one quarter of the world’s population, but nearly 42% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, live on less than $1 a day. Levels of inequality have also increased dramatically but worldwide. In 1960 the average income of the top 20% of the world’s population was 30 times that of the bottom 20%. By 1990 it was 60 times, and by 1997, 74 times that of the lowest fifth. Today “the assets of the top three billionaires are more than the combined GNP of all least developed countries and their 600 million people”.3

This has been the context in which there has been an explosive growth in the presence of Western as well as local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Africa. NGOs today form a prominent part of the “development machine”, a vast institutional and disciplinary nexus of official agencies, practitioners, consultants, scholars, and other miscellaneous experts producing and consuming knowledge about the “developing world”.4 According to recent estimates, there are as many as three thousand development NGOs in OECD countries as a whole.5 In Britain alone, there are well over one hundred voluntary groups claiming some specialism in the field.

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