Over the last few days, I came across several writings in the blogosphere about aid. It started with the blog from a Norwegian family that inquired whether providing employment for a person from a marginalized context (read: Third World country) could potentially constitute a form of development aid at the private, most direct level.
Is hosting an au pair the most direct form of developmental aid maybe?
I´m not being cynical. It is a sincere question. (from Au pair host: “Development Aid?“)
In response, I offered some of my own thoughts for finding an answer:
…However, I have some doubts about the notion of development aid. In the first case, the mother and child have migrated from the less affluent to the more affluent context due to marriage. They have uprooted themselves to significantly improve their social and hopefully economic standing – this is what I call upward mobility. There is no development in Kenya associated with that.
In the second case, the young woman has returned with hard earned and saved cash and is able to run a family business. At least that will have a development effect in the country of origin. But the process is a form of migrant labour, or maybe another form of remittance.
I think that if a person from a marginalized country comes and works as au pair in a highly privileged country and is treated like a human being and not simply as cheap labour, it is a noble exchange.
But it does not constitute charity:
After all the women involved work for the benefit of the host family: They are enabling them to pursue much more lucrative employment or business away from their family responsibilities. Without an au pair, many affluent families would never be able to accumulate wealth in the same way.
I have one more word of caution in this context: Since the migrant workers often come from a simpler background, there will be a cultural exchange when they work in an affluent home and country. It will create expectations for them and their families to live a Western lifestyle – something that might be highly problematic and destructive in their home country. I see development aid more as supporting activities of development that make best use of the local resources available (which is different from copying an affluent Western lifestyle).
I am sure, on an individual level, paying a living wage to a migrant worker from a marginalized country is help to that person and their families in the country of origin. They can earn and set aside more cash that they could ever hope to earn in their country of origin.
I believe in seeing all people created as equal before the eyes of the divine. Because we have certain privileges based on our location and social standing, which are based on a long history of social injustice, we ought to acknowledge things (such as hiring an au pair) as what it is. Elevating it as a form of charity seems to reinforce the perceived gradient between us, the affluent giver, and them, the poor and needy receiver.
Here are a couple of contributions that help us reconsider that gradient:
RadiAid is a campaign that can seriously adjust our views and assumptions on fundraising for aid and charity. Enjoy their well made video:
Yes, they are making fun of the multitude of fundraising events in the Western world for all kinds of causes. Remember the mega-events of BandAid, LiveAid, etc? By imitating us, they make us see the questionable parts of our need to give.
But wait, is Norway too exotic for you? Do you need an example closer to home? Yes, America is experiencing a crisis of unheard hardship and the Third World is doing everything to recognize the immense need in this poor corner of the globe:
Another professionally produced video illuminates the notion that perceived need and the crises from a lack of things is a very relative concept. The makers of this movie explored the global pandemic of teenage affluenza, a disease that spreads throughout the privileged world faster than H1N1, affecting millions of people in a way never experienced before:
Who will be there to recognize that need and to help those poor children? Maybe they will soon be discovered by some mighty explorers that come to their shores, recognize their misery, and will fix things for them – just as seen in this following examples from Australia:
I offer you all these satirical productions to emphasize the point that we are all in one and the same boat. People throughout the world make the best with what they have. In every context, rich or poor, some struggle to see what they have and yearn for the things they don’t have (whether they need it or not). And in every context, people reach out to share. But true giving goes much deeper than donating to charity because we can afford it!
“The Widow’s Offering
Then a he sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it. Many rich people were throwing in large amounts. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, a worth less than a penny. He called his disciples and said to them, I tell you the truth, a this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had.” (Mark 12:41-44 NET)
By the way, today is the feast day of Nicholas of Myra, who has a reputation of being a secret giver of gifts. Unfortunately, his genuine qualities became the superficial justification for one of the most wasteful events of consumerism.