First, do no harm

You never know quite what to expect. You may have an idea of what you’ll find when you get on the ground, but you are bound to be surprised. The developing world is more visceral, more real than our mainstream and mundane everyday way of life. It’s amazing how much of the world we live in is shielded from us. Honduras opened my eyes the way that Iraq did. The truth is, life is hard, and it doesn’t get any easier.

The article by Ivan Illitch raises the rancor of many volunteers, and ‘do-gooders’ around the world, and for good reason.  He calls on well-intentioned volunteers and aid workers to put down their tools, pack their bags and go home. His rationale is sound.  He asks foreigners aid workers to remove themselves from a culture and a people who are not their own, from a situation that they cannot comprehend, before they do irreparable harm. If you still seek to do good, do so in your own communities, where you understand the consequences of your actions.

How can we proceed, as individuals and as an organization?

First, do no harm. Our involvement with our clients must be marked by humility, and continue only at their behest. I’ve been working with La Ceiba for the past years to help improve the situation of our clients in Honduras, and in doing so, to improve my own relationship with hardship.

It’s all we can do to help each other through this world, whatever it is.

One Response to “First, do no harm

  • meganhiggs
    14 years ago

    I definitely agree with you as to how we should best proceed as an organization in order to prove Illich wrong – make sure we do no harm. The fact that so many of us recognize the threats our actions can have on a society shows, I believe, that we are very different from the people Illich is targeting in his article. My only question is, as somebody who has not been part of this organization as long as you have: How do you know when you are doing harm in a world so different from what we are used to? And, if you can recognize it, are there ways we can stop it as a group, yet still continue doing what we set out to do?

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