Hand-out, Hand-Up or Hands-Off: Addressing a Broken System in the International Development Space
Far Away Friends’ long time volunteer & Media Director, Sean Korbitz, shares his perspective on what sets Far Away Friends apart from others in the international development space.
The Harm in Doing “Help”
“YOU WENT TO [INSERT DEVELOPING NATION]? THAT’S SO AMAZING OF YOU.”
People have been finding more efficient ways to connect since the dawn of man. Even when early humans were essentially migrating out of Africa and further from one another (to fill a globe nearly devoid of people), those same humans were also beginning a journey inward, towards themselves. You can trace for yourself where we are on that journey—it’s the world we currently live in.
We’ve drastically changed our abilities to communicate, travel, collaborate, and share stories with our fellow human beings. We’ve been improving these things for…ever, but the speed at which the world is changing now not only introduces lots of new opportunities but its fair share of complications. I want to focus specifically on some of the massive challenges now facing non-profits, NGO’s and volunteer organizations.
By utilizing the opportunities available to help those in another part of the world, quite often we can cause as much (if not more) harm. Fortunately, almost all of it is unintentional. Unfortunately, almost all of the practices that are used continue to perpetuate the current system. It’s a strange unintentional form of modern-day imperialism acting as paternalism.
Often when I tell someone about my volunteer operations with the Colorado-based nonprofit working in rural northern Uganda, Far Away Friends, I seem find there’s basically two perspectives:
· “Why go all the way to Africa when there are so many things that need done right here?”
· “You went to Africa? OMG! That’s so amazing of you!”
The first response is valid on the surface, but shortsighted. If we look at the dispersion of opportunity around the globe it’s apparent that citizens of developed countries have enormous opportunities that their peer in a developed country will most likely never have the same access to. Most people who work in international development understand this fact keenly and it’s often the reason most begin their operations in the first place.
The second response comes from the heart (I know) but is so vapid (I’m rolling my eyes as I think about it now). However, it does allow me to talk about an organization I’m passionate about, Far Away Friends.
This Little NGO I Know
“WE DON’T DO CHARITY WORK—WE CREATE MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL PARTNERSHIPS FOR THE ‘GLOBAL GOOD’.”
By now, and if you’ve read any of my blogs (specifically my August 2018 posting) you know that I use, maybe too cavalierly, the analogy of seeing the world through a lens. Your “lens” is the combination of your past and present experiences, and how all of those experiences determine the unique way you interact with the world. Your assumptions, opinions, intuitions and biases warp your lens and obscure or refine the way you see the world.
Before we move on, it’s important that you accept the fact that we all have biases and they consciously and unconsciously affect our view of the world. You can’t drop your lens. You can and should work on it, but it’s always there and the best thing you can do is be mindful of it.
So, when it comes to work in the international development space it’s extremely important to be aware of your assumptions of the world. One of those assumptions is that underdeveloped countries “need our help”. But the truth is, they don’t. People need opportunities. Far Away Friends (FAF) understands this. In fact, it’s one of their driving mantras.
From construction of a primary school built by local labor with local materials designed by locals, to upcoming community economic opportunity projects, the group consistently goes beyond the current establishment’s ways of doing development. There’s so much I could say about FAF and the work they do, but the only way to truly experience their work is to visit it yourself. Being on the ground with them for the last three years has proven that not only do Far Away Friends’ methods and projects succeed, they are going to succeed in changing how international development is done around the world.
How a Mantra Became a Tribe… Becomes a Movement
“…AND THAT’S THE BEAUTIFUL PLAN.”
I first travelled with FAF in 2017 to create some video content with them, but quickly learned that everything I knew about how I interacted with the “developing world” and how I should be acting spanned an ideologic canyon. I started looking at the people of Namasale, Uganda instead of just the issues. And that changed everything.
I think the thing that impresses me most is another innovation in the space, the idea that not only should you not provide a handout, a hand up might be the wrong terminology too. FAF operates with a hands-off end goal, meaning the ultimate vision of every project is for it to be self-sustaining and driven entirely by the community. Nothing belongs solely to FAF, it belongs to the people of the communities where they work. Everything they do is in partnership with the people of Namasale to build the amount of opportunities available in the community.
We’ve seen community leaders rise up in the past few years and begin operations of their own to make the region better for everyone. From investments in health care to education, the community of Namasale is lighting a fire within themselves that will slowly remove the need for Far Away Friends beyond a simple friendship program, and that’s the beautiful plan.
As the success stories continue, I’m happy to report in as the newest member of Far Away Friends, as Media Director. My goal is to take all of our successes and share them with others who are interested in learning more about our brand of “do no harm development”. To spread the word globally and stop the destructive methods used by NGOs that have plagued the under developed countries for decades.
Sean Korbitz is a travelling filmmaker and photographer with the goal of telling real-world stories with emotional impact. Through the documentaries Sean has created thus far, he has cultivated an ability to form deep connections with his interview subjects that is visible in his work. Sean began his journey with Far Away Friends in 2017 and has continued to work with the organization ever since. He officially accepted the role of Media Director for the group in August of 2019. Sean has B.A. from Colorado State University in Broadcast Journalism and a minor from Colorado State University in Business Administration.