Adrian Hawthorn (consultant) shares his reflections ahead of a members webinar linked to our work on re-framing partnerships.
I met Rafaida in her village 200 kms north-west of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. As we spoke through a translator it was clear we lived in different worlds. Rafaida and her six children were living in a blisteringly hot and parched land where she had twice migrated long distances due to drought and the threat of famine. She suffers the impacts of climate change today through the degeneration of the environment on which her family depends as a subsistence farmer. Rafaida lives a fragile existence where survival is made possible by family within her tight-knit village community and support through aid agencies.
I looked upon Rafaida through my European eyes assessing her situation, considering difficult paths out of poverty and what she ‘should’ aspired to. But for Rafaida her aspirations were different, security for her family, hope for the future and energy to meet the demands of each day. While Rafaida’s circumstances are broadly typical of millions living in the Sahal, it posed many challenges for me. She was related to every member of her village; she didn’t follow rules but followed the directions given by the eldest in her family and village. Was it me who was different? Being European, with one wife and two children, educated, materially well provided for and very well-travelled who had a different outlook?
There was a huge power imbalance. My assumption that she would want a life like mine was untrue and unrealistic. Whose agenda was going to be followed, mine, full of European values and assumptions or Rafaida’s?
Have you ever been challenged by the clash of cultures? This encounter like many others raised so many questions. To move forward, to understand Rafaida’s situation better and respond better perhaps requires an understanding of the origins of the aid industry.
Have you found, like me, while working in humanitarian and development settings that it’s been the cultural differences between beneficiaries, partners and us which have sometimes encouraged, frustrated, fascinated and challenged? Surely, to work well in diverse cultural settings we need to empathise, seek to understand and relate to other agendas. If we can do this, we can find a common path to where aid works for the poorest of the poor, a place where dignity, respect and support are based on the foundations of our respective roles on this shared journey out of extreme poverty and vulnerability.
If you would like to explore questions raised by the clash of cultures, please join us when we look at ‘Decolonisation’ as one of the key root causes of our shared history. We will ask:
- How does this topic affect us today working in aid?
- How do I need to change?
- What more do I need to learn?
Please join the discussion at the Learning Space: ‘Decolonisation’ Webinar – Thursday 15th December at 2.00 pm CET. More information and registration here: Decolonisation – EU-CORD Network