First of all, I would like to thank all of you for a wonderful class experience. I learned a lot from all of you. Merci beaucoup.
For my last post I would like to focus on Didier Fassin’s article “Humanitarianism and the Politics of Life”. As we discussed in class last Wednesday, Fassin brings up issues that seem to run counter to the common conception of humanitarian aid. Briefly, I’ll list the “triple problematic of the humanitarian politic of life” discussed by Fassin: First, it segregates lives that have the convenience of being risked (aid worker) from those that are to be sacrificed (civilian populations in battle zones). Second, it separates lives within the organizations into lives deserving high protection (expatriates) and those whose lives are treated with limited protection (host country national staff). Third, it separates between “lives that can be narrated in the first person (expatriate) and lives that are recounted only in the third person (those who are being ‘helped)”.
It is the third point that I want to focus on. Part of the humanitarian mission is to witness and recount the atrocities of violence and catastrophe. This practice brings an interesting problem to light as Fassin has explained. The intervening individual is the one who tells the story to those who will listen. This always leaves the victim, whose story it is, to remain voiceless. Third person testimonies are what the populations of ‘developed’ nations hear. Here’s what Fassin has to say about that: “[R]equirements of defending cause and the logic of their (the aid worker) intervention lead them to what might be termed a humanitarian reduction of the victim.”
This is something I have experienced first hand, and may have been guilty of doing as well (however, my experiences are not as "life or death" as many of the MSF volunteers) In aid organizations there is an occasional smothering pressure for results (number of women and children participating in a training, number of individuals effected by a certain project). All needs to be documented and submitted to the HQ who in turn send the documentation to Washington, who then decide whether the mission is successful or not, whether there needs to be more or less people involved (affecting the staff – both expats and national), whether budgets need to be cut, etc. Upper management is constantly encouraging people to do more, yet it often comes across as an emphasis on results on paper, rather than true results. Those who do well are rewarded, those you have low numbers are reprimanded. The result is skewed numbers, exaggerated stories and a “humanitarian reduction of the victim”.