It’s been one of those moments.
It’s been one of those moments of epiphany when the heavenly bodies align, everything is ensconced in a warm glow, and you feel… good.
Or maybe it’s been what addicts sometimes refer to as that fleeting “moment of clarity” (aid work is a drug, remember?) when things snap briefly into focus and you analyze with incisive lucidity where you are. One of those moments when your mind quickly cuts through the pfaffing and the window dressing and the packaging, and you see things as they really are, for better or for worse, laid bare.
Recently I spent several days in an excruciatingly poor place, beset with repeated natural disasters, doing one of those ‘life-saving monitoring visits.’ I won’t bore you with over-written anecdotes of bad roads or food that turns your insides into gurgling water, nor will I go on about the details of local culturally required (“exotic”) protocol that preceded each and every encounter of substance. There were some positively classic “stuff expat aid workers like” moments on the trip, but I will save those for the pub or the next tweetup.
I will simply say that the project I went to monitor is making a difference. A measurable, quantifiable difference.
For all of my jaded, verbosity about Brown Babies over at Hand Relief International, I can say with absolute confidence that the project I went to monitor is saving the lives of Brown Babies. I don’t mean to say that everything is awesome there, or that the next step will be cable television and BMWs for every family. But it is not an exaggeration to say in this instance that many infants and small children are alive in the targeted area today as a direct result of my local colleagues and their local partners pitching up and doing their jobs every day.
The numbers say that this project made a difference. And the people who’ve benefitted from this project also say that it made a difference.
It’s one of those moments that become far too few and far too far between as you work your way up the ranks in an international household charity. It’s one of those moments of intense gratification and even pride in the even small part that I can claim credit for contributing. It’s one of those moments when it comes clearly to you that international aid can and does work. This is what gets me out the door, bound for the office in the morning.
It’s one of those moments when you see that Alanna was dead on when she wrote (several times, actually) about how projects work, while grand theories and ivory tower pontification and abstracted debates.. er, not so much.
It’s one of those moments when you reconnect with the fact that the way to make a difference is to implement straightforward, by-the-book, unsexy relief and development. Local staff took the time needed to do this properly from the beginning; they followed good process; they listened to partners and beneficiaries; they didn’t bite off more than they could chew, programmatically speaking. They didn’t try waste the time of the poor with some goofy, irrelevant technology developed in a lab or garage by someone who’d never been to this place. No, this project made the difference that it did because it was planned and implemented the old-fashioned way. Again, I’m not saying it was perfect. But this project was first and foremost about the poor and their needs, right from day one.
It’s been one of those moments when I see with great precision what aid is, when I get how it works, and that it does work. Or at least can.
The industry and organizational dumbassery still exist. I’ll get back to ranting about #SWEDOW or bad marketing or volunteers soon enough. Don’t worry. But for now I’m basking in a moment of knowing, once again, what I’m doing here and why.