When is it appropriate for a donor to visit an aid recipient?

Education, Not Titillation

Reflecting on the debate over disaster/poverty tourism a couple of weeks back some bloggers, such as Tales from the Hood and Pepy Tours, have argued that there is a benefit, if done right, of donors visiting aid recipients. And, if done right, I agree. One of the common complaints after the tsunami was that donors did not come and check whether aid work was done well or learn about the real needs of aid recipients. Donors do need to have a greater understanding of what does and does not work in aid as well as common problems associated with aid. Properly structured visits can help them become better donors.

However, it is important that donor visitations are done is such a way that it puts the needs of aid recipient over the needs of the donor. Care should be taken so that the visit does not objectify aid recipients and ensures that the recipients concerns are heard (concerns about objectifying aid recipients and gratuitous visits prompted my Disaster Tourism posting).

Bellow are some suggested guidelines to help ensure that the donor visit is focused on education and not titillation.

  • Be willing to change donor practices based on what is heard. It is important that people’s time is not wasted by answering questions if there donor is unwilling or unable to change their practices based on what they hear. This was a common complaint after the tsunami, so many people came and took up time asking questions, but then nothing ever happened.
  • Do not enter villages without properly introducing yourself.
    Driving or walking through a village looking at people without letting them know who you are can be intrusive. Ensure that you introduce yourself to the village headman or to an adult in the village, explain the purpose of your visit, and ask if the villagers would be OK with you being in the village.
  • Engage in real conversations with aid recipients and listen to their needs and concerns. To do this requires a competent and experienced translator. The donor has to be confident that s/he is receiving accurate and unbiased translation, and the aid recipient should not be forced to spend their time trying to understand a less than fluent translator.
  • Do not force a conversation or interaction that the aid recipient has no interest in. You may be interested in what someone is doing or want to ask them questions, but they may not feel the same. Make sure that you are not forcing your desires upon the aid recipients.
  • Gather the viewpoints of those that did and did not receive aid. This should include the viewpoint of government official, religious leaders, community leaders, field staff, and potentially people in neighboring villages. It is important that these conversations are not too heavily controlled by the aid agency so the donor has the opportunity to receive unfiltered information. It is also important that the person being questioned feels that they are free to express their true feelings, otherwise they may feel they’re being forced to be a commercial for the aid agency.
  • Meet with aid recipients on their schedule rather than having them adjust their life to meet the donor’s schedule. Remember that aid recipients are trying to rebuild their lives, take care of their family, and find work. It may be a sacrifice for them to have to stop what they are doing to meet with a donor.
  • Remember that while this is interesting to you, it is their lives and they may not want you interrupting or observing what they are doing. Be sure that the person escorting the donor is culturally sensitive and can inform the donor when it is and is not appropriate to approach a villager, observe a ceremony, or interact with children.
  • Always ask permission before taking any pictures. If they are receiving aid they are likely going through a very difficult time in their lives and may not want a stranger photographing them during this time.
  • Do not expect a ceremony or other demonstration of gratitude. There are some activities of welcoming or hosting that are culturally appropriate, guides should discuss what these might be  before entering the village. Beyond that there should not be an expectation any other ceremonies or demonstrations of gratitude (see posting When are aid ceremonies appropriate).
  • Treat aid recipients as capable and competent human beings in all interactions with them.

Do you agree with these guidelines? What other suggestions do you have for appropriate donor visits?
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