Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Black, White and Shades of Grey

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shades of greyDuring the festive season, there are countless posts about giving, generosity, the “Top 10 _____” (insert whatever is appropriate).   But we thought we’d take a slightly more somber look at development issues generally, but using a specific example closer to our (Australian) home – that of the plight of Indigenous Australians – in particular, the acute housing shortage that is found in remote parts of the country.

We are not going to delve into this particular issue ourselves, but would refer you here, where you will find an excellent, multi-media summary that highlights the acute housing crisis in the Tennant Creek area of the Northern Territory.  As this excellent article points out, the myriad of issues facing Indigenous Australians is unlikely to be solved by addressing the housing crisis.   It is the tip of the iceberg, but certainly SHELTER features pretty high on Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy.

What we did want to share was our experiences in dealing with development type issues.  Part of the training we did (with Australian Volunteers International) before we set off to Ghana, was to help us understand that things are rarely black and white.  Indeed, at first glance, many issues appear to have a simple solution.   As we found on the ground, this is rarely the case.   If things were as black and white as this, then the multitude of development issues (poverty, lack of education, lack of sanitary conditions, racism, lack of water, discrimination, disability, and the list goes on….) would have been solved long ago.   Greater minds than ours have looked at these issues, and have tried to find solutions for decades.  Instead, what our experience as volunteers has taught us, is that there are many shades of grey.  Things are rarely as they originally appear, and the day to day experience of people needs to be understood thoroughly before aid can make a qualitative (and quantitative) difference in people’s lives.

We are always mildly bemused when well intentioned (or perhaps ill informed?) people quickly jump to a conclusion that will look something like this:   “What the _____(insert disadvantaged group here) need to do is _____”.    or this:   “The problem with _____ is simply that they should be doing ______”.     You get the picture.

In our experience, the bigger the problem, the more complex it is to solve.  The dependency of a number of factors, coupled with things like generational trauma, systemic discrimination, and poverty more generally serve to put people behind the eight ball.   It is difficult to ever get in front if you are constantly scrambling to just keep afloat.

There are no easy answers, but we can all do our part.   May 2014 be filled with abundance and blessings to you.  Thank you for continuing to read our blog, and we look forward to bringing you more material into the new year.   We are going to be heading off to India, where we will be seeing some “development ideas in action”, that we look forward to being inspired by.   Stay tuned!

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