Excerpts from the February 2022 Newsletter
Most of us who engage in international development work (whether directly on the ground or indirectly through support from abroad) carry the powerful belief that we are going to change the world. We witness the suffering, the inequality, the insecurity around us and follow that determination that tells us we can be the ones to do something about these injustices.
We carry this little light of hope around inside us as a reminder that we can and will make a difference. And yet, for many, this light eventually fades out or becomes disillusioned.
Inadequate Aid Initiatives
The history of development aid and assistance is fraught with corruption, bureaucratic politics and western cultural imperialism, which are often the root causes of issues such as poverty and inequality.
Since these are complex social and political systems, larger aid organizations and many development initiatives often choose to address more surface-level issues such as hunger or unemployment. While this support can provide temporary relief, it can also lead to disillusionment when these projects fail or are ineffective.
International aid and development work is often imagined as direct assistance and immediate transformation. Visions of feeding the hungry, educating the poor, or implementing gender equality are celebrated and inspire many to action. Because of this, many hold a certain expectation of witnessing the direct results of their work or inspiring a community or society-wide transformation.
International development projects that are truly sustainable, ethical and effective are often small-scale and locally operated, and more importantly, work to solve the underlying causes of poverty or inequality. Because they are targeting more intangible social processes, it is often not easy to see direct or immediate results from these projects. From a broad perspective, sometimes it can feel like very little has changed.
When we can focus our light and attention on the small changes and achievements we make, we can begin to see how they weave together and intersect to create something profound!
Keeping Our Lights Alive
At Divineya we work to address immediate needs such as unemployment or access to health care services. The women of Sakhi Kunj are empowered to pursue careers, financially support their families and strengthen their social bonds and positions.
However, we also recognize that there are significant underlying social and cultural structures such as gender biases or class systems that create barriers to change. We realize these are powerful societal norms, and therefore we don’t expect to create a perfectly equal society or transform traditional practices all on our own.
Creating a Tapestry
In building sustainable, prosperous and just communities we have to consider how every thread fits together to create the overall tapestry. Some threads may be out of order or may need to be replaced and strengthened. Some threads may become outdated, faded or no longer match our larger picture.
This tapestry is being worked on by all the community members. Some continue to use the old and outdated thread, while others have moved on to the more colourful new ones. Our goal is to create more and more new threads, placing them in the hands of the new generation, and spreading the new thread amongst everyone we can.
While we are starting small with a few threads in a new corner, our work will grow and impact other communities. By encouraging more new threads and promoting our new values and ideas we will enrich the larger society and impact the social-cultural processes for change.
Following Our Calling
This is the kind of holistic thinking that is required to engage in international aid and development work in an informed and ethical way. We must accept that change is inspired by the actions of small groups of determined and dedicated people. And most importantly, we are building a better world for our children, for the next generation.
We may never directly witness the true impact of our work, but we hold the light in our hearts that we can create the base for a beautiful tapestry that can benefit our children and all those after.
To read more about the underlying issues of international aid, see our Blog post “Is Humanitarian Aid Effective at Creating Change?”