Does Humanitarian Aid Have a 'White Saviour' Problem?

American missionary Renee Bach travelled to Uganda in 2007 when she was just 18 years-old and founded Serving His Children (SHC), a nonprofit organisation she said would help Ugandan women care for ill and malnourished children. Critics, though, say Bach, who had no experience in either development work or medicine, performed complicated medical procedures on hundreds of children.

In 2015, Ugandan authorities closed SHC's facility in the town of Jinja - where a number of children were reported to have died - but the organisation still operates in other parts of the country. A lawsuit brought by two women who say their children died under SHC’s care has been adjourned until January 2020, according to the Uganda-based legal services group Women’s Probono Initiative.

Bach’s case has again highlighted the issue of medical "voluntourism", while raising questions of whether some charities in the developing world have a “white saviour problem”. In response, Uganda-based social workers Olivia Alaso and Kelsey Nielsen began the No White Saviors campaign to educate and advocate for better practices in mission and development work.

In this episode, The Stream takes a look at why some Westerners get to work in the developing world without adequate experience, and what groups like No White Saviors are doing to hold them accountable.

YEMEN: A Call for Action: The Worst Humanitarian Crisis in the World

People crowded in Rock Palace, Yemen. stepnout. CC by 2.0

People crowded in Rock Palace, Yemen. stepnout. CC by 2.0

War has torn Yemen apart. According to the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen, “The humanitarian crisis in Yemen remains the worst in the world”. It states that “An estimated 80 per cent of the population – 24 million people – require some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 14.3 million who are in acute need. Severity of needs is deepening, with the number of people in acute need a staggering 27 per cent higher than last year”. This devastating famine is a consequence of the Yemen civil war that started in 2015 and has been ongoing since. 

The civil war broke out in 2015 between two factions of Yemen: the armed movement of the Houthi and the Yemeni geovernemnt led by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The fighting started over legitimization of who actually runs Yemen and who gains mass support. Their feud, though, has resulted in their country becoming one of the worst humanitarian crises currently in the world. It has left thousands of adults and children “food insecure”, an official term to identify the starving people in the country. According to an article by the UN, “During the past four years of intense conflict between Government forces and Houthi rebels have left tens of thousands dead or injured including at least 17,700 civilians as verified by the UN”. These people have lost their lives because of a war that took their resources. 

In a video by CNN reporter, Sam Kiley, Kiley asked local businessman, Hussein Al-Jerbi, if he thought it was surprising that Yemen is having a problem with hunger. Al-Jerbi responded with, “Not [a] problem - it is a disaster, it is a disaster”. The famine in Yemen is a direct example of what war can bring to a country. The economy has become so poor that the people of Yemen have resulted to selling Khat - an oral drug. In the same video, Sam Kiley interviewed farmer Mounir Al-Ruba’i about why he grows he grows Khat, Al-Ruba’i states, “We only make a profit from Khat - other crops do not cover our home expenses. This is the only crop that would cover our daily and annual expenses.” 

The UN and UNICEF have on going sites and systems that allow you to donate to the crisis. While the UN focuses donations on multiple issues, UNICEF provides direct support to the children that are growing up or being born into this humanitarian crisis. On the UNICEF page where you can donate, their call to action states, “An estimated 360,000 children under age 5 are acutely malnourished and fighting for their lives”. An instagram account, @wearthepeace, made a post explaining that if reposted on their story or account, the people running the account would donate meals to Yemen. They not only have a link in their bio for anyone who wants to donate can, but their campaign, which is a post explaining that for every 10 times the post is reposted, they will donate $1 to the Yemen crisis. Their intention behind the post was to not only raise money, but also raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis so people are talking and doing something about it. With their 107K following, they have done just that. Their donations also include food baskets (the contents of those food baskets are listed in the post). On June 14th, the post was removed over controversy that the campaign was a hoax, but after contacting Instagram and providing proof of their legitimacy, their post was reinstated on June 23rd. To this day, they are still spreading awareness and raising funds for the Yemen crisis.

This is considered one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world because of the amount of innocent lives it is affecting. But we can help. With a donation, no matter how big or small, to the organizations listed above, we can make sure the funds are going to the right place. If donation is out of the question, please share and repost articles and stories about Yemen, specifically the account that donates once you repost. Ensuring that this crisis is not forgotten or swept under the rug will aid the people of Yemen. 

The livelihood of the Yemeni people are at stake. With consistent awareness and donations, we can help aid the Yemeni people and ensure the war does not destroy them. 

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form. 

South Sudan Continues to Face Starvation Crisis

100,000 are starving in the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945

A refugee camp in Minkaman, Awerial County, home to those who have fled due to fighting in Bor. Geoff Pugh 1/13/2014.

A refugee camp in Minkaman, Awerial County, home to those who have fled due to fighting in Bor. Geoff Pugh 1/13/2014.

     In 2011, South Sudan declared independence from Sudan, following over 50 years of civil war. Despite what were then high hopes for the new nation, South Sudan fell again into civil war, only two years after its new-found independence. The conflict experienced a brief respite do to a peace agreement in 2015, only to be followed by more violence as president Salva Kiir clashed with vice president Riek Machar. The conflict continues to have an incredibly destructive presence in the lives of everyday South Sudanese citizens, many of whom have been caught up in the conflict, forced to leave their country, or joined the 3.5 million displaced from their homes.

    Because of these circumstances, South Sudan is currently experiencing what has been called the worst famine since World War II. Due to scarcity, food has become almost completely unaffordable, making it incredibly difficult for people to buy the bare minimum of nutrition necessary for survival. Poor roads, more than half of which become inaccessible during South Sudan’s rainy season, make it difficult for aid agencies to reach people by ground via trucks or barges. This means that aid must be delivered by airdrop, which is considerably more expensive and less affective, not to mention hazardous for those receiving it. Patricia Danzi, head of operations for Africa of the International Committee of the Red Cross, estimates that humanitarian aid is seven times more expensive in South Sudan then in nearby Somalia.

    This makes it increasingly difficult for aid agencies to reach the 100,000 people currently experiencing starvation. The UN estimates that 5 million more people (42% of the population) lack adequate access to food, and have no knowledge of when they will be able to eat, or where their next meal will come from.

    Despite the severity of the crisis in South Sudan, awareness and media coverage in the US and globally is incredibly low. Ashley McLaughlin, media and communications officer for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) South Sudan writes that “in America, in all of 2015, there was no mention of South Sudan in the weekly evening news shows.” It is not difficult to trace the lack of media attention to the lack of humanitarian aid. In fact, as of 2016 the UN reported that only 3% of it’s appeal for humanitarian aid to South Sudan had been met. What funding has been provided is largely reactionary, despite what Zlatko Gegic, country director for Oxfam South Sudan cites as the “need to shift from a short-term approach to a more sustainable and transformative one.” In short, it is impossible to address South Sudan’s starvation crisis without also dealing with the violence and displacement that prove major factors in its existence. While funding is desperately needed, it must be applied holistically. The Department for International Development, for instance, is moving toward a “multi-year” funding model that enables the aid agencies it funds to offer better long-term support to those without adequate access to food.

    This is a crisis that can no longer be ignored. In a world where one third of the food produced is never eaten, and around six billion pounds of fruits and vegetables go unharvested in the US alone, it is clear that we can do better.

EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. She has worked as a volunteer in Guatemala City and is passionate about travel and social justice. She plans to continue traveling wherever life may take her.

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