Derek Rasmussen starts his article with an eye-opening account of an Inuit tribal member reflecting upon their people’s introduction to the modern world. This quote places the idea of the world’s rescuers in the context of a demoralizing and destabilizing force within the indigenous populations. His point throughout the article is mainly that the people who have come to ‘rescue’ the tribes belong to the upper portion of society’s wealth, most of whom became wealthy thanks to the plundering of resources that took place in the lands of the very people they are now rushing to ‘help.’
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Not condemning the ‘helpers’ individually, Rasmussen instead is trying to point out that the first and best way to help is to halt the plundering by making changes at home limiting the actions of the ‘men in suits.’ His rallying call, ‘cease to do evil, learn to do good’, centers on the idea that the best way we can help people in other, less-developed parts of the world is to keep our negative influences, such as bombs, chemicals, and pollution, out of their territories.
Ian Fisher also focuses on the idea of doing no harm in his article. While Rasmussen was discussing the plight of people in non-conflict areas, Fisher illustrates how war and subsequent humanitarian aid have become much more harmful than beneficial for the people in remote regions. He disagrees with Rasmussen that the rich should stay home, instead he says that the system should be designed to work better by providing what the people actually need.
His ideas are based on an age-old principle: instead of giving the people fish, teach them how to catch them. Instead of dropping food and other supplies on them, provide them with the tools and supplies they need to grow their own food. This also involves becoming more politically involved in the process and taking sides, determining which leaders have the people’s real interests in mind and independence at heart.
Humanitarian organizations interested in bringing good to war-torn areas such as the Nuba Mountains discussed in Fisher’s article should be concerned about providing the people with what they need to maintain or develop their independence from the aid efforts. They should be involved in identifying those leaders who are truly interested in enabling the people of a region to care for themselves and their children, to live the life they have selected, and retain their culture and beliefs.
Rather than being concerned with donating things indiscriminately, regardless of their usefulness, donors and other organizations should be involved in stopping the wars and politics that make these areas unstable. Much the same can be said for those who wish to help populations in non-conflict less developed areas.
Rather than bringing in what the developed world imagines is necessary in terms of aid, Rasmussen suggests the modernized world should simply stay home and work to change the policies at home that enable developers to take advantage of the indigenous populations even as their ‘aid’ serves to destroy the independence and self-sufficiency of that same population, wearing away at its cultural roots and eventually disconnecting it from its heritage. However, Fisher’s suggestion that the true needs of society be identified and then provisions made to meet them in a non-invasive way seems to be a more appropriate approach. It doesn’t help to stay home and stop one practice if what is needed is someone to show the natives how to use the new tool that improves some aspect of their daily life.
Fisher, Ian. “Can International Relief Do More Good Than Harm?” The New York Times. (2001). Web.
Rasmussen, Derek. “Cease to Do Evil, Then Learn to Do Good.” Cultural Survival. (2001). Web.