A natural disaster happens. People are suffering, the media images are devastating. Well meaning volunteers –doctors, philanthropists, inspired students, charitable organizations– swoop in to help.
But what happens when helping goes horribly awry?
What happens when hundreds or thousands of post-op patients are left without follow up care when the doctors go home? What happens when volunteers with no crisis relief experience arrive with little more than good intentions in “racially, politically, culturally charged” contexts with decimated or non-existent infrastructure? What happens when positive efforts attempted in a crisis end up outweighed by an avalanche of unintended negative consequences?
No one wants to quash the instinct to help relieve suffering. No one wants the perfect to be the enemy of the good. That said, those of us with access to skills, ideas and resources must seek engagement models which focus on meeting the needs on the ground, more than meeting our need to be heroes.
One new effort to do just that: reporter Amy Costello’s TinySpark media project which takes a constructively critical look at the dangers of “drive by” altruism, crisis relief, social entrepreneurship, philanthropy.
If you care about these issues, check out her blog, download the podcasts, share your own tribulations, trials and triumphs.