(The Humanitarian Social Network)
I posted this on my own blog yesterday , very much intended as a tongue in cheek piece poking fun at myself, my classmates and our views of the work we do. So don't take it too seriously, please!
You may think those who work in development, or those who plan to, would be a rather selfless group, dedicated to helping others, uncaring of material gains and all round good guys.
You would be wrong.
People who work in development are still people (actually, many of them are assholes but that's another blog post). They get involved in development for a variety of reasons, usually very few of which are noble. They may want to travel. They may want to drink a lot without judgement (you're not going to call someone recently returned from the war zone/refugee crisis du jour out on drinking too much now, are you?). Perhaps they want to appear to be noble. Oh, and they want to help people. But that comes a bit further down the list.
There's nothing wrong with this. Development work (I use the term 'development work' as a kind of catch all phrase for aid workers, NGO or charity employees, etc) is a vocation for some people and just a job for others. Like any job, some do it well, some don't. The thing to remember about development folk however is this: they're insanely snobby.
Yup. And not just to people in other professions- we've all pulled out the martyr-ish, "oh what you do
is just as important as feeding starving babies," line (even those of us who don't actually feed starving babies). Development peeps are at their snobbiest with each other.
And they don't even wait until they're fully blown development folk. Development students are the worst. I say this as a human rights student recently returned from two semesters of internships which led to a job before I was brutally wrenched from the real world and landed back at university for my final year(bitter? Me? Abso-fucking-lutely).
The snobbiness begins with what you're studying.
I'm still an Undergrad. But I'm studying for a BA in Human Rights. Firstly, that makes me (and my classmates) awesome. Secondly, it makes us better than those of you who did a BA in English, realised you wouldn't hack it as a journalist, figured you'd like to travel and so chose to do a MA in Development Studies/Human Rights Law, etc.
I, on the other hand, was reading Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell when I was 16 and deciding that I would study human rights and work for an INGO. Which makes me- yes, a geek but also- better than you. Fact. By the time you get your shit together at 22, decide to do your MA and figure out where Sudan is on the map, I'll have been studying it for four years already (Am I coming across as snobby???)
Don't be offended. You'll need to get used to the backhanded arrogance which is RIFE in NGOs. Aid workers are always trying to prove how hardcore they are, faux -casually dropping stories which begin "One time, I was hammered in Kabul. . ." or "When I was in a refugee camp in Goma. . ." or hinting at the affairs they've had with freelance war photographers, MSF doctors or members of the IDF (politics goes out the window when there's tequila involved).
The snobbery and arrogance goes all sorts of different directions and is usually accompanied by some envy. My class can be viewed as a microcosm of the wider development world, spread as we were all across the globe, amongst large and small organisations working on various issues. Although we do all genuinely get along, there are some discernible 'tensions' between us that emerge once we discuss placements.
People planning to do human rights law think those working in development can't get anything actually done. People doing development work think those law folk don't know what goes on in "the real world". People back in HQ are envious of those out in the field, convinced all they're doing is drinking a lot, having affairs and actually helping people while they are stuck filing endless donor reports. Meanwhile, the fieldworker (what is this bloody 'field' anyway? Does it just refer to anywhere outside of London?) is cursing what ever power cut ridden shithole he or she may be in, misses regular hot showers and is convinced that all the big decisions get made back in HQ and they must simply do what they're told.
If I'm making us out to be an unlikable bunch, that really isn't the case. There are few perks to our jobs sometimes what with the endless donor-reporting and postings to locations which have a distinct lack of electricity; being able to brag about how hardcore/exotic/exciting out jobs are, even if they usually aren't, is one of the few perks we have. And at least we're able to poke fun at ourselves!