I’m here to help

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have comebecause your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.


In 2009, as a new graduate student in the Peace and Conflict Resolution program at American University, I went out to a neighborhood bar with a fellow student.  We were taking a course called “Conflict in Africa.”  The two of us sat and talked about class and life and as what happens at bars when two women sit unattended by a male companion all over the world, we were joined by a man who wanted to chat.  I was uninterested in his conversation, a personal flaw towards people who unwelcomely join a conversation, and so I was feeding him lines that I assumed would make him stop talking to us.  In the usual DC fashion, he asked what we did.  After explaining our studies and the course we were both in, I made some remark, with a snarky smirk on my face, akin to “we’re going to save Africa.”  He turned on me and my plan to disrupt his line of thought and make him go away backfired.  “You really think you can save Africa?” Says condescending drunk DC man.  “Well no, in the same way I can’t save anything.”  I was an anthropologist after all, and he didn’t know that, or anything about me.

But he raised a valid point.  A lot of people go around working in development, post conflict reconstruction, or international affairs generally with a mindset that “we’re going to help people of [insert country name here].”  And the whole concept is flawed.  When people go to “help” they fall into self degradation like this article: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/06/25/deadwood?print=yes&hidecomments=yes&page=full and feel that they’re talents are being squandered due to practical constraints.

The fact is, an American can’t really “help” say, Aghanistan, because an American isn’t connected, isn’t so integrated as to live life or death whether Afghanistan succeeds.  All an American can do is work; start something, build something, and hope it’s beneficial once it moves on to the hands of those who can help, those who know more.

I know it’s a case of semantics, but I really can’t stand the idea that I’m “here to help,” why can’t I be here to work?


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