Aid work: an insult to the poor

This poem by Admiral Ncube, a Zimbabwean aid worker, was recently published by The Guardian. It should be essential reading for researchers generally – but particularly for those in health, development, or humanitarian work. I’ve emphasised the core lines of the poem that highlight for me the inequalities and abuses that can be wrought by researchers. Perhaps you could use it in your own reflections, research planning or teaching to think about what your aims are within your work – and how they are perceived and received by others.

Aid Work: An insult to the poor

Decades ago, I heard life was simple and it was so
Where there was need, a hand would help
Where there was a tear, a heart would ache
Willing hands and hearts would meet the lack
Charity they called it, for it was so
Now an industry of sorts – an insult to the poor

Now in my day I see things do change
Experts have risen who have not been poor
Whose studies and surveys bring no change
Whose experiments and pilots insult the poor
Whose terms and concepts, tools always change
An industry of sorts – an insult to the poor

What greater insult could there be
When a fellow man calls me just a beneficiary
When our pictures of desperation are used for marketing
When our dignity is insulted just for fundraising
When trainings and awareness are imposed on us
When the life of another is planned by another
When the gift we got is never disclosed
When overheads are deducted before we know
When we smile for pictures we never see
When our children seek to change our ways
When we waste our lives responding to assessments
Indeed an industry sorts – an insult to the poor.

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