I thought I’d take the opportunity today to write about the concept of social justice, what it means to me and how this impacts the reasoning behind why I do what I do.
At often times upon first meeting me people tend to ask the question about what I do for a career. My answer is always the same when I tell them that I work for an international development agency which specialises in disability inclusive development in what’s deemed as the Global South. On most occasions people are unaware of what a ‘development’ agency is or what it does so I then revert to the ‘I work for an NGO’ or a step to break it down further ‘a charity’. Although, I’ve come to realise how uncomfortable I am with that specific term and the reaction I always get once I give it; which is ‘well that must be so rewarding’…
It might seem like a ridiculous thing to identify as I have no doubt that when the specific person in that situation utters the sentiment it comes from a good place where they feel like they’re giving me a compliment. The truth is though, broken down it’s not really that at all and further to that, my motivation for being within the development field has nothing to do with me feeling any sense of self-gratitude.
I am all too aware of the charity and/or welfare model of international development in the past and of the resulting ‘white saviour complex’ that tended to ensue. Now let me be clear, this issue is twofold for me and I’ll deal with both of these separately.
With regards to my motivation for being in my particular field it comes down to one thing and one thing alone for me; I do what I do because I feel compelled to and because I believe it the right thing to do. We live in a highly unequal world in which poverty is linked to discrimination and marginalisation and is reinforced by trade, labour and economic policies which crowd out those at the bottom of the wrung. Those of us who are considered to be ‘well off’ seem to be this way at the cost of those who supply us the goods and products that we enjoy so richly. We all need to take responsibility for the imbalances in this world and I do so by committing my career path to attempting to right these wrongs.
The second part of the sentiment I’m trying to raise today is that gone are the days when dumping goods and money on ‘poor people’ was done so in order to raise them out of their ‘miserable’ existence. Presenting people who are trapped in the cycle of poverty as victims who are not responsible for their own lives and alternatively, building their dependency on foreign elements does only one thing and that is to rob these people of their inherent dignity and demote them as not being agents of their own change.
As a development worker I don’t actually do anything FOR people, I instead assist them with skilling themselves up to do things to lift themselves out of poverty. I work with them to educate themselves, explore vocational training options, to raise their own and their community’s awareness on the inherent rights of every individual in spite of caste, creed or any other element that marginalises. This is what sustainable change is made up of. Remember, give an individual a fish and they eat for a day, teach an individual how to fish and they eat for life.
So I end this piece with the clarification that I don’t do what I do for the appreciation or the gratitude. Instead I embark on this as my life long journey. I do this in an attempt to balance out this world and try to ensure that we all benefit equally from its riches & rewards. That we all have the ability to apply our inherent human right of freedom; freedom from persecution/retribution/violence, freedom of religion/sexual orientation and freedom to choose our paths in life without the fear of discrimination. I do this for humanity.