The donor's disease

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Monday, March 30, 2015

THERE are a lot of well-meaning individuals, usually coming from the middle class and the elite, who go out of their way to try and uplift the lives of the poor and marginalized. Let us not question their motives and goodness of heart for they are still an exception to the apathy that mires the general public. But let me call their attention to their selectiveness in choosing who and how to help.

It is usually the case that there are unspoken criteria on how certain projects and programs are chosen and implemented. Maybe it is an explicit policy of their organizations or a consideration that comes natural from their class dispositions, but the beneficiaries that are given assistance and/or intervention usually possess the following traits:

The identified beneficiaries must display a degree of fealty and respect to the so-called donors. They must not be rowdy or undisciplined. Instead, they should show gratitude to their donors, ensuring that their guests are accorded the best seats in the house, the shaded tree in the yard, and are served the ripest and sweetest fruits.


If there is one thing many of those who descend from their alta de sociedad to be with the poor do not like, it is when persons or communities they have given assistance to, do not recognize the trouble they went through. They left the comfort and security of their gated villages, spent precious time they could have enjoyed with their families, to be in the feeding activity or medical mission and the like. It is really the same kind of attitude that the rich harbor towards their houseboy or yaya.

The community must also be "pure," in the sense that they must remain insulated from outside influence. It is a demand that must recall the romanticism of the conquistadors when they first met the natives. What is really meant by this is that they would rather deal with persons and communities whose level of political consciousness remains malleable and still can be influenced to their liking.

They then create a distinction between themselves and the so-called agitators. They represent the purest of intentions in alleviating the plight of the community while casting a suspicious eye on those who supposedly further a political agenda and are merely using the community for their gain. They avoid communities with established people's organizations with leaders who are conscious and wary of how outsiders like them only use their community for raising funds for their project implementation sites.

It is not just the charitable foundations that are afflicted with this donor's disease but also civil society organizations and national and local government agencies.

What binds these organizations together is the same condescending regard to the beneficiaries they call their clients who must remain submissive and grateful. It is usually the case that impact is hardly perceptible on the ground but in terminal reports, the effects are depicted as glowing and life-changing to ensure the continuity of project funds.

The expectation, for instance, is for evacuees of calamities and disasters to remain docile and submissive and this is usually set as a precondition for assistance. One is reminded of the action undertaken by Typhoon Pablo survivors at the DSWD warehouse in Davao a couple of years ago. In an organized take-over, they carted off sacks of undelivered rice to feed the hungry and displaced evacuees. They were subsequently branded as hooligans by government and mass media. One wonders what we call the bureaucrats who hold vital relief supplies for months and left these rotten in the warehouses of Tacloban a year after Yolanda?

The failure of government in delivering vital social services paid for by the people's taxes has made a cottage industry out of quasi-government entities we have come to call as civil society organizations who have no clear mandate save for their MOAs with funding agencies. They are many and growing in number and they continue to attract the support of well-meaning citizens who may only want to assuage their middle and upper class guilt.

Despite all the jargon of people empowerment that has become all the rage in development work, there are still feudal expectations that exist between the providers of services and the community beneficiaries. Empowerment becomes only a concept with limited applicability usually within the domain of micro economic enterprises. And never should this empowerment cross-over to questioning the historical and structural socioeconomic architecture that provides the context for their and others' systemic disenfranchisement.

This is the missing element in the current donor culture that must be questioned and exposed.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 31, 2015.


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