|Home :: Who's Who :: Reflection - Mina Alaghband|
|Tiffany Franke | Chelsea Purvis | Mina Alaghband | Clare Cameron | Anne Carney | Caroline Howe | Amelia Page | Jurist Tan | Lauren Thompson|
Mina Alaghband was, during this trip, a sophomore at Yale College, hailing from London, England. She studied History and International Studies with a focus on practical and intellectual approaches to post revolutionary situations. Her academic interests include microfinance, early modern and modern revolution, enlightenment philosophy, constructions of race, corporate social responsibility and post-conflict accountability, notably of local leaders and child combatants.
|As we descended from the helicopter and grabbed our bags I saw a large
white SUV parked outside the helicopter center that was to represent a point
of fascination and conflict for me throughout the trip. It felt out of place
to me to be sitting in a luxurious air-conditioned car that seemed to belong
behind a white picket fence in suburbia, while driving through Freetown. These
SUVs have come to symbolise, in the writings of journalists like Kristoff and
critics like Reiff, and in the minds of many, one of the big problems that
NGOs are currently facing: the schism between the local and the ex-pat
communities that creates a deep seated tension between the two groups. Sitting
in the back seat of this car, listening to Westlife, I feared that these
critics may be right in their assessment of this disconnect.|
The next day, having met many of the employees at the CARE office in the capital, the image of the corrupted NGO worker began to breakdown. That so many of the staff were Sierra Leonean themselves, and that all of the staff interacted on equal terms, in spite of the educational difference, often delineated along the local-expatriate line, led me to understand that CARE was not a foreign organisation with a quasi-colonial presence in Sierra Leone. Rather, the NGO was a permeable membrane that gave structure to projects while encouraging the free interaction between all of those willing and able to help with CARE's mission in Sierra Leone.
A few hours later, sitting in the air-conditioned office, in a comfortable sofa, checking my email on the broadband internet it occurred to me that while there were Sierra Leoneans in the office as well as ex-pats, the membrane could only fit so many. This luxury, so far above that that the average Sierra Leonean would experience, was still only accessible to those few who were educated enough to slip through the membrane. While this distinction in terms of the benefits afforded to NGO workers still stands, it became increasingly apparent to me that there wasn't such a deep crevasse between the NGO workers and those whom they strove to empower.
At a Liberian refugee camp outside Bo in which CARE worked, the excitement, kindness and intrigue that we were greeted with further broke down the SUV stereotype. While there was an awareness of our otherness, there was no noticeable sense of bitterness about our arrival, our bottled water or our SUVs. CARE's hard work with locals, on agricultural, educational and community problems was, through the lens the rights based approach, helping to create a sustainable path for those who needed it most. With their respect and communication with locals in an attempt to slowly create local projects, desperately needed, CARE seemed to be encouraging hope--a light so bright that it blinded from sight the glaring white of the SUVs under the hot West African sun.
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