Culture vs. Culture: the Problem of International Aid

I had the opportunity earlier this evening to watch a showing of Children of War, a documentary on the child soldiers of Northern Uganda,* and thought the post discussion very insightful. As an opening statement from the director during this discussion time, it was mentioned that the methodologies used and applied by the counselors in Uganda for the rescued child soldiers were not complete and that they lacked a holistic approach. And by “holistic” it was implied that there was some absence of science in their psychology. Much of the documentary showed the professional Ugandan rehabilitation counselors using prayer and exorcism under their charismatic Christianity culture. The comment that there was a lack of method and long term healing concerned me, not for the imagined results, but for the misjudgment the Western therapists apply to the Ugandans.

The problem I see in international aid (which is mainly Northern to Southern hemispheres) is that it not only creates a vertical relationship between the “developed” countries and the “developing”** countries but also that with the naivety Westerners bring, there is a lack of respect for the already functioning methods used there. Let’s face it: Africans have better survival techniques than the West–after all, they’ve been on this earth longer. Yet what I think aid workers need to be careful and aware of is that healing does come in different forms for other cultures. However, I am not to say that by prayer and casting out demons is the best or only way to help these child soldiers. I suppose the director did not intend to imply that, but I do feel as though that was what the general audience concluded. I sure hope that holistic, long term care will be available for the children and their families.

*Personally, I thought it was a wonderfully organized documentary although it was dark and depressing. It was not as gruesome and horrific as the Invisible Children film. I commend the director for showing a brighter side as well to Uganda, and not portraying Africa as merely a miserable place.

**I have a terrible conviction with using this word from my studies of community development in two-thirds world countries as it implies that they are somehow behind and developmentally challenged. “Underdeveloped”, although obsolete in international studies vernacular, is more appropriate (e.g. Uganda is not developed in the same way the U.S. is because the West robbed and raped Africa).

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