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Communication problems

January 19, 2012

Anastasia Moloney examines a report recently issued by infoasaid, titled “Best Practice and Lessons Learned in Communication with Disaster Affected Communities:”

“The largest gap remains the lack of any kind of systemic approach either to sharing information or to listening, gathering feedback or collecting and responding to complaints,” the report said.

…Many aid agencies did not make speaking with Haitians in the local language of Creole a priority, the report found.

…”Humanitarian agencies overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster – and for many the impact on their own staff and offices – mostly did not prioritise communication with affected communities,” the report said. “Surprisingly few of those with a long-term presence had local Creole-speaking spokespeople.”

…While several local radio stations were up and running within hours following the earthquake, providing a popular source of news to many Haitians, few aid agencies made attempts to work closely with them and/or other local journalists immediately after the disaster.

I think this underscores a couple of problems in the aid community.

First, organizations are so focused on helping and doing good that they have lost sight of who they are trying to help and what they need. How else could you explain NGOs either not sharing information with beneficiaries or not listening to beneficiaries and finding out what they prioritize, want, or need, especially not in their language.

Second, for all the talk NGOs do about working with beneficiaries, most of the time they tend to want to do everything themselves, under the false assumption that they can do it better or that locals have nothing to offer.

At the core of it all, I believe, is the belief that because they are poor, they need our help, and that leads us to look down on them as if we have all the answers and they need us to do things for them.

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