I recently wrote an article about women who risked their lives in the Middle East while looking for work in NGOs or attempting radical artistic performances. Now I read the story of a young rich girl who is living in Syria, wich is as of now in the middle of a violent conflict, taking pictures of little girls learning ballet. She’s a brilliant woman, for sure, a Rhodes scholar even, she’s good-hearted, she’s talented and she is even strikingly beautiful, but is there a point in risking her life and her best years in a place as dangerous as a country in the middle of a civil war?
There is a growing trend among the American upper middle class and even some of the very rich to use human rights as a kind of hobby. Apparently, to help people in distress can not only be good for the soul, but might also increase your status. But see, this is not about helping your local neighbourhood or school or giving a few coins to the drunk bum in the corner. No, that is for losers. To really be seen with different eyes, you have to go to Tibet, India or Rio de Janeiro with grandiose humanitarian plans. This is not about mere charity, this is about changing the world.
Here is a heartwarming story: a woman traveled to the other side of the world in order to teach English to Sri Lankan monks and to lecture them about the benefits of solar energy. It is not clear if they had asked for any of that, but what does it matter? She even got handsomely paid and improved her resume, and now she works as Human Rights Programs Director in some important institute.
As Paul Theroux sadly observed in his book “Dark Safari“, a lot of NGOs don’t really improve the lives of the locals, in fact in many cases they end up making them more difficult, but maybe that’s not the reason why they are there anyway.
There are also reported cases of women who watched a documentary about orphans in Cambodia and decided to create their own orphanages in Phnom Pen. Many of those human right activist are young women, and there might be a reason for that. Maybe they are bored with their “First World Problems” and look for excitement somewhere else, or maybe they just watched “Eat, Pray, Love”. I don’t know. I know that, to me, it seems foolish to risk your life in dangerous places, but maybe I say these because I lived in South America and see nothing romantic about slums. I’d rather travel to Sweden and teach origami to helpless young blond women. What is exotic for some may not be for others.
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong in trying to help your fellow man, of course. And some people are really admirable for their generosity and courage. So maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be something slightly disturbing in the recent phenomenon, especially because it almost always involves young women going alone to dangerous places or helping people in the other side of the world instead of in their own community. Doesn’t charity begin at home?
Luckily, with the current immigration trends, good-hearted progressive young men and women no longer need to travel far to help desperate third-worlders. Now the Cambodians, Philipines, Zambians, Palestinians and Guatemalans are just by their door and can be helped and lectured about the dangers of global warming right here and right now.