En vérité, en vérité, je vous le dis, vous me cherchez, non parce que vous avez vu des miracles, mais parce que vous avez mangé des pains et que vous avez été rassasiés. Jésus (Jean 6: 26)
Accordez-moi aussi ce pouvoir, afin que celui à qui j’imposerai les mains reçoive le Saint Esprit. Simon le magicien (Actes 8: 19)
Our ancestors were Roman Catholics; they were made Protestants by the laird coming round with a man having a yellow staff, which would seem to have attracted more attention than his teaching, for the new religion went long afterward, perhaps it does so still, by the name of the religion of the yellow stick. David Livingstone
Depuis que l’ordre religieux est ébranlé – comme le christianisme le fut sous la Réforme – les vices ne sont pas seuls à se trouver libérés. Certes les vices sont libérés et ils errent à l’aventure et ils font des ravages. Mais les vertus aussi sont libérées et elles errent, plus farouches encore, et elles font des ravages plus terribles encore. Le monde moderne est envahi des veilles vertus chrétiennes devenues folles. Les vertus sont devenues folles pour avoir été isolées les unes des autres, contraintes à errer chacune en sa solitude. G.K. Chesterton
Notre monde est de plus en plus imprégné par cette vérité évangélique de l’innocence des victimes. L’attention qu’on porte aux victimes a commencé au Moyen Age, avec l’invention de l’hôpital. L’Hôtel-Dieu, comme on disait, accueillait toutes les victimes, indépendamment de leur origine. Les sociétés primitives n’étaient pas inhumaines, mais elles n’avaient d’attention que pour leurs membres. Le monde moderne a inventé la « victime inconnue », comme on dirait aujourd’hui le « soldat inconnu ». Le christianisme peut maintenant continuer à s’étendre même sans la loi, car ses grandes percées intellectuelles et morales, notre souci des victimes et notre attention à ne pas nous fabriquer de boucs émissaires, ont fait de nous des chrétiens qui s’ignorent. René Girard
L’inauguration majestueuse de l’ère « post-chrétienne » est une plaisanterie. Nous sommes dans un ultra-christianisme caricatural qui essaie d’échapper à l’orbite judéo-chrétienne en « radicalisant » le souci des victimes dans un sens antichrétien. René Girard
Unfortunately, the Europeans’ devastating urge to do good can no longer be countered with reason. (…) The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. (…) Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid. (…tons of corn are shipped to Africa … [corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers] … and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unsrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN’s World Food Program. (…) Why do we get these mountains of clothes? No one is freezing here. Instead, our tailors lose their livlihoods. They’re in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products. In 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria’s textile industry. By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. The results are the same in all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide. (…) If one were to believe all the horrorifying reports, then all Kenyans should actually be dead by now. But now, tests are being carried out everywhere, and it turns out that the figures were vastly exaggerated. It’s not three million Kenyans that are infected. All of the sudden, it’s only about one million. Malaria is just as much of a problem, but people rarely talk about that. (…) AIDS is big business, maybe Africa’s biggest business. There’s nothing else that can generate as much aid money as shocking figures on AIDS. AIDS is a political disease here, and we should be very skeptical. (…) So you end up with some African biochemist driving an aid worker around, distributing European food, and forcing local farmers out of their jobs. That’s just crazy. James Shikwati
« L’assistance est vraisemblablement la pire des catastrophes de la région, car elle rend possibles l’explosion démographique, les règlements de comptes interethniques, le financement de la guerre, la corruption et l’indifférence aux problèmes sociaux, notamment la précarité sanitaire. (…) L’Afrique a reçu pendant 45 ans plus de mille milliards de dollars, pour quel résultat! Denis-Clair Lambert
Le transfert de ressources des contribuables occidentaux est en fait beaucoup plus important, car dans le même temps les gouvernements locaux empruntent massivement, à faible taux d’intérêt, aux organisations internationales et sur les marchés financiers. Comme les pays prêteurs ont coutume d’annuler périodiquement la dette des pays les plus pauvres, ces derniers empruntent à nouveau. La partie de l’assistance sans remboursement, qualifiée d’aide publique au développement, a très rarement servi au développement de ces pays. Ce pactole nourrit 40 à 60 % des dépenses budgétaires des pays bénéficiaires et souvent la moitié du revenu national. La plus grande partie de ces fonds est destinée au soutien budgétaire, ce qui est une incitation à pérenniser ou accroître le déficit des comptes publics. (…) Il y a tant de donateurs : en moyenne 30 dans les nations d’Afrique et un nombre équivalent d’organisations non gouvernementales, que le programme des Nations Unies finit par reconnaître une véritable gabegie. En Tanzanie l’administration est supposée contrôler 650 projets, qui bien souvent ont le même objet, et pour lesquels il faut rédiger des milliers de rapports et envoyer des centaines de missions. La coordination, l’évaluation, le suivi deviennent des missions impossibles tant pour le pays donateur que pour ce pays récepteur. On ne sait pas combien ces pays reçoivent, chaque donataire expédie des dizaines de missions dans 30 ou 40 pays et ces experts payés au « per diem » finissent par coûter très cher, mais ils remplissent les avions et les hôtels ! L’Union européenne ne fait pas mieux, elle remplit les avions : les chefs de projet changent tous les six mois, comme leurs interlocuteurs, et l’on reprend la procédure à 0. À quoi sert cette assistance ? D’abord à payer les fonctionnaires et la solde des soldats, à satisfaire leur demande d’équipements militaires, puis à honorer les dépenses somptuaires des dirigeants. (…) Quel est le pays africain qui a reçu l’assistance internationale la plus massive depuis 1960 ? L’Éthiopie, suivie par le Soudan, ont reçu de l’Amérique et de l’URSS, de l’Europe et de la Banque mondiale et du Fonds Monétaire International, puis des ONG une assistance massive et stratégique, comme l’Afghanistan en Asie. Ces deux pays étaient cependant dirigés par des dictateurs sanguinaires et farouchement anti-occidentaux. Aujourd’hui le premier bénéficiaire est le Congo-Zaïre, suivi par la Tanzanie et toujours l’Éthiopie. (…) au sud du Sahel saharien la moitié des États sont confrontés à des guerres intestines, l’autre moitié étant riveraine de ces pays sert de refuge aux civils et aux mouvements insurrectionnels » … Denis-Clair Lambert
By Indianization, we are not demanding conversion of Muslims and Christians into Hindus. For the sake of unity and integrity of the country, we are demanding that Christians and Muslims should be indigenized, carrying Indian names. Acharya Giriraj Kishore (Indian Vice President)
Attention: un chrétien du riz peut en cacher un autre !
En ces temps étranges du post-christianisme triomphant …
Ce tourisme dit humanitaire qui du volontourisme au honeyteering (lune de miel humanitaire) …
En arrive à l’exploit de faire payer des gens pour le droit de travailler bénévolement …
Tout en détruisant le marché du travail local entre selfies pour page Facebook et stratégies éducatives ou professionnelles …
Ou même en multipliant par sept sur le modèle des « chrétiens du riz » des missions chrétiennes d’antan …
La population des orphelinats d’un Cambodge en paix depuis 30 ans ?
«L’envie d’engagement ne fléchit pas, observe Rony Brauman, ancien président de Médecins sans frontières. Faire de l’humanitaire, c’est faire quelque chose de bien pour l’autre, c’est une attitude sociale légitime qui coexiste en parallèle d’un processus continu de professionnalisation.» Le célèbre médecin est plus critique quant à l’idée de coupler voyage et humanitaire. «Pourquoi vouloir fixer au voyage un autre but que la découverte de personnes, de paysages, de saveurs ? Faire du tourisme en se sentant investi d’une mission, pour être gentil, pour jouer au père Noël avec des livres, des stylos et des médicaments disqualifie le voyage en lui-même. La dissymétrie du rapport rend d’emblée la rencontre impossible. Ce n’est pas de l’ouverture, mais de la condescendance.»
L’intention est louable. La critique s’avère, dès lors, délicate. «Il ne faut pas casser l’élan, le désir de s’engager», prévient Brauman. Les ONG ont lancé des campagnes de dissuasion du volontouriste, à l’instar de Solidarités International. «Tout le monde ne peut pas aider sur le terrain», disent les spots. Une série de faux entretiens d’embauche croustillants, avec notamment une hippie qui a «fait grave du baby-sitting», sait ce que c’est que de vivre sans douche à force de faire des festivals, «kiffe l’Afrique» et se dit prête à partir secourir «les enfants qui meurent de faim et ont besoin d’amour». Comme si les bons sentiments à l’égard d’une misère aussi lointaine qu’abstraite dispensaient de toute réflexion intellectuelle. «Quand on est sérieux, il faut regarder quel est notre impact réel, prendre du recul, explique Sébastien Marot, directeur de Friends International, qu’il a cofondé au Cambodge en 1994. Toutes les conneries, je les ai faites. Dans la rue, je donnais à manger aux enfants cambodgiens, comme tous les touristes. Du coup, les gamins stagnaient en attendant le room service… Huit repas par jour», se souvient cet ancien directeur marketing chez L’Oréal. Vingt-deux ans qu’il voit défiler dans les orphelinats les touristes humanitaires et autres volontaires en tout genre. «L’enfant est devenu une attraction touristique. Imaginez un turn-over permanent de Japonais, un flux d’adultes inconnus qui viendraient dans nos écoles pour apprendre des chants aux petits Français, enseigner leur langue, leur offrir du riz et les photographier avant de repartir.»
Lépreux au Ghana
Le Cambodge compte plus d’orphelinats aujourd’hui qu’en 1979, au sortir de la guerre. Rien que ces huit dernières années, leur nombre a triplé. Six cents structures ont été dénombrées et le recensement n’est pas terminé… En trente ans, le nombre d’orphelins est passé de 7 000 à 47 000. En fait, selon l’Unicef, 74 % d’entre eux ont des parents. «Les volontaires étrangers veulent tous ouvrir des orphelinats. Seulement, il faut les remplir ! Alors, croyant bien faire, ils retirent les enfants aux familles cambodgiennes pauvres, expliquant que c’est mieux, qu’ils ne savent pas s’en occuper. C’est raciste, colonialiste. Et si on retirait aux Français leurs enfants au seul motif qu’ils sont trop pauvres ?» interroge Sébastien Marot.
Le mot «orphelin» déclenche l’arrivée massive de l’aide étrangère et des volontaires. «Ils viennent soit se construire un CV, soit se reconstruire parce qu’ils sont dans une mauvaise passe. Charge donc aux enfants étrangers de soigner les problèmes des Occidentaux, tacle Marot. D’un point de vue marketing, l’orphelinat c’est facile à vendre. Mais pour que l’argent continue d’affluer, il ne faut pas qu’il soit investi, ce serait casser le produit. Le bâtiment doit rester pourri et les enfants avoir l’air malheureux.» Le phénomène a gagné le Laos, la Thaïlande, la Birmanie. Au Cambodge, Friends International œuvre à la réintégration des enfants dans les familles, en partenariat avec l’Unicef et le gouvernement. Depuis cette année, des orphelinats sont fermés et l’ouverture de nouveaux établissements est gelée. «Nos volontaires font des travaux administratifs, des recherches, mènent des enquêtes. Il y a beaucoup à faire et peu d’occasions de selfies avec des enfants. Ce sont des professionnels locaux et expérimentés que nous salarions qui s’en occupent.»
Reste le «séjour humanitaire» afin d’accéder à l’enfant exotique, pauvre et malade. Contre 2 000 euros en moyenne les quinze jours, au titre des frais de mission (transport, hébergement, repas, le tout dans un confort rudimentaire qui participe au charme de l’aventure), Projects Abroad promet par exemple de soigner des lépreux au Ghana ou d’accueillir les primo-arrivants sur les plages italiennes. «On remplace la planche à voile par un réfugié», s’indigne Pierre de Hanscutter, président et fondateur de l’association francophone Service volontaire international (SVI).
Des «missions de volontariat» en «médecine générale», «soins infirmiers», «sage-femme»,«santé publique», «soins dentaires», accessibles «même sans qualification médicale» et à partir de 16 ans, insiste le site web de Projects Abroad. Et si les photos ne suffisaient pas (des jeunes Blancs en blouse et gantés de latex qui prennent des tensions, donnent des médicaments à des nourrissons, etc.), il y a les vidéos. Deux adolescentes danoises soignent les plaies purulentes de malades au Ghana. Elles voulaient une première expérience avant de passer le concours de médecine. Se faire la main, en quelque sorte. Leur meilleur souvenir ? Un accouchement compliqué, c’était «extraordinaire», «du sang partout». Au Pérou, une fille fait des points de suture, ravie : «Ça donne confiance en soi.» En Tanzanie, un garçon anglais, stéthoscope autour du cou, briefe des infirmières noires, regarde les radios, feuillette des dossiers. Au Mexique, une Suissesse enjouée enseigne le français à l’université. Trois classes. Les élèves sont plus vieux qu’elle, pas trop dur ? «Il suffit d’être motivée, d’avoir envie d’enseigner et d’être de bonne humeur. Ça suffit pour les Mexicains !»
«C’est Tintin au Congo», résume Rony Brauman, «inquiet» et «révolté» par les dégâts sanitaires causés sur place et «l’exploitation cynique des bonnes volontés». Le SVI regrette le silence de l’ordre des médecins en France. «Dire à un jeune Blanc que même s’il n’a que le bac, il aura toujours un niveau supérieur aux professeurs et médecins locaux, c’est du racisme positif. Il faut lui remettre les pieds sur terre, on ne l’attend pas pour sauver l’Afrique, même si c’est sympa, même si ça fait rêver», soupire Pierre de Hanscutter.
Projects Abroad est le leader du tourisme humanitaire. Un ensemble de structures appartenant à une holding domiciliée en Angleterre, Beech View Holdings Limited. La multinationale, arrivée sur le marché hexagonal voilà dix ans, n’a rien d’une ONG, si ce n’est le champ lexical. Six cents salariés, près de deux cents programmes, des dizaines de milliers de volontaires-clients dont les deux tiers ont moins de 30 ans. Son bénéfice net, en constante augmentation, s’élevait à 1,7 million de livres en 2012 (2 millions d’euros). Contacté par Libération, Projects Abroad n’a pas donné suite.
Bac à sable
«Soit le séjour se passe bien et les jeunes reviennent avec l’idée que les pays en développement sont un grand bac à sable ; soit cela se passe mal, et là c’est tout le secteur associatif qu’ils verront comme une vaste arnaque», souligne Pierre de Hanscutter, inquiet des valeurs inculquées ainsi à ces citoyens en devenir. Il pointe un autre écueil : «A l’étranger, le marché du travail souffre aussi, avec toute cette main-d’œuvre qui paye pour venir travailler.»
Qui sont ces volontouristes ? La sociologue Alizée Delpierre a enquêté durant trois ans chez Projects Abroad. Elle souligne le «rôle déterminant des parents», professions libérales, hauts-fonctionnaires, majoritairement aisés et résidant dans les beaux quartiers parisiens. «Ils redoutent généralement le secteur associatif, considéré comme un domaine de relégation. A ce prix-là, ils ont la garantie de l’entre-soi.» L’action humanitaire répond d’abord à «stratégie éducative», que la chercheuse détaille : «Les parents veulent que leur enfant acquière des compétences internationales, teste ses affinités avec un métier avant de payer une grande école, apprenne à se débrouiller seul ou soit confronté à la misère pour qu’il mesure combien il est privilégié…» Sur place, elle a vu des volontaires «déçus de constater le faible impact de leur action. Alors ils visitent, font du shopping». Comme des touristes tout court.
Dans le camp de réfugiés de Calais, on croise des migrants mais aussi des touristes de plus ou moins bonne volonté.
C’est un safari exotique low cost, le premier du genre. Le dépaysement à moindres frais, sans partir de chez soi, en «faisant le bien» et en attirant sur soi l’admiration de ses amis Facebook : la visite du camp de réfugiés à Calais. The jungle, pour les initiés et ceux qui souhaitent en être, avec ses déclinaisons d’humour grinçant : la librairie The Jungle Books, la cabane de Baloo, les restaurants «New Kabul» et «British Hotel», des graffitis pleins de promesses comme «London Calling» et «Welcome to the UK», l’auto-proclamée ambassade du Koweït, un drapeau français célébrant avec ironie la chaleur et l’hospitalité hexagonales, des capsules vides de gaz lacrymogène qui décorent en guirlande la devanture d’un barbier de fortune… ici pas besoin de passeport, de visa ou d’autorisation d’entrée – il suffit de se conformer aux fouilles policières des véhicules à l’entrée.
Un mépris à peine dissimulé
À certains moments «la jungle» a tout d’un zoo. Tandis que chacun, dans la ronde des touristes, photographes, journalistes, chercheurs, bénévoles, employés d’ONG et Calaisiens charitables, s’évertue à faire valoir la légitimité de sa présence, les migrants désœuvrés regardent, amers ou méfiants, avec apathie ou un embarras poli, défiler ce petit monde étrange dont les intentions réelles leur demeurent inconnues. Certains, plus que d’autres, ont une raison d’être ici. Ce sont les employés d’ONG et bénévoles dont le rôle est clairement défini et les compétences, professionnelles. Dans les regards de ces anonymes actifs se devine un mépris à peine dissimulé pour le reste des visiteurs de passage, parmi eux des jeunes qui se disent «réfugiés du capitalisme», comme on peut le lire sur le mur d’une des écoles improvisées ; de débonnaires babas cool qui veulent croire en une communauté des pauvres, laïque et multiculturelle, unie par la solidarité et la musique ; ou encore ceux qui se voient comme d’intrépides aventuriers qui ont le cran de vivre au milieu du camp, sont les amis des réfugiés jusqu’à finir par devenir, pour les plus obstinés d’entre eux, «l’un des leurs». Une tentative – louable mais illusoire – d’abolir le gouffre qui les sépare: les bénévoles, eux, pourront toujours rentrer chez eux par le prochain bus ou ferry pour 50€ et la présentation d’une carte d’identité. Les migrants, eux, auront besoin de quelques milliers (voire dizaine de milliers) d’euros pour quitter la «jungle». On donne des cours d’anglais ou de français, on s’amuse avec les enfants, on gratte sa guitare, on chante, jusqu’au moment où nos aventuriers se découragent, l’un après l’autre, ou doivent simplement regagner leurs pénates.
Un souvenir de vacances
Il y a aussi les bénévoles dont on ne sait pas s’ils font partie d’une association, d’une ONG, ou s’ils sont là à leur propre compte. On les croise tous les jours, à discuter avec des gens qui leur ressemblent et faire de grands sourires aux migrants qui les regardent avec curiosité, ou à jouer aux assistants sociaux, vaguement infantilisants, implorant les migrants de rejoindre leur «atelier de percussions» qui se résume à taper deux bâtons ensemble pour tuer le temps. «La jungle» abrite aussi des journalistes, plus ou moins indépendants, qui y passent un jour ou deux, prennent des photos et disparaissent.
Et puis il y a les touristes. Qui jouent parfois aux apprentis reporters. Comme cette femme avec son Nikon D70 débarquant dans la cour de l’école de fortune, sans un bonjour pour prendre des photos. «Vous comptez en faire quoi, de ces photos ?» Et elle de répondre, d’un ton assuré qui se veut rassurant : «Ah mais moi c’est pas pour publier sur Facebook, hein ! C’est pour moi.» Un souvenir de vacances, donc.
Mais ses modèles ne s’y soumettent pas toujours volontiers. L’un d’eux, refusant d’abord, décide finalement de tourner la séance de prise de vues en parodie. Il s’allonge de tout son long, lascivement, telle une odalisque enturbannée, et se laisse mitrailler, le visage figé, se moquant visiblement de l’avidité de sa spectatrice. Quelques minutes plus tard, elle guette un autre modèle, qui commente, malicieux : «Regarde-la celle-là ! Elle attend que je sois seul pour me demander de nouveau. Regarde comme elle est drôle !»
Enfin vient le groupe d’amies, 18-20 ans, qui se partagent une barquette de frites en déambulant dans les rues passantes du campement, comme elles le feraient à Marrakech ou Bangkok, tout excitées à l’idée de vivre cette aventure hors du commun.
Étrange et inattendu pot pourri, qui réunit ce que le tourisme a de pire, en ce lieu qui s’appelle «jungle» parce qu’il n’y règne aucune loi. Chacun s’arroge donc le loisir de faire comme bon lui semble. D’autant plus qu’on est ici chez soi — en Europe — sans l’être vraiment. Cette zone de non-droit, sans contrôle social, sans règles, est un jardin d’expérimentations en tout genre. Une cacophonie de charitabilisme. Le soir, les bénévoles regagnent l’auberge de jeunesse, les plus anciens dorment sur place, dans une caravane équipée d’un cadenas.
«Ne dites rien à ces gens. Ils promettent des choses et partent sans jamais revenir. Ils viennent parce que c’est trop cher pour eux d’aller en Afghanistan, ici ils ont l’impression d’y être et c’est gratuit», dit un homme afghan. Il exprime le malaise de nombre d’occupants du camp. Face à lui, la horde protéiforme change de visage tous les jours. Le gouffre ne se referme pas. Et toujours les mêmes questions, rarement dans leurs langues : sur leurs origines, leur parcours, leur destination, les raisons de leur fuite, le prix du passage…
«Don’t ask me about my life, I don’t want to talk», peut-on lire, écrit au marqueur, sur une table d’extérieur, devant l’«école». «I hate journalists», nous a dit aujourd’hui un migrant somalien.
Comment se comporter et s’habiller dans ce no man’s land multiculturel, un territoire sur lequel seule la présence hostile des escadrons de CRS indique qu’on est France. Les bénévoles de longue date, dépositaires d’une forme d’autorité, conseillent aux visiteurs de porter des pantalons très larges, d’attacher leurs cheveux (voire de se couvrir la tête) et de porter des chemises amples. Est-ce pour éviter d’offenser les sensibilités culturelles supposées et sans doute surinterprétées de chacun ? Ou pour «se fondre dans le décor» ? La très grande majorité des bénévoles sont des femmes. Certaines faisant fi des recommandations, fument, cheveux lâchés, et plaisantent avec les réfugiés — tous des hommes — en leur passant parfois un bras sur l’épaule. Eux sont tantôt gênés, tantôt ravis : «je viens ici car les volontaires sont jolies», confie l’un d’eux. Les réfugiées, elles, restent dans des espaces clos, éventuellement avec leurs enfants, ou ne font que passer furtivement. On leur organise parfois des «ateliers beauté» pour qu’elles puissent se retrouver ensemble, en sécurité – car même si elles sont des réfugiées, elles demeurent des femmes et en tant que telles, on estime qu’elles doivent rester plaisantes à regarder et s’occuper de leur apparence. Tant pis si elles n’ont pas envie de l’être, attirantes, et restent cloîtrées pour éviter justement les regards souvent prédateurs. C’est le réflexe systématique des projets d’assistance dédiés aux femmes, l’atelier beauté. Et, en réalité, c’est la seule activité à laquelle elles participent, les cours de langue étant mixte – et donc, de facto, entièrement masculins.
Et nous ? Nous, nous sommes là, petite équipe de huit, qui ne savons pas trop ce que nous y faisons. Nous sommes payés pour mener des entretiens afin d’évaluer la faisabilité d’un projet de services financiers permettant d’épargner ou de transférer de l’argent. A la fin de la journée, on se raconte ce qu’on a fait et appris, on tire des conclusions sur les besoins et… on n’en fait rien. On recommence le lendemain. On récolte les mêmes histoires, peu ou prou. On note tout, bien consciencieusement, dans un carnet, et au terme de notre séjour, nous n’en ferons rien, faute de financement et d’appui institutionnel.
Des touristes améliorés
Cautère sur une jambe de bois, les bénévoles ? Au moins font-ils un peu de bien, à une toute petite échelle. Et sans doute de leur mieux. Nous autres ne pourrons même pas justifier moralement de notre présence, puisque le projet – mal préparé, mal organisé – n’aboutira pas. Il aura fait de nous des touristes améliorés, doués d’une certaine conscience éthique et, désormais, de regrets. Nous nous serons bornés à énumérer les évidences : nécessité de développer l’accès à l’éducation, à l’électricité, à Internet, et d’assurer la sécurité des occupants.
Une chose est sûre : on ne s’improvise pas humanitaire du jour au lendemain, et les bons sentiments ne suffisent pas. Quand l’État se désengage complètement, que le grand public préfère s’impliquer directement, on en arrive vite au safari. Au zoo participatif. À la jungle.
July 31, 2014
Judith Lopez Lopez, who runs a center for orphans outside Antigua, Guatemala, says she’s grateful for the help that volunteers give.
All visitors and volunteers get a big warm welcome when they walk in the doors of her facility, Prodesenh. It’s part orphanage, part after-school program and part community center.
Most of the kids at Prodesenh don’t have parents, Lopez says. They live with relatives. Some were abandoned by their mothers at birth. Others lost their fathers in accidents or to alcoholism.
There are three volunteers here now, all from the U.S. Lopez says they give the kids what they need most: love and encouragement.
One those volunteers is Kyle Winningham, who just graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in entrepreneurship. « Yeah, my real name is Kyle, but mi apodo aqui es Carlos, » he says.
Winningham didn’t have a job lined up after school, so he decided to spend his summer at Prodesenh. « When the kids have homework, I help with homework, » he says. « When they don’t, I generally help out with teaching a little bit of English. »
But today they are cooking. Lopez hands out bowls filled with bright red tomatoes, onions and mint. She’s teaching the kids to make salsa.
Haley Nordeen, an international relations major at American University in the District of Columbia, is also spending her entire summer at Prodesenh. During her first six weeks here, the 19-year-old helped build the newest addition to the center, a small library. Now she’s tutoring.
« I’ve met a lot of international relations majors here, so it seems like a trend, » Nordeen says.
Most volunteer tourists are women. They’re also young adults, between the ages of 20 and 25, says the industry consulting group Tourism, Research and Marketing, based in Glasbury, Wales. But more and more high school students are also traveling and volunteering.
Sam Daddono is a junior at Rumson-Fair Haven High School in New Jersey. His whole Spanish class is in Antigua, sharpening their Spanish skills. But they’re also hiking up the side of a volcano every morning to help tend to a coffee plantation — and learning about what life is like here in Guatemala.
« The way I view things now is a lot different than before, » Daddono says. « I’ve visited other countries, but I’ve never done hands-on work or really talked to the people about the problems that they face in their lives. »
That worldview for many American teens is a lot different than it was two decades ago, says Ken Jones, who owns Maximo Nivel, a volunteer tourism company out of Antigua. He got his start in the travel business, offering only Spanish-language classes. But young people today, he says, want a richer experience.
« It used to be beach and beer, » Jones says. « And now it’s, ‘Well, I want to come down and learn something and figure out how to help or be a part of something.’ It was more superficial 20 years ago, maybe. »
The industry has exploded in the past few years, says Theresa Higgs, who runs United Planet in Boston. The nonprofit offers what she calls a cultural immersion program.
But Higgs is on the fence about whether the rise in popularity of « voluntourism » is a good thing. She’s heartened by the altruism of volunteers, but she’s worried about the flood of for-profit organizations bursting onto the scene.
« What I think often gets lost is the host communities, » she says. « Are they gaining? Are they winning? Are they true partners in this? Or are they simply a means to an end to a student’s learning objective, to someone’s desire to have fun on vacation and learn something? » she asks.
Higgs urges travelers to do their homework and research companies, just as you would before giving to a charity or volunteering for any organization.
About a dozen youth from the United Church of Christ from Yarmouth, Maine, are learning how to count to 10 in the Mam language, from an elderly indigenous woman in Guatemala City. They are volunteering for a week at the nonprofit Safe Passage, which helps children and parents who live and work in the capital’s sprawling garbage dump.
It’s pouring rain outside, but 17-year-old Mary Coyne isn’t bummed. She’s glad she spent her summer vacation here instead of at the beach, she says. « Yeah, I’m not getting a tan and not eating ice cream, » Coyne says. « But it’s something different. It’s like your whole being is satisfied because of experiences like this. »
Several years ago, when I was working as a reporter based in Haiti, I came upon a group of older Christian missionaries in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, struggling with heavy shovels to stir a pile of cement and sand. They were there to build a school alongside a Methodist church. Muscular Haitian masons stood by watching, perplexed and a bit amused at the sight of men and women who had come all the way from the United States to do a mundane construction job.
Such people were a familiar sight: They were voluntourists. They would come for a week or two for a “project” — a temporary medical clinic, an orphanage visit or a school construction. A 2008 study surveyed 300 organizations that market to would-be voluntourists and estimated that 1.6 million people volunteer on vacation, spending around $2 billion annually. A few are celebrities supporting their cause du jour, who drop in to meet locals and witness a project that often bears their name. Many more come to teach English during high school, college vacations or during a gap year. Others are sun-seeking vacationers who stay at beachside resorts but who also want to see “the real (name your country).” So they go into a community for an afternoon to help local women make beads, jewelry or clothes.
Volunteering seems like an admirable way to spend a vacation. Many of us donate money to foreign charities with the hope of making the world a better place. Why not use our skills as well as our wallets? And yet, watching those missionaries make concrete blocks that day in Port-au-Prince, I couldn’t help wondering if their good intentions were misplaced. These people knew nothing about how to construct a building. Collectively they had spent thousands of dollars to fly here to do a job that Haitian bricklayers could have done far more quickly. Imagine how many classrooms might have been built if they had donated that money rather than spending it to fly down themselves. Perhaps those Haitian masons could have found weeks of employment with a decent wage. Instead, at least for several days, they were out of a job.
Besides, constructing a school is relatively easy. Improving education, especially in a place like Haiti, is not. Did the missionaries have a long-term plan to train and recruit qualified teachers to staff the school? Did they have a budget to pay those teachers indefinitely? Other school-builders I met in Haiti admitted they weren’t involved in any long-term planning, and I once visited a school built by an NGO that had no money left to pay the teachers. If these brick-laying voluntourists overlooked such things in their eagerness to get their hands dirty, they wouldn’t be the first.
Easing global poverty is an enormously complex task. To make so much as a dent requires hard, sustained work, and expertise. Even the experts sometimes get it wrong. Critics of the Red Cross’s post-earthquake work in Haiti argue that the half a billion dollars the organization raised for disaster relief was largely misspent. Multimillion-dollar projects undertaken by the U.S. government ultimately failed to help Haiti export its mangos or complete a new building for Haiti’s Parliament on time. If smart, dedicated professionals can fail to achieve lasting progress over a period of years, how then is an untrained vacationer supposed to do so in a matter of days?
Sometimes, volunteering even causes real harm. Research in South Africa and elsewhere has found that “orphan tourism” — in which visitors volunteer as caregivers for children whose parents died or otherwise can’t support them — has become so popular that some orphanages operate more like opportunistic businesses than charities, intentionally subjecting children to poor conditions in order to entice unsuspecting volunteers to donate more money. Many “orphans,” it turns out, have living parents who, with a little support, could probably do a better job of raising their children than some volunteer can. And the constant arrivals and departures of volunteers have been linked to attachment disorders in children.
There are some volunteers who possess specialized, sought-after skills, of course. In Port-au-Prince I lived across from a Catholic guesthouse where groups of mostly American volunteers would spend their first nights in Haiti. Often I’d join them for dinner to hear about their experiences. I remember meeting an ophthalmologist from Milwaukee, who had just spent a week in a remote town in Haiti performing laser eye surgery. He recounted the joy he felt at helping people who were going blind from cataracts to see.
But not all volunteers come with an expertise like ophthalmology. When I asked one of the women who ran that guesthouse why she moved to Haiti, she told me that “a long time ago I felt called to be here, and I came based on that, not knowing what I was going to do.” In many ways, this woman is typical of the sort of voluntourists I’ve encountered. Many are religious — the sort of people who cite passages from the Bible, the Torah or the Quran that encourage followers to help those in need. Surely, they say, “love thy neighbor” takes on a different meaning in a globalized world. To many of these people, simply experiencing a foreign culture is not enough. They must change that place for the better.
Perhaps we are fooling ourselves. Unsatisfying as it may be, we ought to acknowledge the truth that we, as amateurs, often don’t have much to offer. Perhaps we ought to abandon the assumption that we, simply by being privileged enough to travel the world, are somehow qualified to help ease the world’s ills. Because the mantra of “good intentions” becomes unworthy when its eventuality can give a South African AIDS orphan an attachment disorder or put a Haitian mason out of work.
I’ve come to believe that the first step toward making the world a better place is to simply experience that place. Unless you’re willing to devote your career to studying international affairs and public policy, researching the mistakes that foreign charities have made while acting upon good intentions, and identifying approaches to development that have data and hard evidence behind them — perhaps volunteering abroad is not for you.
Jacob Kushner reports on foreign aid and immigration in East and Central Africa and the Caribbean.
Voir de même:
Voluntourism is a ‘waste of time and money’ – and gappers are better off working in Britain
Campaigners hit out at gap years in developing countries
24 October 2014
Helping out at an African nursery or digging trenches in rural India might have become a fashionable – and expensive – rite of passage for thousands of young people each year, but volunteers would often do more good staying at home and assisting communities on their own doorstep, a conference on ethical tourism will hear tomorrow.
The growing trend for far-flung gap years often combining an element of work in a developing country has become one of the fastest-growing phenomena in the global travel industry.
However, a leading UK charity is warning that whilst often well intentioned in their motives, altruistic young travellers can end up doing more harm than good to their host communities, even potentially fuelling child abuse.
Mounting concern that the desire to work in orphanages in countries such as Cambodia and Nepal is actually be leading to the abandonment or even abduction of children from their parents to fuel the boom in eager tourists has led to calls for a radical rethink on the ethics of so-called volunteerism.
Delegates at a one-day conference at Braithwaite Hall in Croydon, south London, organised by Tourism Concern will seek to persuade prospective volunteers to think hard about their choice of destination.
The charity’s executive director Mark Watson said that whilst the desire to help others was commendable – too many expensive commercial volunteering opportunities ended up exploiting both those offering help whilst harming the lives of those meant to be on the receiving end.
“Volunteers often have unfulfilling and disappointing experiences; volunteer placements can prevent local workers from getting much-needed jobs; hard-pressed institutions waste time looking after them and money upgrading facilities; and abused or abandoned children form emotional attachments to the visitors, who increase their trauma by disappearing back home after a few weeks,” Mr Watson said.
“We feel that there are many opportunities for people to undertake meaningful volunteering in their own community, where they will receive proper training, support and supervision – without the need to pay a tour operator for the privilege. In the majority of cases people would be far better (and have a more rewarding experience) volunteering at home and spending their money on travelling and staying in places listed in our Ethical Travel Guide,” he added.
Best value holiday destinations around the world
Among the speakers at the event is campaigner Philippa Biddle, who described taking part in a development project building an orphanage and library in Tanzania. She said each night local men dismantled the structurally unsound work they had done – relaying bricks and resetting timbers whilst the students slept.
“Basically, we failed at the sole purpose of our being there. It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work, but there we were trying to build straight walls without a level,” she recalled.
Laura Woodward of Raleigh International, a non-profit making sustainable development charity which works with young volunteers and communities around the world living in poverty, said few commercial organisations offered high quality placements that brought benefit to their host countries.
She said the conference was right to highlight concerns over voluntourism.
“It’s true that there are many fantastic volunteering opportunities for people in their own communities and we strongly encourage volunteers to take action in their own communities upon their return; indeed, this has become a fundamental element of our programmes. Whilst there are huge benefits to volunteering at home, there are still pressing issues across the globe where young, international volunteers can make a real difference,” she said.
Voir de plus:
I recently came across an interesting article questioning voluntourism and assessing whether it does more harm than good in communities of the global south. It reminded me of my own concerns with « voluntourism » that originated in my college years in which I had participated in Alternative Spring Breaks. It was considered an alternative to what most college students did on their vacations: spending idle time by the poolside. The university-organised trips sent students to spend a week in disadvantaged and poverty-stricken communities to volunteer. This could take the form of teaching English at the local school, assisting in building and beautifying new homes for residents, or environmental cleanups. Interspersed throughout the week were also touristy getaways and souvenir shopping. Although I had memorable and rewarding moments, I could never shake off the feeling that it was all a bit too self-congratulatory and disingenuous.
Voluntourism almost always involves a group of idealistic and privileged travelers who have vastly different socio-economic statuses vis–à–vis those they serve. They often enter these communities with little or no understanding of the locals’ history, culture, and ways of life. All that is understood is the poverty and the presumed neediness of the community, and for the purposes of volunteering, that seems to be enough. In my own experiences – also highlighted by the author of the article – this has led to condescending and superficial relationships that transform the (usually western) volunteer into a benevolent giver and the community members into the ever grateful receivers of charity. It makes for an extremely uncomfortable dynamic in which one begins to wonder if these trips are designed more for the spiritual fulfillment of the volunteer rather than the alleviation of poverty.
I couldn’t help feeling ashamed at the excessive praise and thanks we received from locals and those on the trip alike. I cringed as we took complimentary photos with African children whose names we didn’t know. We couldn’t even take full credit for building the houses because most of the work had already been done by community members. In fact, if anything we slowed down the process with our inexperience and clumsiness. And how many schools in the west would allow amateur college students to run their English classes for a day? What had I really done besides inflate my own ego and spruce up my resume? I had stormed into the lives of people I knew nothing about, I barely engaged with them on a genuine level, and worst of all, I then claimed that I had done something invaluable for them all in a matter of five days (of which most of the time was spent at hotel rooms, restaurants, and airports).
An entire industry has sprouted out of voluntourism as it increases in popularity, possibly equal to the increase in global inequality. As the gap between rich and poor widens, so too it seems does the need for those of the global north to assuage the guilt of their privilege (paradoxically, guilt only seems to deepen as many realise the illusory effect of their impact), or to simply look good. The developing world has become a playground for the redemption of privileged souls looking to atone for global injustices by escaping the vacuity of modernity and globalisation.
But does this address the root institutional and structural causes of the problem? I do not mean to deny, across the board, the importance of the work voluntourists do. Volunteers in developing countries fund and deliver great programmes that would not happen otherwise, but the sustainability and the effectiveness of the approach is what I question. Time and energy would be better spent building real solidarity between disparate societies based on mutual respect and understanding. Instead of focusing on surface symptoms of poverty, volunteers and the organisations that recruit them should focus on the causes that often stem from an unjust global economic order. Why not advocate and campaign for IMF and World Bank reforms? How about having volunteers advocate for their home country to change aggressive foreign and agricultural policies (such as subsidy programmes)? This might seem unrealistic but the idea is to get volunteers to understand their own (direct or indirect) role in global poverty. The idea is to get volunteers truly invested in ending poverty, and not simply to feel better about themselves.
Voir de même:
By 10pm, the aptly named Bar Street is pulsating with tourists drawn to Siem Reap by the famous Cambodian ruins of Angkor Wat. As hip-hop blares from clubs, children playing traditional instruments are led along by men with placards reading: « Support our orphans. » The kids offer sweet smiles to the diners and drinkers and anyone making a donation is invited to visit the nearby orphanage, one of several in the city, and perhaps spend time working there.
This is the most direct attempt to lure tourists, seducing them with wide eyes and heart-wrenching stories of abandonment. Other orphanages rely on websites filled with pictures of happy children. Some have hooked up with guest-houses, taxi drivers and, best of all, western tour companies that offer voluntary work alongside the holiday of a lifetime.
But behind those smiles can lie untold misery. For in Cambodia, as in other parts of the globe, orphanages are a booming business trading on guilt. Some are even said to be kept deliberately squalid. Westerners take pity on the children and end up creating a grotesque market that capitalises on their concerns. This is the dark side of our desire to help the developing world.
Look again at those cute children. Those « orphans » might have been bought from impoverished parents, coerced from loving families or simply rented for the night. An official study found just a quarter of children in these so-called orphanages have actually lost both parents. And these private ventures are proliferating fast: the numbers increased by 65% in just three years.
Once again, clumsy attempts to do good end up harming communities we want to help. We have seen it with foreign aid, corrosive in so many countries by propping up despots, fostering corruption and destroying local enterprises. We have seen it with the dumping of cheap food and clothes, devastating industries and encouraging a dependency culture. And now we see it with « voluntourism », the fastest-growing sector of one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet.
Insiders call them guilt trips. All those teenagers heading off on gap years, fired up with enthusiasm. Those middle-aged professionals spending a small fortune to give something back to society. And those new retirees determined to spend their downtime spreading a little happiness.
Now the flipside of these well-intentioned dreams has been laid bare in an incendiary report by South African and British academics which focuses on « Aids orphan tourism » in southern Africa, but challenges many cherished beliefs.
The study reveals that short-term volunteer projects can do more harm than good. Wealthy tourists prevent local workers from getting much-needed jobs, especially when they pay to volunteer; hard-pressed institutions waste time looking after them and money upgrading facilities; and abused or abandoned children form emotional attachments to the visitors, who increase their trauma by disappearing back home. « The more I delved into it, the more disturbing I found it, » said Amy Norman, one of the researchers.
Development charities offering professionals the chance to use skills abroad have raised similar concerns; Voluntary Service Overseas even condemned this burgeoning industry as a new form of colonialism. VSO asked what right unqualified British teenagers had to impose their desire to do good at schools in developing countries. And Norman is correct: the more you look below the surface, the more these trips raise profound questions about misplaced idealism and misconceived attitudes.
In recent years, a disturbing form of slum tourism has taken off, with rich visitors sold a glimpse into the lives of the very poor. In Asia, unbelievably, tourists pay for trips to hand out food to impoverished rural families. In Africa, tour firms throw in a visit to an orphanage alongside a few days on the beach or watching wild animals. Critics argue that dropping in to take photographs of orphaned children, who may have seen parents recently waste to death, reduces them to the status of lions and zebras on the veld.
Many orphanages let tourists work with children. But what would we say if unchecked foreigners went into our children’s homes to cuddle and care for the kids? We would be shocked, so why should standards be lowered in the developing world? Yes, resources might be in short supply, but just as here, experts want children in the family environment or fostered in loving homes, not in the exploding number of substandard institutions.
As the authors of this report point out, the harsh truth is that « voluntourism » is more about the self-fulfilment of westerners than the needs of developing nations. Perhaps this is unsurprising in a world in which Madonna thinks it is fine to take children from African families.
In Ghana, just as in South Africa and Cambodia, there has been a boom in unregistered orphanages. Last year, police investigated one after the rape of an eight-month-old boy and discovered 27 of the 32 children were not orphans. A government study found up to 90% of the estimated 4,500 children in orphanages had at least one parent and only eight of the 148 orphanages were licensed. Unicef officials said children’s welfare was secondary to profits and it is thought less than one-third of income goes on child care.
Too many travellers carry a naively romantic idea of doing good alongside their luggage. « Unfortunately, they are led by their hearts and not their heads and unknowingly support environments that may be abusive to children, » said Mark Turgesen, international co-ordinator of ChildSafe Network, which protects children from abuse. Last month, the British owner of an orphanage near Siem Reap was charged with sexual assault of a teenage boy; up to 100 children were moved to a safe house by investigators.
Inevitably, the needs of impoverished communities are subverted by the demands of wealthy visitors. Alexia Nestora ran the North American arm of a major « voluntourism » group and admitted such firms loved orphanage stops. « They sell the best and are the most tearjerking projects to pitch to the media. Volunteers come away with the classic picture with an orphan and tell all their friends about their experience – as a business person I loved this. » However, she started to question their validity once she went into the field and discovered the work carried out by volunteers was often unnecessary, as admitted by organisers. « The funding they bring with them is the attractive part. »
The desire to engage with the world is laudable, as is the desire to volunteer. But we need to tread more carefully. Unless we have time and transferable skills, we might do better to travel, trade and spend money in developing countries. The rapid growth of « voluntourism » is like the rapid growth of the aid industry: salving our own consciences without fully examining the consequences for the people we seek to help. All too often, our heartfelt efforts to help only make matters worse.
Voir par ailleurs:
The debate about « voluntourism » – that unsightly word – has reared its cynical head yet again. Every so often the spotlight is turned on western students using their free time to help those less fortunate in developing countries, and much head-scratching and soul-searching ensues.
Recently the Guardian published a piece by Somalian blogger Ossob Mohamud, with the headline Beware the ‘voluntourists’ doing good. She argues that the west is turning the developing world into « a playground » for the rich to « assuage the guilt of their privilege ».
Mohamud clearly had a difficult volunteering experience. She says she felt ashamed at the excessive praise and thanks of locals, cringed as she took photos with African children whose names she did not know and was left feeling that she had simply inflated her ego and spruced up her resume.
There is a discussion to be had about the merits or otherwise of overseas volunteering schemes which attract crowds of well-meaning westerners to build schools and playgrounds, teach English or care for orphans. But Mohamud’s insistence on drawing a wider social message from her own unsatisfactory trip is unfair and potentially damaging.
Last summer I visited Uganda to report on the work of East African Playgrounds. The charity enlists British students to build play facilities and run sporting projects for primary school children. In just a few years it has grown to be self-sufficient, employing a team of young Ugandans as builders, to the point where the charity’s British founders will soon be able to step back and let it run itself.
I witnessed the volunteers – students and recent graduates from UK universities – forming genuine friendships with the locals, developing emotional attachments to the children and becoming truly invested in their future. Cynics might that say when they return to Britain they leave it all behind and life moves on. But for many, volunteering can be life changing.
Mark Deeks, 28, was deeply affected by the experience, and is still shaken by the country’s poverty, healthcare and corrupt political system. When he returned to university he wrote his masters dissertation on gay rights in Uganda.
East African Playgrounds founder Tom Gill admits frustration that many quick-fix ‘gap year’ companies are « built to maximise profits and reduce costs wherever they can » without investing in communities. But, he says, many charities are working hard to counter this.
« Charity in its essence is a chance for those who have more than enough to help those who don’t have enough, » he says. « If privileged people stopped volunteering and making donations then what would happen to the work of thousands of charities worldwide?
« Volunteers play a vital role in the model of charities that are looking to become financially independent and self-sufficient. Charities that rely heavily on grants and trusts have almost all suffered reductions in donations, which has a huge impact on the ground with funding having to be pulled from grassroots projects.
« No approach is without its flaws, but it is vital that people do not group charities doing this well with companies who are putting very little into the developing world. »
Undergraduates face a stark choice about how to spend their time before entering employment, particularly now that money is tight and jobs are scarce. Charities that invest in the developing world need keen, energetic, ambitious people to help them along. « Voluntourists » they may be – but their work can have a huge impact on their own lives and the lives of those they help. It would be an awful shame if they were put off.
Voir par ailleurs:
I remember our first year on the field literally thinking, “No one is ever, ever going to come to faith in Christ, no matter how many years I spend here.”
I thought this because for the first time in my life, I was face-to-face with the realities that the story of Jesus was so completely other to the people I was living among. Buddhism and the East had painted such a vastly different framework than the one I was used to that I was at a loss as to how to even begin to communicate the gospel effectively.
And so, the Amy-Carmichael-Wanna-Be that I was, I dug in and started learning the language. I began the long, slow process of building relationships with the nationals, and I ended up spending lots of time talking about the weather and the children in kitchens. And while over time, I became comfortable with helping cook the meal, I saw very little movement of my local friends towards faith.
But, then we started hearing about Western teams that came for short term trips or long-term missionaries who visited the villages around the city where we were living. Sometimes they would do vacation bible schools for the kids, other times they would show a film. Sometimes they would do a sermon or go door-to-door. Other times, they would help build a bathroom or a water well or a new church. (And these efforts were definitely noble, costly, and helpful on many levels.)
But the surprising thing for me was that these teams (both long and short term) seemed to come back with conversion stories.
These Americans — many of whom didn’t know the language and hadn’t studied the culture– often came back thrilled to have witnessed several locals seemingly convert from Buddhism to Christianity.
After three days of ministry.
Here I was learning from living in the culture, that the leap from following Buddha to following Jesus was seemingly a gigantic one, yet it seemed that every time I turned around Western teams were having wild success in convincing nationals to make it.
And they would tell their stories or I would read them online, and I would immediately begin to shrink a little, or a lot.
What was I doing wrong? I obviously suck at being a missionary. These were my logical conclusions.
About six months into our time overseas, I first heard the term “Rice Christians.”
The term is used among the missionary community to describe nationals who make a profession of conversion (inauthentically or without true understanding) in order to get the product (clothing, food, rice) that is being delivered by the Western worker. It seems that if you add the strings attached to the given supplies with the “don’t cause conflict or disagree” cultural value of the Asian country where we lived, a subtle social game can quickly develop.
It could go a bit like this: uneducated villagers, a little (or a lot) in awe of the white American, are provided with goods they desperately need, entertainment that encourages their kids, and attention by the wealthy Westerner, all of which they gladly accept. And at some point over the course of the event, the Westerners share honestly about their religion and eventually ask for public professions of faith.
And, seriously, what’s an impoverished person, raised in a culture of respect, supposed to do in light of this turn of events? In many ways, isn’t agreeing with the views of the outsider the most polite and most effective response for the national– the path that both provides for their families while still showing respect for their visitors?
Perhaps, perhaps they become Rice Christians for the day.
And maybe we missionaries don’t really give them many other options.
Note: I am by no means saying that the gospel can’t move mightily and quickly among a people group. I’m not saying that we should all begin to doubt the faith of those that come forward in evangelistic outreaches, either. I’m also not throwing short term missions under any kind of bus because I’ve seen this in both short and long-termers. I am saying, though, that perhaps we need to consider the position we put people in when we enter their worlds with gifts and programs. And perhaps we need to re-evaluate some of our “numbers.”
Thoughts on this? What is your opinion/experience with pairing the gospel with humanitarian aid? Can that become manipulative? In your area of the world, are people quick to receive the gospel?
Laura Parker, Co-Founder/Editor, Former Aid Worker in SE Asia
Cambodia’s relative religious freedoms have encouraged Christian groups to set up shop in the Kingdom, but they risk creating ‘rice Christians’ when they preach to the poor
Elders Jones and Henderson cycle calmly through Phnom Penh’s rush-hour traffic, Bible bags strapped to their backs, white cotton shirts snapping in the breeze. It is becoming a familiar sight in Cambodia: clean-cut young missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – better known as the Mormon Church – taking to the streets to spread the Word of the Lord.
As missionaries, Jones and Henderson are awake at five and proselytise until eight in the evening, seven days a week. Both are nearing the end of their gruelling two-year stints in Phnom Penh, but look back on their time here with no regrets. « My purpose is to welcome others to come into the Word of Christ, » Henderson said. « I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love it. »
He said their work is helped by the natural curiosity of the Cambodian people. « There’s a lot of curiosity. There’s a great number of people who are willing to hear the message that we are sharing, » Henderson said.
Elder Jones, an Idaho native, agreed Cambodians’ friendliness was an advantage for the church, which was founded in the US in 1830 and has since grown into a global religion with over 13 million adherents.
« We just go and talk to them, » he said. « The Lord is in charge, and he’s taking care of things. »
With a local membership of over 8,000, Mormonism has led a significant demographic shift towards Christianity in Cambodia. According to the US State Department’s 2007 International Religious Freedom Report, Christians make up around two percent of Cambodia’s population (approximately 282,000 people), dispersed amongst 100 organisations.
Compared to more restrictive neighbouring countries like Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia has a relatively open climate for missionary work.
The law requires all religious groups to register with the Ministry of Cults and Religions if they wish to build places of worship or conduct religious activities. But according to the Religious Freedom report, « there is no penalty for failing to register, and in practice some groups do not. » Only 900 of Cambodia’s 2,400 churches are officially registered with the government.
Dok Narin, undersecretary of state at the ministry, said the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion and that there are few laws to regulating the day-to-day activities of missionaries. « We cannot control them, as we don’t have any special laws, » he said, adding that more regulation was desirable but difficult to balance with a commitment to religious freedom. « The ministry is planning laws to exercise more controls on religion, but we are afraid that it may affect the constitution, » he said.
« Rice Christians »
In February 2003, the government imposed a ban on door-to-door proselytising, but the continuing lack of firm regulations has created fresh temptations. Cambodia has long been plagued by rumours that Christians were exploiting the nation’s poverty to attract converts – a problem Christian leaders say goes to the heart of doing missionary work here.
« When a country like Cambodia opens up, you get greater freedoms to operate, » said Vernon Elvish, a missionary with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who arrived here in 1992.
« In one way that’s a good thing, but then you can also get the bad side of that freedom coming in, » he said, adding that rumours of exploitation were hard to verify, but taken seriously.
« We’re very conscious of making ‘rice Christians’, » he said, referring to those who change religions on a material incentive. « Our organisation is purely a religious organisation…. We don’t even teach English here, so if they want to become a Jehovah’s Witness, it’s because they want to become a Jehovah’s Witness, not because they’re getting any material benefit out of it. »
David Manfred, a missionary with the Christian & Missionary Alliance (CAMA), founded in Cambodia in 1923, said the country’s openness made it tempting for some missionaries and that « rice Christians » were a constant concern.
« My own sense is that some groups have probably come here and, out of zeal, have used methodologies that we wouldn’t feel comfortable with, » Manfred told the Post. « There has been a tendency … to inflate [conversion] numbers, or to count them differently. It’s actually something we work quite hard to try and avoid, because that would not be the kind of faith that we’re looking for. »
Mormon mission President Robert Winegar said the church spent between US$400,000 and $1 million per year on charity and development programs, but that such activities were tightly sealed off from its religious work.
« In all of these [projects] we never talk about the church, » he said, adding that the church asked more of its members than its members asked of the church. « Not only do we not use poverty as a lure to join the church; we invite members to donate [a] 10 percent [tithe] to help the church grow, » he said.
Some missionaries have gone further, distancing themselves from the large churches they say have made Christians dependent on foreign church money. Michael Freeze, a Baptist missionary who has worked in Cambodia since 2000, said that after four years of running a church in Phnom Penh, he became disillusioned and now focuses on small Bible study sessions.
« It became apparent to me that [Cambodians] were coming to church but not wanting to take part in building the church, » he said. « That’s why I no longer want to have a big structure and have them think that ‘this is the Western money train, I want to get on board’. »
An independent Khmer-American pastor, who declined to be named because of his associations with several organisations in Cambodia, agreed that the massive economic gap between Westerners and most Cambodians turned proselytising into an ethical minefield.
While outright bribes were rare, he said that economic dependency was hard to avoid.
« It’s good to give, but you have to be very careful how you give. You come to Cambodia with SUVs and tonnes of rice, and that’s virtually bribery, » he said.
The pastor said the financial concerns of some large churches had compromised their aims.
« If you build your foundation on money, religion will crumble, » he said, singling out the Mormons for criticism.
« I believe that churches have made a lot of mistakes in terms of their focus on finance and on getting their numbers up. That’s where the church of Mormon comes in. They know how to work the system…. But all the money in the world can’t buy God. »
CAMA’s Manfred said that in terms of building local capacity and avoiding the pitfalls of dependency, the principles of effective missionary activity were similar to the principles of effective aid work. « I think that the use of money is an area where we have to be hugely careful, so that these kinds of patron-client relationships are not established, » he said.
Given the lack of government oversight, Manfred added, some Christian groups imposed a regime of regulation on themselves. CAMA has associated itself with the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia, an umbrella organisation representing a large number of missions, which has a stringent code of conduct prohibiting the use of material « enticements ».
« We limit the amount of money coming from the outside in terms of direct support [to churches], » he said.
« My problem with this is when they try to wean themselves off, there’s already a bit of dependency, and they’ll often just look for another patron. »
But Freeze said these mistakes were often a result of a lack of understanding of the local context, something that could be overcome through in-country experience. « Most groups have genuine heart, » he said. « But a lot of the problem here is a misunderstanding of culture. »
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HOR HAB
Way of Life Baptist Publication
Recently a Baptist publication printed the following after being swindled by many Asian converts who they have attempted to « buy »: THE DANGER OF SUPPORTING NATIONAL PREACHERS. To channel a lot of funds to a national preacher in that part of the world is a serious mistake. Those people are incredibly poor, and an amount of money which to us is minuscule, to them can be a small fortune, and therefore a very great temptation. I have met dozens of Indian preachers who are channels for U.S. funds, and who have their hired « preacher boys » and evangelistic work. I have met very few who, in my estimation, were using the money properly for the spiritual health of the churches under their care. The tendency is for the following to happen: (1) The head preacher who is the funnel for the U.S. funds becomes wealthy in the eyes of his own people. He might seem poor to the preachers who visit from the States, but in the eyes of his own people, he has found a « gravy train. » It has perpetuated the concept in those lands that the best way to make a good living for a preacher is to get hooked into U.S. church funds. (2) The national preachers who are on the head preacher’s payroll become his hirelings. It is like welfare. They never seem to get off the dole. Year after year passes, and these evangelists and pastors remain salaried by U.S. churches via the largess of the « head preacher » rather than through the tithes and offerings of their own people. The « churches » they start never become self-supporting. They don’t pay the salary of their own workers. They don’t build their own buildings. They don’t even buy their own bicycles. I have often asked these men why the national churches are not supporting their own men. The answer invariably is that « they are too poor. » That tells me immediately that I am dealing with a man who desires to perpetuate the « welfare » system. Any church in any part of the world can support its own men at its own standard of living through the Lord’s program of tithes and offerings. Those who refuse to train the churches in this are creating welfare churches which will never be strong enough to stand on their own feet. This is NOT New Testament missions. THE DANGER OF BUILDING NATIONAL CHURCH BUILDINGS. It is a very serious mistake to fund church buildings for the nationals. On occasion, it might not be wrong to HELP another church to build its building, when it is plain that that congregation is doing all it can to build the building, and when it is plain that that congregation would eventually get its own building with or without outside help. But to channel U.S. church funds into church buildings in Asia (or elsewhere) is a very serious mistake. It will weaken those churches, at best. It is even possible that the churches which are so aided will never be true churches, being peopled only by « rice Christians. »
The children are dressed in their Sunday best when « Grandma Jane » arrives at the orphanage in rural Xinmi County. All 16 of them — girls in summer dresses, boys in pressed shirts — race out of their cramped apartments to meet her. Jane Marcum hugs and kisses each one, bantering in broken Mandarin about new haircuts and schoolwork. Together they enter the House of Hope. « When we found Wenwei, he had no smile, no joy, » the orphanage’s ebullient founder says about one of her charges. « His ears were frostbitten, and he had sores in his mouth. » Now he has a home and a future.
Until 1994 Marcum, now 58, taught high-school biology in Mound City, Kans. Then one day « God told me to move to China, » she remembers. A self-described « spiritual Christian, » she took early retirement, told her husband and two grown children she’d see them during summer holidays and journeyed to Henan province, where friends introduced her to Xinmi officials. Within three weeks, they had established the House of Hope. The whole operation costs less than $10,000 a year. Donors include Catholic nuns, a Baptist Sunday-school class from Missouri and the Wall Street Christian Church in Kansas, which gives $100 a month earned from a communal wheat field.When the United States and China established diplomatic relations in 1979, President Jimmy Carter asked Deng Xiaoping to reopen Christian churches, print Bibles and welcome back foreign missionaries. Deng granted the first two requests. China’s state-approved « patriotic » churches (both Catholic and Protestant) have since opened more than 37,000 churches and « meeting places » and have printed more than 22 million Bibles. Underground « house churches, » illegal congregations that refuse to register with the government, also thrive despite periodic crackdowns. Critics in the United States accuse China of persecuting Christians. But by some estimates, 50 million Chinese have been baptized since the late 1970s. Now it seems Beijing has quietly and unofficially granted Carter’s third wish.
Not since Mao Zedong declared American missionaries « spiritual aggressors » and expelled them 50 years ago have so many foreign Christians worked in China. Missionaries are still officially forbidden in China, and proselytizing is technically illegal. Nonetheless, more Christian activists are entering China openly. By some estimates, 10,000 foreign Christian workers now live in the country, more than half of them Americans.Behind this change is economics: Beijing’s rules no longer count for much in the cash-strapped provinces. As reformers unravel the socialist safety net, local leaders must find new ways to finance basic services like schools and health clinics. « Few local authorities will put bureaucratic hurdles in the way of… Christians who appear with bags full of money, » writes development expert Nicholas Young in the China Development Briefing, a bimonthly newsletter.It’s all a question of tactics. Hong Kong Christian Council member Philip Lam went to China in 1993 to propose Project Nehemiah, a plan to rebuild churches. At first, authorities bristled. « Nehemiah? » asked one official. « Is he a foreigner? » Lam explained that Nehemiah was an Old Testament prophet, but that didn’t help. Finally, Lam dropped the name Nehemiah. Authorities gave the OK. « You have to understand their sensitivity, » says Lam.Even after a half century of official atheism, some of the old missionary links remain. The small town of Hequ, in Shanxi province, counts a missionary as one of its local heroes. Peter Torjesen, a Norwegian evangelist, sheltered wartime refugees until the Japanese dive-bombed his mission in 1939, killing him. For that sacrifice, local communists proclaimed Torjesen a « people’s martyr. » In 1990 they invited his American offspring back to Shanxi to unveil a monument to their patriarch. Grandson Finn Torjesen, then a missionary in Indonesia, attended with 15 relatives and met Shanxi’s vice governor. « You are the picture of an old Chinese family, three generations gathered to honor an ancestor, » the official said. « We want your kind of people back in China. »The family returned in 1993, establishing an outpost for the Colorado-based Evergreen Family Friendship Service, a nonprofit humanitarian group. Volunteer physicians and teachers train « barefoot » village doctors and screen rural children for illnesses. « We’re here to live in the community, learn the language and do what the community wants us to do — but as Christians, » says Torjesen. David Vikner has a similar family story. The son and grandson of Lutheran missionaries, he fled the communist takeover as a toddler but later returned. Twice. In 1982 he taught English in Wuhan until suspicious officials asked him to leave. « They thought I was a spy, » he says, laughing. Seven years later, he became president of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, a nonprofit established in 1922 to unify missionary colleges in China. Since re-establishing links with the mainland, the board has worked with more than 100 Chinese universities, spending nearly $15 million. « We do not evangelize, » Vikner says.Why the disclaimers? Traditional stereotypes portray missionaries as opportunists who rode in on foreign gunboats and turned famine victims into « rice Christians. » Missionary health clinics and orphanages created a folklore about demons who « took blood from poor people and killed babies, » says Zhuo Xinping, a religion specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Little wonder that although today’s Christian charity work is without question a form of missionary activity, few Christians use the term. They stick to job descriptions like doctor, engineer, project director. »Teacher » is the most popular. The majority of foreign teachers working in China today are sponsored by Christian organizations. The Amity Foundation, a nonprofit Christian charity established under the state-sanctioned China Christian Council in 1985, now has more than 150 American instructors spread across the country. Amity’s guidelines admonish them to express their faith « through service rather than proselytization. » Yet many teachers bend, or defy, the ban on evangelism by sharing the gospel with curious students on a one-on-one basis or inviting them home for Bible study. « When the group got too big for my apartment we started meeting in the fields, » confides a teacher now living in China.Christian teachers are having such success that religious groups are stepping up recruitment efforts. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, for example, runs an Internet ad seeking applicants for a program called TEAM (Teaching English as Ministry). The ad says the job is « the most ‘hands on’ type of ministry that is available for foreigners. » Insists a church spokesman: « We don’t permit overt evangelism. »Beijing isn’t blind to evangelism, overt or otherwise, but its strategy is to regulate missionaries and tap them for resources. For that reason, many Christians outside the country worry that it is too easy for local authorities to skim money from donations and that cooperating solely with official religious organizations weakens the underground church. « Everyone must do what God tells them to do, » says a Hong Kong Pentecostal minister whose followers smuggle Bibles into China and evangelize in rural areas. « I don’t criticize those other efforts, but we’re giving people the word of God in the way we feel is best. »Some Christian organizations are trying to have it both ways with « two track » China strategies. They advocate both official cooperation and clandestine assistance to unregistered house-church congregations. Last year, the Southern Baptist Convention faced a mutiny when missionary directors in East Asia proposed abandoning covert programs in China. After intense debate, the Baptists decided to keep their two-pronged approach. Beijing, which had followed the debate on a Baptist Web site, promptly cut all ties with the convention.While Western Christians bicker over strategies, Chinese Christianity — official and unofficial — is growing rapidly as people search for spiritual meaning in a post-Marxist society. Down a winding dirt road on the banks of the Mekong River, the Jinghong Church in China’s southern Yunnan province is bursting at the seams. « Jesus is all the world to me, » the congregation sang at one recent service as latecomers crowded in. The church holds three services every Sunday to accommodate a flock that is fast approaching 2,000. With funding from the Hong Kong Christian Council, the congregation hopes to build a new church this year. Local authorities are happy about the plan, because the new building will double as a lay training facility and community-service center. Elder Yu Di, a spirited preacher who rebuilt the congregation from a five-member underground church that met in her home in 1987, says the church has grown by testing the limits. « Before, there was no freedom for us. [The government] said Christianity was a foreign religion, » she says. « Now we can say our God is a universal God. »Vol. 20, No. 1
Worthy Christian News
SANTA ANA, CA (ANS) — In a fresh attack on Christians and Muslims, the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in demanding the « Indianization » of Christians and Muslims in the country.
On April 20, VHP Vice President Acharya Giriraj Kishore demanded that Christians and Muslims should be « indigenized » and be given Indian names.
« By Indianization, we are not demanding conversion of Muslims and Christians into Hindus. For the sake of unity and integrity of the country, we are demanding that Christians and Muslims should be indigenized, carrying Indian names, » Kishore said.
Last October, RSS chief K.S. Sudershan called on Christians and Muslims to cut their spiritual links with « foreign sources. »
In a separate development, the VHP’s international general secretary, Pravin Togadia, claimed that about 33,000 people had been converted to Christianity in the northern state of Sikkim in the last 25 years. Togadia said there were only a few Christians 25 years ago.
Meanwhile, the VHP says it is planning to revamp its image and highlight its « social work » component in the rural areas among the backward castes and tribals.
According to VHP’s chief of social projects, Sitaram Agarwal, the aim is to counter the influence of Christian missionaries. The VHP says the program has helped in checking conversions as « awareness » was being spread in the rural areas.
For more information on the ministry of Open Doors (who released this story,) write: Open Doors with Brother Andrew, PO Box 27001, Santa Ana, CA 92799 or call: (949) 752-6600. The Open Doors USA Web site can be found at http://www.opendoorsusa.org.