- February 12, 2014
- Posted by: Kate Otto
- Category: Discussion, Field Notes
In many ways, Everyday Ambassador is a platform for global ‘good samaritans’: individuals who travel far outside their own comfort zones, and act with compassion to be helpful toward others. People who aim, at the least, to leave the world a little bit better than they found it.
Well, this week another type of ‘Samaritan’ is making headlines, and making us laugh out loud in the process (watch here):
‘The Samaritans’ is a new TV comedy series that brings attention to the frequent, tragically comic misadventures of international development organizations, by chronicling a fictitious (though heavily-based-on-reality) NGO called “Aid for Aid”. In a satirical critique of the misguided ‘savior complex’ demonstrated by far too many real-life NGOs and aid workers, “Aid for Aid” appears to barely have any purpose at all (aside from “Save Africa!”, of course).
If you are a reader whose career is based on poverty alleviation, disaster relief, or generally improving some of the world’s most dire places, you will find this TV show to be full of familiar scenes. The overpaid Western consultants who dine at fancy restaurants discussing how to end poverty in a country in which they’ve barely spent a week. The chain-smoking, heavy drinking expats who aspire to bring healthcare to all. The (not so) subtly misogynistic office mates who criticize the ‘locals’ for not being conscious of gender equality.
Anyone with some experience in this field knows that the world of ‘doing good’ is a world full of contradictions, and this show’s sharp wit brings all of these industry inside jokes to the surface.
But what about those who are not yet (or may never be) part of this formal world of international development, but who still strive to be ‘good samaritans’ in one way or another? Will this show end up being a downer? If NGOs appear this extremely dysfunctional, who would want to ever join one? Will it give the whole world of service a bad rap?
It’s an interesting predicament, and one that ties closely into Everyday Ambassador as a movement for being more thoughtful about the way we ‘serve others’.
Here on EA, we take the approach of highlighting ‘the best of the best’ – namely, people who engage in service work in foreign communities with an acute sense of self; an empathetic presence; a desire to listen, not preach; humility to accept the many times we won’t have the right answer. Every Friday we feature fresh voices–the first-timers and ‘pros’ alike–who communicate their biggest light bulb moments and lessons learned, so that readers can reflect and utilize this knowledge in their own eventual work. (Our latest big hits were Alice in Haiti and Madeline in Ecuador)
‘The Samaritans’ TV series, clearly, takes a different angle; highlight the worst of the worst, the epitome of all that should never exist, but too often does.
But rather than foster discouragement about aid work because of the delinquencies on screen, I think this show will force viewers to take new, different, and likely more effective approaches to ‘serving others’. In this way, ‘The Samaritans’ sarcastic style is an integral part of fostering positive change in the world. While EA strives for critical self-assessment, The Samaritans provides a fuller, outward ‘societal’ critique needed to really move the needle on the issue of irresponsible service work. This will be a long overdue media debut that can help usher in an era that is slowly emerging; one of thoughtful, responsible service that respects the dignity, integrity, and humanity of everyone involved.
If you check out this recent interview with ‘The Samartians’ creator Hussein Kurji on the website “Africa is a Country” (that’s sarcasm, people; it’s a Continent), you’ll see he certainly shares these action-oriented intentions. Kurji explains, “We’d like to start a dialogue, to get people talking and thinking about in what contexts aid works and for the organizations that are broken, how do you fix them?”
We can’t wait to see this full show, for the laughs as much as the reflection. It’s healthy (and humbling) to admit, understand, and, yes, laugh at our failures–and then as Kurji notes, commit to the fixes so direly needed. This certainly motivates us to keep highlighting and supporting the amazing EA ‘samaritans’ of the world, so keep sending them our way and keep sharing your stories!
**Note – If you like what you see in the preview, you can donate here to support the show’s production/distribution.