Help!!!...Help???

Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student
October 2002

The odd title of this article came about in a rather strange way: through thinking.
Here's what the thinking centered around:

Last week someone mentioned to me the fact that some parts of Africa are suffering from an aids epidemic in such a devastating way that in ten years entire cities in this continent may have died off. As if that was not enough, a few days later I watched part of a documentary regarding some American celebrities' visit to this very part of the world. The program showed crowds of people that are diagnosed HIV positive and highlighted the living circumstances of some African societies: their poverty and minimal living appliances.

My first impulse was: help!!! These people need help. Why aren't the other countries in the world doing something for them? Why are governments rather focusing on declaring war to countries that represent a potential danger in zones where there is money to be gained, instead of lending a helping hand to these poor regions that could also become an asset to our global society once we provide them the appropriate funding in medication, information, and education in order to stop their starvation?

Disturbed by this insight in the industrialized countries' calculating policies, I started talking to some other people. And gradually my aggravation turned into an amazing awareness. And I came to the following conclusion:

The main question is not: how can we help these people, but, DO these people want - or even appreciate - our help? In every society that considers itself to be suffering, there are - after all - at least 2 or 3 members standing up and starting some kind of worldwide campaign for their country in order to get help. Africa brought forth some pretty sharp representatives who could undoubtedly shake up the rest of the world if they wanted to. Yet, the only people asking for help here are...the ones that were born far away from this continent, are used to an abundant lifestyle, and hence, cannot identify with a much simpler one.

It may be that the mistake we are making is, that we mirror the local circumstances of the African people to our own affluent standard of living, and then conclude from our selfish perspectives, that they must be helped because they lack everything that we consider basic. "They even donít have filtered water," says the documentary and "only 3 percent of some areas have electricity." True. But maybe they don't see that as a problem? Perhaps our perception is just another manifestation of ethnocentrism, whereby we think that only ours is the right way and everything else is inferior? Maybe that's where the explanation lies for our cries for help toward the ones who don't even perceive their situation as a problem?