Op-Ed: Seeking what connects us

Sunday, October 2, 2016 - 6:16pm

As someone who firmly believes in the value of aid work and service to others, and providing I spent last summer working at a Buddhist nunnery where I performed intensive community-based inquiry to create comprehensive examples of good communication with local people as a means of improving the conduct of foreign aid groups, I have a few important words to share in response to one of my classmate’s critical remarks on the matter.

My classmate described her thoughts about “two realms of protecting human rights” like this: On one hand, you have the people who are tending to the injuries that the system inflicts on disadvantaged groups. On the other, you have the real heroes that are actively working to dismantle the roots of oppression and suffering inlaid in the system. She continued saying if we want to end injustice, we must go straight to the root; all other ventures only serve to detract from this overall goal, and play a major role in perpetuating human suffering.

But what I think is even more “harmful” than attending to the damage inflicted by systematic abuse is attempting to fragment the solidarity of social justice workers by asserting that one category of social justice work is fundamentally more valuable than another. The point is not to victimize aid workers for “ignoring the roots of suffering,” nor is it to create a moral chasm between two groups that are fighting for the same purpose, the same humanity.

Systematic change is, of course, our main priority on the path to ending human suffering in all shapes and forms. I do not refute this fact. I dream of a world in which the systematic factors that cause voices to cry out for help are destroyed so there are no reasons to cry out for help in the first place. Unfortunately, it will be a long and arduous process to arrive at a political, economic and legal infrastructure that flawlessly eradicates all of the internal factors that fuel this endless stream of injustices against humanity. Let alone a system that functions within all worldly borders.

My point: We must all cooperate on a united front. We need the whole range of social justice workers to drive the movement forward. As we actively work to disassemble the overarching structures that are the root causes of suffering, we must simultaneously serve and pay active attention to the victims of these structural abuses. What’s more, we must ensure this aid is lasting and effective. We cannot simply ignore the human suffering of today in the name of completely eradicating human suffering in the future.

Instead of victimizing aid workers and charity organizations for providing pseudo-aid, we should focus on improving the framework of the humanitarian aid sector so its overall impact is quantifiably beneficial. Most importantly, we must scrap the aged method of self-directed, imperialistic-style foreign-aid projects and instead dive deep into perspectives of the actual victims of systematic injustice. The problem is not humanitarian aid by itself, but rather the rampant lack of diligence that plagues this sector.

A significant example of this is what has been occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For more than a century, the country has been overwhelmed by regional conflict and a deadly struggle for its vast mineral resources. The hunger for Congo’s abundant natural resources has been a chief driver of brutalities and conflict throughout the country’s history. In eastern Congo today, these mineral resources are funding several armed groups, and these groups use mass gang rape as a methodical tactic to control local populations, thus securing control of mines and trading routes.

Dr. Denis Mukwege, a renowned gynecological surgeon in Congo who has helped perform more than 30,000 free operations for women who have experienced gang rape and sexual violence, and Michael Ramsdell, a filmmaker and devoted advocate of ending the conflict mineral crisis in Congo, encompass exactly what it means to cooperate on a united front against gross human rights violations.

Mukwege and Ramsdell have formed a publicly visible coalition, one that unites the treatment of abuse victims and the gradual dismantling of the contemporary structures that inflicted these injuries. This coalition furthers their common goal infinitely more than working against each other could ever achieve. This coalition attends to suffering in the present and the future. 

While Ramsdell is advocating change through his provocative films by putting pressure on government entities to reform resource regulation, Mukwege is working tirelessly to heal and protect the innocent women who have been brutally affected by this tortured conflict. This powerful combination of forces is an example of the need for a variety of different actors that are working together for the same cause. There are many ways to participate in the humanitarian narrative, and by opening up the range of opportunities to the public, ameliorative action is represented as possible, effective and therefore morally imperative.

Mukwege ended the School of Nursing conference last Wednesday with this thought that I feel perfectly embraces the responsibility to stand together in the face of crimes against humanity:

“When human rights abuses occur, do not seek the differences. Seek what connects us.”

Hanna Dougherty is an LSA junior.