Please different skills – NOT – no skills

By Sallie Grayson. Filed in good and bad practice, volunteering in the news  |  
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Yet again I have to share a really important point made by Daniela Papi in a recent post on her blog

Lessons I  Learned .I strongly encourage everyone to subscribe to her blogs.

here is her latest blog.

So, you’re helping people with “no skills”…?!

Tonight was a reminder for me that our vocabulary reflects our biases. OK, so maybe I am too sensitive about development vocabulary (say “villagers” around me, and I turn green!), but saying you are helping people with “no skills” really irks me. Have you told these people that you are “helping” that you think they have “no skills”?

And, if I can picture these skill-less people you speak of as you stand there in your suit, I imagine they can grow food we only know how to pick off of a shelf, perhaps build their own home, and fix the limited electronic items they have – ones we would throw away because we wouldn’t even know where to start in opening them up!

It reminds me of the lady in Colombia last month who asked me where I was from. When I said “America”, she said “Me too!”, and I thought she was joking with me, as she was clearly from Colombia. It took me a while to realize my biased view of the world and correct myself. “I’m from the United States of America”, it turns out, as she was indeed from America too. My myopic world view biases exposed – touche.

The people who made the “no skills” comments at Oxford’s heated “Bottom of the Pyramid Debate” tonight equally had not intended to offend, and certainly were passionate about the work they were involved in, but it still struck me: if we see the people we are working with in this type of work as having “no skills” we’re clearly taking a myopic view of what skills are important to survive in this world.  Drop me in a developing country, in a community without electricity, with no job, and many kids to feed, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the skills to survive. I bet the “villagers” (yep, I feel sick!) in that community would indeed describe me as having “no skills” at all… and in their world, they’d be right.

And since these BoP initiatives ARE in “their world”, maybe it is our skill-less-ness that we need to be making more note of!

(Thanks for permitting me this rant. OK, I’ve dismounted from my higher-than-it-should-be horse. Off to bed!)

End

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Some time ago I wrote about the mistakes volunteers make and communities make

One mistake I warned against to  potential volunteers was

“Remember, your reality is not necessarily the reality of the project you will be working with.You have skills but just about without exception you do not have MORE skills than local people just DIFFERENT skills from local people – and many of your skills just ain’t relevant skills in that environment.”

one mistake that I pointed out that communities that host volunteers  often make was

“when thinking about volunteers “They know best”

No they don’t – they know different and they will know more about some things and they will know things that you don’t know – BUT they do not know best and you certainly know a lot that they don’t know – including most important of all your community!”

Let’s  respect  “different” – and embrace  “sharing”.

If you want to read my mistakes posts here are the links

http://blog.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/?p=1061

http://blog.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/?p=758

http://blog.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/?p=753

And a thank you again to Daniela for an excellent post – and I for one am happy to give you a leg up onto that horse whenever you wish!

One Comment

  1. Comment by npegler1:

    How true, I came back from South Africa and The Gambia with more skills than I went with! all learned from the local communities.
    I certainly came back from The Gambia wondering if we have got it right, in The Gambia life revolves around the family and community not work and money.

    We have a lot to learn from other people and despite what we think we don`t know it all.

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