All Sorts of Things

Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.

Development Aid: In Praise of those Weirdo Expats

Expats generally live a lavish life – their companies pay for their housing and schools for their children, their salaries are generally tax exempt up to a certain high amount, and they get to live away from their families. All these are perks that we, normal folks, can only dream about and salivate over. Oh, and if you’re an American expat, it’s guaranteed you can get laid any place and any time. So, in general, expats have it pretty good.

However, there is a group within this community that does good work and lives an unenviable life. These are individuals who work on development projects. I realize that we are praising the great work done by the State Department’s Foreign Service this month – and these guys do good work indeed – but the fact is that unless they choose, a hardship foreign service assignment will inevitably lead to a first class assignment e.g. Afghanistan today, the UK next. Development expats don’t have that luxury as Paris (despite my impression of its smelly streets) doesn’t need as much development support as say Africa or Asia or the Middle East. These guys are always in demand for work because most people don’t want to go from Rwanda to Afghanistan to the Gaza Strip and, for a light assignment, Kenya. Now, admittedly, there are some real weirdoes who select this field as their choice of profession but you would have to be nuts to choose to live in the places I mentioned above. Plus, these guys do some real good work unlike political leaders who seem to only get in shape after they leave public office – that is a topic for another post, by the way.

Despite all their efforts and its positive impact, aid workers constantly live under the threat of death and funding cuts. Anytime politicians want to reduce international funding, they immediately focus on aid funding – not military aid (which would make them look weak and put them in the crosshairs of the huge military-industrial complex) or diplomatic funds (since they need to have support staff when they visit countries to gorge on the buffets). Aid doesn’t have a comparably strong lobby and it generally goes to people who can’t vote in local elections and thus has a large bullseye on its back. Secondly, these guys are the first targets of those angry at a country’s policies – forget about being effective, these guys need to be among the local populace just to do their jobs thus increasing their exposure to local yahoos! So, they have minimal protection and are the first “ferners” many locals see and, therefore, the first targets for any outpouring of grief or anger. Therefore, it’s truly a shame at how these guys are used as scapegoats for funding, cover for intelligence operations, and targets by terrorists. On the other hand, these weirdo expats also choose to go to such god-awful places so we shouldn’t feel too bad for them … just more than anyone else out there.

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