Do you work in development? If yes, I have a short test for you:

1) Have you ever traveled by mini bus? Or relied entirely on public transport for your travels?

2) Have you ever eaten the local staple food for two or more meals a day?

3) Have you ever stayed in a place with no electricity or running water or both?

A surprisingly large number of development workers I’ve met will answer “no” to all three questions. That scares me. How can you claim to be helping people who live in any of the above mentioned conditions if you’ve never tried living like that yourself? How can you understand the social constraints of your work environment if you’re not even willing to try on someone else’s shoes, let alone walk in them?

Note 1: This post does not refer to those people who may travel in business class now but at one point in time travelled by mini-bus.

Note 2: Despite any attempt to live in whatever are your local conditions, it is also unreasonable to assume that we, as foreigners, will ever be accepted as locals. And that comes with both advantages and disadvantages. But just because we have the means to stay in a place with consistent electricity does not mean we shouldn’t try to understand, however imperfect our understanding may be. This is one area where, I believe, points for effort really do count.

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