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Post Oxfam Scandal: should it change how we feel about NGOs?

It’s a reminder to not put them on pedestals


If you haven't seen, recently Oxfam have been caught up in a scandal related to their response in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. It was reported that senior aid workers were using prostitutes whilst there to help with the reconstruction. Not only was this a fairly obvious abuse of power that relates to issues of colonial mindsets still persisting to this day, but it was allegedly covered up by Oxfam who did not take action against their staff or report the prostitutes who were working illegally when they should have been doing everything they could have to support law enforcement in uncertain times.

Cambridge has been brought into this situation in two ways. Firstly, the President of Medwards has been accused of being involved in the alleged cover up and secondly, Mary Beard got caught up into an argument with Dr Priya Gopal over twitter about the gravity of the situation.

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Mary Beard and Barbara Stocking, Medwards President, have both been caught up in the scandal

When scandals like this come to light it always throws up other questions. I'm someone who generally gets behind NGOs and charities, in a world of unhelpful, bureaucratic and underfunded governments they are often a positive light offering help where it might have otherwise not be viable. Therefore it's very easy when situations like this happen to be angry about it for a short period of time and then to ignore it. But this isn't the best way of approaching something as serious as this. The situation may not seem serious but what it represents and what else it could infer is going on is important. As well as colonial undertones it shows issues of transparency which can not be ignored. NGOs are organisations that walk a line which can very easily become wrapped up in a 'white saviour' complex or can move away from seriously putting effort into the cause to becoming so bureaucratic they make very little difference. Even if it appears they are.

Now, I'm not saying cancel all of your charity donations and stop supporting NGOs. That's not only unhelpful but will likely not make any difference, it will just mean that the people they should help won't get any more help. But it does mean that we should think more about what NGOs we support and remember that they are not infallible. If NGOs are allowed to be these organisations that cannot be criticised more instances like that in Haiti will happen, and overtime they'll become less and less useful.

Although, how are we meant to do anything about this? I hear you ask considering I've suggested we do not stop donating. Obviously it's hard but what we need to do is not ignore these scandals. And not let the people involved in them simply sweep them under the carpet. NGOs are incredibly important so we cannot allow these sort of instances to become the norm. It has to be a continuous dialogue and they need to be transparent with their plans and actions. Organisations such as Oxfam need to be quick to admit when their members do something disgraceful like that of those in Haiti. And through petitioning and social media we need to make sure they know this is what we expect of them.

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Our local branches of these NGOs need to be supported to promote a positive way forward

In regards to Cambridge, we need to keep up conversation about dangerous attitudes that often still lurk within the university's subconscious. Also, it's remembering to support the Cambridge wing of these NGOs such as OxCam to help promote the positive sides of what these organisations can do. Because, it can be depressing when the main press about organisations that are meant to be positive are negative. So, to spread the love it's important to keep supporting their work whilst remembering that they need to be held accountable just as much as any government.