Cringe-worthy from the get go, Rosamund Urwin’s Evening Standard piece starts by drawing an uncomfortable parallel between DFID’s go-getting CHASE team of “humanitarian heroes” and the Magnificent Seven – quick recap of the plot of the Magnificent Seven for those of us under 70:
A Mexican village is at the mercy of a band of outlaws. The townspeople, too afraid to fight for themselves, hire seven American gunslingers to free them from the bandits’ raids.
Thank god for brave foreign heroes who swoop in and save poor local folk from bad hombres right? Unfortunately, what this comparison unhelpfully ignores, is the important ideological shift over the last decade which has seen the sector attempt to move (albeit slowly) from an internationally led top-down model towards more contextually appropriate, locally led and delivered responses to humanitarian crises.
The image that this articles projects of young British superheroes parachuting in to fix the world’s problems is a lazy trope which ignores the complexity of providing responsible international support during humanitarian crises AND simultaneously dismisses the very real fact that it is the people affected by disasters and crises who are the real humanitarian heroes.
‘If there’s a crisis in the world — and everyone’s trying to flee a country — these guys are the ones flying in’
Well sure, I mean except for the millions upon millions of affected individuals who don’t try to flee. You know the ones who actually live in crisis affected communities. You know the ones who were there before the crisis, the ones who responded first (and often best) despite feeling the impact themselves. You know the ones who will continue to live there long after the glare of the spotlight fades, the money dries up, and the CHASE team have conducted their impact evaluations and moved on? Yeah, those heroes.
Which brings me neatly to the
Secret Seven’s Magnificent Seven’s dazzling array of super powers: Mega multitasking? Please. Catching a helicopter? Uh-huh. Being a woman? Could we have tried a little harder with that one? Being Sherlock (the Benedict Cumberbatch incarnation)? Specific, but he really was super wasn’t he, god damn you Moriarty *shakes fist*.
All jokes aside, I truly respect and admire those who work in the humanitarian sector. Those who spend their lives supporting people and communities to better prepare for, respond to and recover from the multitude of disasters and humanitarian crises affecting our globe today. I applaud those who seek to change the system and build a better one in its place, very much including those who work in the DFID CHASE team.
However, this article contributes little to that cause – it reads like a thinly veiled attempt to reassure the British public that the much celebrated (but let’s be honest still pitiful) 0.7% foreign aid budget is being spent
on PR wisely. Its patronisingly simplistic approach implies the reader can’t handle the truth about the complex political, economic and cultural issues surrounding humanitarian response activities.
Reductionist portrayals of the sector which frame humanitarian aid as the international provision of life saving goods and services, fail to contribute to the shifting debates and discourse that actually drive the sector forward. More than that, they actively undermine the work of many and the lives of many more.
…But wait a second, now that I think about it, isn’t the Magnificent Seven a western remake of a Japanese original? Maybe I’ve missed the point entirely and the article is actually a scathing comment on the sector’s “white-washing” of humanitarian responses? Touché Rosamund. Touché.