|How to act||
Izbjeglice, Konvoji, Strukturalna podrška, Žene
Belgija, Bosna i Hercegovina, Manchester, UK
1992, 1993, 1994, 1995
“Solidarity not charity”
One of the challenges facing international groups was how to appropriately organize support. This challenge was especially relevant concerning the relationship with persons living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Should those living in difficult conditions be considered as victims or as citizens? Are we practising charity or solidarity? When delivering humanitarian aid in particular, how to respect the recipients’ dignity?
This issue of dignity is brought up, for example, by the Belgian activist Lieve Snellings in a report she wrote about a convoy to Tuzla in 1994:
“Many times the women [in Tuzla] tell us how difficult it feels they depend on help.“Normally we take care of ourselves”, they say, “in fact we don’t like depending on help at all.” It’s like their dignity disappears in that way.
Two things come in my mind by all this:
During our convoy trip to Tuzla, I saw a man throwing chocolate through the van window. It shocked me. In the beginning I didn’t know what was going on. I remembered, my mother told me they were glad during the Second World War, the Americans gave them chocolate. And it seemed, people here did like that chocolate too (the men got beer). But, when the women of Tuzla told me how difficult it is to depend on help, I understood, you have to be very careful in the way you give support. When you take away dignity from people, what use, what profit does this assistance have, other than feeling super powerful as a help giver?
There was an opposite experience when we told the Tuzla women what we brought with the women’s convoy. When we said there was make-up in the truck, everybody was very glad. You couldn’t do them a greater favor. “As long as we can take care of ourselves, make ourselves beautiful… we can keep our dignity,” they said. If I ever doubted (and I did) and I asked myself if make-up is part of war aid, now I am 1000% convinced it is on top of the list.”