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Athletes and Administration Team Up to Assist with Harvey

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While many students eagerly left their homes for another semester at Swarthmore, leaving home was particularly challenging for a select few students, both logistically and emotionally. On the evening of Friday, Aug. 25th, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas as a violent Category 4 hurricane, causing billions of dollars of estimated damage, and unfortunately taking lives as well. With Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., and its surrounding suburbs, taking the brunt of the blow, many Swarthmore students felt the impact of the storm. Although many students lives were dramatically disrupted over the course of just a few days, they bravely left their families and homes to come back to Swarthmore.

Once here, though, the gravity of the storm still lingered for these students amidst new classes, reunited friends, and an immense amount of change. Utilizing the vast network of resources available here for altruistic endeavors and community growth, many affected students partnered with their peers to fundraise for and assist their communities back home. The athletics department in particular responded swiftly and admirably. The impact of this moving effort was felt both in Houston and here at Swarthmore, too.

Not long after details of the storm’s destruction came to light, President Valerie Smith released a formal message offering encouragement and support to all Swarthmore students affected by the tragedy. However, the end of her statement went a step further to invite all members of the Swarthmore community to help, if they felt so moved.

By uniting with those who have suffered Harvey’s impact, we can help them begin the recovery process,” Smith said.

The athletics department took this invitation to heart and immediately rushed to gather any extra equipment and clothing that could be useful in the recovery process. Professional athletes such as J.J. Watt and James Harden, as well as professional sports organizations like the National Basketball Association, and the National Football League had already provided strong examples of productive response methods in response to the hurricane. Thus, not long after, a tweet from athletic director Adam Hertz showed a truckload of boxes of athletic gear all ready to be shipped to the victims in Texas. Although the athletics department itself did not promote their generosity via social media, presumably out of humility and respect, their admirable actions did not go unnoticed by the larger Swarthmore community and the student athletes they serve.

“It really means so much to me personally that everyone here is reaching out to help my own community back home. To see that people genuinely care about the destruction, whether it affects them directly or not, reflects the true character of Swarthmore,” said Alvin Lubetkin ’20, a catcher on the baseball team and a Houston native, whose home flooded in the aftermath of the storm.

Another catcher on the baseball team, Jaron Shrock ’18, and tennis standout Maria Cuervo ’18, both Texas natives, partnered in their own unique way to fundraise. After brainstorming unique ideas, the duo decided on a fun and authentic Texan tradition, a chili cook-off, to raise both awareness and funding for those affected by the storm. Since the spirit of the event was intended for community building and fundraising, all proceeds went directly to the St. Bernard Project. This project got its start after Hurricane Katrina and has undertaken important relief and recovery work in the Houston area since Harvey. After reaching out to professors, students, and the greater Swarthmore community, Cuervo and Shrock turned the event into a huge success on Saturday evening, with 17 contestants and plenty of hungry contributors from both the college and its surrounding neighborhoods.

It was one of the few times I’ve seen so many different parts of campus working together, and I think it was a special experience for all involved,” said Shrock.

The recovery effort will no doubt continue for years to come, requiring millions of hours and dollars alike. Nevertheless, the Swarthmore community has a certain duty, even if the storm did not affect us directly, to do our part in the recovery process. Particularly with Hurricane Irma presently battering Florida, the Caribbean, and the southeast U.S., both recovery processes will overlap and require even more private aid. Fortunately, there are a number of options available to students and community members who feel inclined to help with relief efforts.

Those seeking to help can reach out to those members of our community whose families, friends, and lives were affected by the storm. President Smith also cited the American Red Cross, Global Giving, the SPCA of Texas, and the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund as options for financial contributions. The chili cook-off’s benefactor, the St. Bernard Project, also accepts donations. However, for those on a budget, Shrock suggested that students could donate blood or their time here in the Philadelphia area to fundraise or organize supplies.

Although it is hard to see the positive aspects of these horrendous disasters, they do bring together and strengthen communities. Here at Swarthmore, the athletics department came together to fundraise and make significant progress in the recovery process. Although there is still much work to be done, the Swarthmore community has stepped up in a big way to try and help the lives of those affected by the storm.

Global Citizenship in the Humanitarian Aid Regime

in Uncategorized by

As a catastrophe-based project, humanitarian aid in post-conflict settings is a tactful, transnational pursuit. To justify humanitarian impulses, I have heard many invoke racist images of downtrodden shantytowns of the Global South in crisis, reaching at the charitable hands of the White Savior, only to disguise this structural inscription of Orientalism as “philanthropy.”

I, myself, have grappled with the politics of humanitarianism and international aid, and while ostensibly it is a commitment to human development across geopolitics, I wonder how it may reinforce a reliance on Western markets, effectively undercutting local industries through the monetization of American goods. And on a more interpersonal level, how may it encourage a projection of the Western logos, effectively undercutting the potential of local strengths and capacities?

If we expand the dynamics of these oppressive idiosyncrasies to include all places in crisis, how do we determine who is given priority, i.e. who is able to induce a more “urgent” state of emergency?

 

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs implemented a specialized digital service, ReliefWeb, to serve as a resource to document global crises and disasters. ReliefWeb lists over 3,000 participating organizations (both governmental and nongovernmental), from 305.org to the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society.

 

Some time ago, I would have looked at this figure and invoked Derek Gregory, who calls humanitarian aid the “velvet glove wrapped around the iron fist of colonialism.” If the practice of humanitarianism emerged in a Christian and Western ethos, per Gregory, how would a robust aid network of this magnitude reconcile humanitarian impulses and the legacy of colonialism?

 

In my efforts to problematize humanitarianism, historicity places a critical role in examining the foreign aid paradox. In regions where colonial etchings are still embedded within local psyches, most notably countries in the African region, humanitarian aid can be envisioned as an extension of the imperial hand, reinforcing the notion that there is one solution to development, one means of relief, one standard to rebuild a fractured state.

 

I looked at a case study to further understand these implications.

 

The U.S. African Development Foundation is an independent U.S. federal agency that works with African communities to cultivate community enterprises by providing seed capital and technical support. It targets communities in fragile states, typically post-conflict sites, throughout the Sahel, Horn, and the Great Lakes region.

 

By serving communities at the start of the development pyramid, we identify and target Africans who need various levels of support, and use our targeted and patient capital to ensure a complete financial, technical and grassroots approach to their success,” the USADF website reads.

 

“Targeted and patient capital,” of course, is expressed as monetary grants. The USADF invests in grants of up to $250,000 to underserved community enterprises to sustain job markets, improve income, and alleviate food insecurity.

 

However, in the teleology out of the armed conflict, post-conflict sites have especially fragile security apparatuses, nascent economic systems, and weak political institutionalism. These vulnerabilities make the state especially susceptible to and dependent upon foreign influence. Assets as innocent as “targeted and patient capital” could have serious repercussions for the longevity and sustainability of state infrastructure.

 

In her book “Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace Or War,” Mary Anderson challenges aid providers in war-torn societies. She mentions the problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the aftermath of the Dayton Peace Agreement. As convoys halted, local drivers delivered imported food and supplies to civilians across the country. While superficially a “peacetime” occupation, this aid system is underpinned by the “wartime” experience.

 

“Driving the aid convoys during the war was dangerous, but this seems like nothing next to the dangers of peace,” one driver reports, per Anderson. “Not only my immediate family but also my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins depend on my income. I almost dread this peace and wish for war again.”

 

“War distorts economies,” Anderson opens in her chapter on aid’s impact in resource transfers. This could be by unintentionally reinforcing the conflict at hand by promoting war economy markets and reinforcing local interests to perpetuate it. In the event that aid takes the form of material items and goods, like in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it can inadvertently support militarization efforts because an industry emerges around that product.

 

Within this industry, profits and wages must be allocated to local peoples, which undermines the emphasis on local peoples to sustain their own facilities and goods when the aid agency leaves. This creates a system of dependency on the aid agency to bolster local economies solely as a war-related enterprise. In essence, state viability and efficacy is understood solely as a function of its “post-war” status.

 

The USADF provides programming safeguards to ameliorate these unintended consequences. Firstly, it establishes itself as the “first mile of development,” reinforcing the stance that they are not the telos, but just one point in the teleology of state development. Secondly, they are exclusively “demand driven,” operating solely upon request, and “African-led,” providing financial support and setting internal audits for specialized projects.

 

Foreign aid agencies should adjust their programming efforts to empower local groups to build their own industries. This means that in order to ensure sustainable peace outside of the war context, recipient countries should be able to sustain economic activities in the agency’s absence by relying on local capacities and what resources are directly available to them.

 

Similarly, a strategic emphasis on technical assistance over material resource aid could also be more sustainable. For example, in the case of the driver in Bosnia and Herzegovina, aid was a disruption, distorting the normative means of local help systems and imposing a “dangerous” alternative to the war-time scenario that makes peacetime unfavorable.

 

It is important to be critical of humanitarian aid projects, especially when facilitated by foreign actors, to reimagine state membership as global citizens. Peace can be engineered, but a central feature of international aid should be influence building to find consonance between belief and practice — for foreign agencies to be transparent about interests, vigilantly demonstrate their neutrality, and denaturalize their infatuation with global leadership.

 

However, this is not meant to discredit the contributions governmental and nongovernmnetal organizations have taken to provide in the post-conflict setting — I pose a formalized rejection of professionalized humanitarian practices that discount the public artworks of local communities; I challenge the standardization of relief aid that assume an “apolitical” edge. Ahistoricization of this sort assigns legitimacy to certain narratives and denigrates that of the alterity.

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