Kuwait Community

21 February 2024

The Delicacy of Saviorism Mentality


Humanitarian aid is one of the most crucial actions of advocacy, whether it’s on grassroots levels or even going as far as changing the law. Focusing on the grassroots levels, however, one of the most popular ways of advocating for human rights is volunteering. According to Ellis and Noyes (1990), volunteering is defined as acts given freely to benefit another person, group or organization. There are many ways of volunteering in humanitarian sectors, such as charity, cooking and giving out food to the homeless and those in need, donating, and giving your time to volunteer in a program where its collective goal aligns with humanitarian belief. The belief is that all humans are born free and have the right to education, shelter, food, hygiene, and so much more.

This article will touch on the last point. Many organizations believe in humanitarian values and strive to help and provide those in need with their basic rights. However, the hiccup stems from how these organizations promote the values. We need to understand that most organizations provide volunteering experiences are one of their main products; therefore, they must be marketed. This brings the question: Do these organizations advocate for human rights for what it entails or their products as it increases their revenues and branding? One of the products of these organizations is to send volunteers abroad to countries that need and welcome all the extra hands, such as teaching children English, building schools and houses, etc. These organizations promise all the valuable assets the volunteers will learn which induces the saviorism mentality. The mentality of them catering to and listening to our plans of what to do that can and will affect their lives and, most importantly, the mentality of being the saviour as if they cannot save themselves.

Saviorism, while indeed providing change and positive results, is a short-term process and, in fact, can do more harm than good. More often than not, volunteering programs are a top-to-bottom process and induce this mentality, where it concerns what the volunteers want to do and achieve rather than what the ones being helped need and actually receive. Additionally, saviorism shows a prominent power dynamic, where volunteers may help in a short period of time but leave the locals to tend to the aftermath without proper resources to help themselves afterwards.

An example of saviorism is the infamous Kafala system. It perpetuates a patronizing attitude in which the system seems to “save” the migrants from their poor living conditions and increase the power gap between them and the sponsors. It shows an apparent top-to-bottom approach by the lack of autonomy for the migrants, such as the need for the sponsor’s consent to change companies, with the claim that the system protects the migrants from exploitation and harm. Where in actuality, mountains of evidence appear to debunk this claim as this exact law is weaponized and abused, consequently harming the migrants and removing them from their rights. Therefore, the author believes that some changes need to be made in the structure. Changing our mentality and the words we use is highly recommended.

Accompaniment is a great alternative. Working alongside someone experiencing hardship in an equitable partnership. It is also a model that requires both parties to learn and unlearn continuously through their journey. Moreover, it uses a down-to-top approach, where the accompanier sticks with a task until it is deemed completed by the accompanied. Accompaniment eradicates the power dynamic and saviourism mentality and actually puts the accompanied in charge to voice the concerns of their welfare in confidence, without putting them to shame or beneath the accompanier. This will benefit both parties in genuinely learning, unlearning, and helping each other uphold the humanitarian belief.
There are several types of accompaniment, and those are :

1) Psychosocial accompaniment: Aims to understand the accompanied psychological and psychosocial states and provides a safe space for them to unload their emotions.
2)  Legal accompaniment: Aims to fight for the accompanied in terms of legality
3) Accompaniment in healthcare: Aims to fight for the rights of the accompanied to healthcare
4) Accompaniment in education: Aims to learn and unlearn about humanitarian action continuously

Those who experience hardships are very capable of helping themselves, for they do not need a saviour to save them. What they need is illuminating knowledge to utilize their pre-existing resources to help their communities. To conclude this article, I encourage everyone to be extremely careful of our reasoning to aid and to be aware and assess our reasoning to volunteer. Additionally, I highly recommend everyone have the courage to question their knowledge, beliefs, and capability to understand what volunteering and providing aid entails. Lastly, I wish for everyone to continuously unlearn and learn to understand better that we are all humans who are capable.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Canada Kuwait Aid Network.”

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