Як позбутися «гуманітарної наркоманії»?

We’re finding out how to change humanitarian and volunteer aid from “fish” into “fishing rod”


Олена Терещенко,

Михайло Кукін


Ольга Поплавська,

Оксана Андрушків,

Наталія Церклевич

Як позбутися «гуманітарної наркоманії»?

There is a well-known piece of folk wisdom: “If you want to feed people, give them  a fish. If you want them to always have food, give them a fishing rod and teach how to catch fish.” In this “Tochky opory” (Fulcrums) program broadcast we discuss why addiction to humanitarian and volunteer aid emerges? How to help correctly and not to make a person an infantile user? 

Managers of public organizations are in the Hromadske Radio’s studio and on the phone: 

Nataliya Tserklevych, program coordinator of the NGO Forum in Ukraine, an organization uniting international and national NGOs providing humanitarian aid and helpimg rebuild affected areas. Oksana Andrushkiv, regional manager of the NGO Forum in Ukraine. Olha Poplavska, head of “Altanka” (Gazebo) public organization, the town of Lyman, Donetsk Region. 

Mykhailo Kukin: There are several stages of providing humanitarian aid, the first of which is emergency aid which has to be delivered in any case? 

Nataliya Tserklevych: Yes, emergency aid can and should be provided for by resources of the state itself. If there are not enough resources, because of any economic or other reasons, then of course the state can involve external resources, international aid, UN, European Union, the American government. 

Olena Tereshchenko: Does this mean that first you have to save people’s lives and health, and only after this think about everything else?

Nataliya Tserklevych: Yes, of course.

Olena Tereshchenko: How long can this stage last?

Nataliya Tserklevych: The first stage can be very prolonged. Like now in Ukraine, the acute period lasted for 1.5-2 years, and now it is gradually fading away. However, no one at the moment can forecast the situation for later.

Mykhailo Kukin: So here is a problem: when the first stage is rather long, a certain part of population appears who get used to this and think that there should not be a transfer to the next stage. But this is wrong: people should gradually return to life and solve their problems on their own? 

Nataliya Tserklevych: Of course, and all the international organizations are talking about this. Tey plan their work in a systemic way, in particular, when the issue is humanitarian aid, the stage of early rebuilding begins at once. This may be money allocated to people but they have to perform social work: rebuild roads, schools, etc. Donors may provide for the material side but people should rebuild their homes on their own. And this is very important, otherwise addiction to aid emerges, and it is immoral to put people into such a state. Humanitarian sphere has been around for many years, it is being post-modernized. 

Olena Tereshchenko: This is seen from examples of African humanitarian missions: people simply stop any work and development and wait until aid is delivered to them?  

Nataliya Tserklevych: Yes, this is true. The influence of all this is strong, even on the level of salaries. When international organizations come in, everything gets misshaped. 

Mykhailo Kukin: This means that people live badly but they can do nothing, and they get used to this? 

Nataliya Tserklevych: Yes, of course. When organizations plan their activities, they first of all try to base their aid on very profound research of people’s needs. Aid is being provided to those who can’t provide for themselves otherwise: to families with many children, to people with disabilites, to women without men. All this is described in detail in contracts with donors. 

This allows to eliminate risks that material and humanitarian aid makes able population addicted. This is why it is very important that local volunteers monitor this, too; for instance whether this aid is sold later. Databases formed along legal norms would help a lot but there is no such systemic foundation in Ukraine. They arrange agreements at the level of organizations themselves, and work further but there is no unified system. 

Mykhailo Kukin: I know quite a lot of resettlers who have come through this first stage very fast: for them this is leaving Luhansk or Donetsk. And they had not asked for money and aid later. 

Olena Tereshchenko: But I saw rather affluent people settle in a new place and buy flats but they go to social centers and take humanitarian aid, things, food. I think that this hook transforms people to very non-appealing creatures, when very aggressive people gather and demand: Why have you brought this and not this?

Oksana Andrushkiv: I am afraid to say this but our society, regrettably, is traumatized by the past: artificial famines, WW2, the Soviet period; our society is rather paternalistic. People have become used to a great extent to that someone must do something for them. In the final count, people who lost their homes get even more addicted to this as they compare themselves with other people, and this is a real psychological trauma. This is why it is very important to accompany humanitarian aid with psychosocial support. A person who can rise and stand up on their feet in an adequate way would not fall into addiction. 

But is is important to understand that there are no systemic ways of development in Donetsk and Luhansk regions now. Some people who wanted to get money got it, there are various grants, learning projects. But there is no systematic buildup, no development so far. 

Mykhailo Kukin: There is another component here: for many politicians, such paternalism in the society is very profitable, so they tend to it. Who is forming the culture of addiction to humanitarian aid? 

Nataliya Tserklevych: Undoubtedly, I think, this is beneficial for some politicians, and not only in Donbas. More than once we have seen in political races that they restore children’s playgrounds and repair courtyards for people so that they vote for this or that candidate. 

Myhailo Kukin: Yes, people are offered buckwheat but not jobs. This is a short-term aid but not a prospect of development? 

Nataliya Tserklevych: Yes, this is a huge tragedy of our society. But there is a great number of youg people now who don’t want to think in such a way anymore, who, in principle, are open to changes. They understand that no one is going to give them anything. And we do see how public sector is developing, there is positive dynamics. 

Mykhailo Kukin: Our colleague, Kateryna Kader, talked  about so-called “humanitarian addiction” to a well-known volunteer, Enrike Menendes. Let’s listen to this interview. 


People Who Sit On “Humanitarian Needle” Have Difficulties Returning To Normal Life: Menendes

Kateryna Kader: Today, I would like to talk about formation of the culture of addiction to humanitarian and volunteer aid. Our guest is Enrike Menendes, the founder of the “Vidpovidalni hromadyany” (Responsible Citizens) volunteer group. I’d like to clarify an issue but it may become broader.  In your opinion, why addiction to humanitarian aid emerges and why this issue is ever oftener raised in our information space? 

Enrike Menendes: We first heard the term “humanitarian addiction”  from our partners, international humanitarian organizations, in late 2014. It means that for people who receive humanitarian aid the very fact of aid becomes almost their sense of life. People begin to not just feel gratitude for the fact that they got help but feel that someone must, is obliged to help them. Along with this, they lose their will to action, and they just expect that someone will bring aid to them all the time. Correspondingly, all types of social activities decline, and for people who sit on “humanitarian needle” it is very difficult to return to normal life.

When we began working in our home region, Donbas, in 2014, psychology of receivers of aid was different. Over three years, it has undergone tremendous changes. While in 2014 a majority of receivers of our aid said that “we are very ashamed of receiving alms, we would like to have an opportunity to work ourselves and earn our living”, in 2017, in spite of humanitarian situation having become seriously worse, changes happened in people’s psychology. Many people begin to feel that they are being owed. “Humanitariam dualism” flourishing in the buffer, border zone, is a good illustration to this. This is when people who live in the non-controlled territory go to the controlled territory and register there in order to receive huanitarian aid both here and there.  Meanwhile, the cost of travel and efforts applied to crossing the contact line are sometimes higher than the value of the aid. 

Kateryna Kader: What difficulties do you face while distributing humanitarian aid? 

Enrike Menedes: Humanitarian issue is highly politicized and this better be avoided. Humanitarian issue and relations within society are interconnected and intertwined. While working in Donbas with civilians we have more than once felt offended when people, while receiving aid from us, not only don’t thank us but curse us in different words. For instance, those who receive hygienic packages but in reality want to get food call our hotline and leave unpleasant messages. I have long answered my own question why people act in this way. People’s psychology in war conditions is subject to pressure and changes. People who have lost their fulcrums and certainty in tomorrow, people who live according to “all we need is to live to the next morning”, cannot be judged by society.  This, maybe, is one of the things to become a subject of a broad-based discussion. A society which had gone through combat is not a healthy society. This problem can’t be solved without large-scale state programs.

Kateryna Kader: How can this addiction be removed? What ways of solving the issue do you see? 

Enrike Menedes: When you have to do with humanitarian aid and transport it regularly, do something, and the situation does not improve, then from time to time your hands just drop down. The society should be gradually returning to peaceful life. What can significantly improve the situation is ending warfare and gradually restoring normal human relations, social functions of the state, and normalization of economy.

Not all receivers of humanitarian aid are pensioners. Often these are people of middle age who are able to work. But they have lost their jobs, or because of some mobility or lack of opportunity to change their profession they can’t provide for themselves. 

Kateryna Kader: We’re talking now about humanitarian aid and “humanitarian addiction” as about something negative but let’s talk objectively. To which extent there is now a need for humanitarian aid in the East of Ukraine? 

Enrike Menedes: When the conflict began no one knew how it wll develop. So when we lived through eighteen months at the edge of humanitarian disaster and large-scale hunger, since that time the situation has improved significantly. The quality of humanitarian aid and its focus should be changing in accordance with the situation. As early as in 2015 we were over the period when the region needed delivery of food or hygienic means. Now, people should be involved in activities which would help them adjust their lives on their own. 


Mykhailo Kukin: How can one avoid acquiring this long-lasting addiction? How some of the functions should be returned to the state?

Nataliya Tserklevych: It is very important that advocacy is included in activities. This is not just protection of resettlers’ rights but also real projects aimed at increasing cooperation with the state. Creating programs which would allow public organizations receive state money in order to provide quality services to certain vulnerable groups of people. In this way, the state will also be forming a strong civil society capable of working in a more systemic way if international organizations leave.  

Olena Tereshchenko: Which services are you talking about?

Nataliya Tserklevych: Psychosocial or legal aid, for instance, protection. At the moment, this is being done by volunteers or for donors’ money, to a great extent. Restoration stage and what it consists of, there are no text-books or research on how this should be done, this is very variable from one country to another. There are large-scale projects now, whereby Georgians are passing on their experience at the level of Ministries but it’s not a fact that it’ll work in Ukraine. This is why civil sector is very important here. Exiting this crisis should be somehow helped. 

Mykhailo Kukin: How does this transition happen in practice, what about the experience of opening hubs in Donbas? 

Oksana Andrushkiv: I traveled to Donetsk and Luhansk regions last autumn and met local organizations, I studied their problems, interesting initiatives, practices. Although these territories were hit by the conflict from which a majority suffered in this or that way, I met a lot of people who are transforming the region for the better. One of such initiatives is hubs “Teplytsya” (Hothouse), “Vilna khata” (Free House) in Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. These are places where people would come, meet like-minded people, take part in interesting events: workshops, courses, trainings, art events, concerts, poetry readings. Such spaces are very important, they provide opportunities to communicate, This is also a place for informal education. Everything that people lack in everyday life.  

Olena Tereshchenko: You say that people assemble in these hubs, and communicate, and there is some use in this at that. But does all this have a relation to a “fishing rod”? Can a hub be an instrument for a person to find a job and earn their living? 

Oksana Andrushkiv: Of course. For instance, as far as education is concerned, all hubs are hosting free courses of English (and those are very popular), and this is raising people’s professional qualification. This is very popular among young people who understand that they will need this. Computer literacy courses, classes for photographers: all this is a fishing rod. Even more, this is a place where people exchange ideas. Some well-known people come who tell about best practices, how you can change your city, work along with authorities, what can really be done. They learn civil activism there. 

Olena Tereshchenko: So, in order to change your life, you should change your mind? 

Oksana Andrushkiv: Yes, of course. We do see that the situation is changing for better. Both local residents and resettlers become involved in changes.  

Olena Tereshchenko: Will a majority follow these active citizens? 

Oksana Andrushkiv: There always has to be a critical mass which will introduce changes. For a long time this critical mass was not there, the activists were too few. Now, however, their numbers are growing. Of course, in a hard way, slowly, but people do do this. In essence, the aim of such projects is to give an impetus in order to achieve this critical mass of activists. 

Mykhailo Kukin: You spoke about popularity of English courses, and I am a bit embarrassed about such fashion for foreign languages. So, young people see their future elsewhere but not in building it in these towns? 

Nataliya Tserklevych: You know, this is a stick with two ends, to a great extent. On the one hand, I understand young people who have ambitions, for whom it is difficult to be in depressive towns. On the other, no one but them can change these towns. They do begin to realize this now. 

Mykhailo Kukin: This is exactly what makes me sad: if young people see their future elsewhere regions don’t stand a chance? 

Nataliya Tserklevych: It is very hard to forecast the dynamics of the future. But there are many universities there, and if resources are invested in them, it will be interesting for young people to work there. This is a very complex process: if these people stay, this will bring about investment and development. 

Mykhailo Kukin: But you need the state here. Volunteers or international organizations won’t cope. Do you have a dialog with the state? 

Nataliya Tserklevych: Yes, we work with the Ministry for temporarily occupied territories. What we faced in the humanitarian sphere is a huge problem of coordination of organizations between themselves, with the authorities, local organizations, needs of resettlers themselves. A lot of time was spent building communications. Work is being conducted now in order to avoid this trap.

Mykhailo Kukin: How does coordination with local authorities happen in Lyman? 

Olha Poplavska: Our organization is composed of teenagers who want to do something in their city. We work well with local authorities, they support us. They gave us premises for which we don’t pay.  

Mykhailo Kukin: But free premises is another “fish”? What do you offer to the youth in order to help their future? 

Olha Poplavska: The young are interested themselves. There are no special advantages in the city, or amusements. We have very many resettlers who need communication, a place where they can spend time, open themselves up, but maybe they don’t have an opportunity.  So we got together with the young people, and the idea to do something together appeared. 

Mykhailo Kukin: What do you do when you get together?

Olha Poplavska: At this stage, all kinds of master classes are happening, we work together with a local library and conduct literary soirees. There is a band: young people play music instuments. We wrote projects and took part in a UNICEF grant contest. We won two projects.  

Mykhailo Kukin: What are these projects?

Olha Poplavska: First, we made a film about our city. What it used to be like, what it is now, what are the reasons people love Lyman. We want to finish post-producing it and put it on the Internet. Second, a skate-board grounds. Many young people in our city use skate-boards or roller skates, and earlier they had to train in their courtyards.

Olena Tereshchenko: Young people who live in small towns often feel a natural pull to big cities, to a capital. This is a hugely positive thing: to be free, to study and live where you want to. But do you see that some will want to return to Lyman? 

Olha Poplavska: I think not all but some will return. We have several young people who study in Kharkiv but come here every weekend. There are those who travel from Kramatorsk. There are those who commute from Kramatorsk. There are young people who clearly feel that this is theirs, the city is theirs, and if not them, who will change it. This is our idea here.

Mykhailo Kukin: Nataliya, in your opinion, do these examples testify to the switch to the second stage or not yet? 

Nataliya Tserklevych:  A “fishing rod” is also a very relative notion. We can’t say that there are going to be big investments in Donetsk and Luhansk regions as the situation is unstable. And while there are no big economic investments it is hard to talk about large-scale employment offers. There is a big project by international organizations where all the information is assembled on all rebuilding programs and grants for resettlers. It had not been publicly launched yet but the resource will be there in the nearest time. 

There is also an Internet map of all public initiatives  in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, This is a resource of all projects of economic rebuilding for resettlers and local people, We call upon different locsal organizations to add their initiatives.  

За підтримки:

Точки опори

Цей матеріал було створено за підтримки International Medical Corps та JSI Research & Training Institute, INC, завдяки грантовій підтримці USAID. Погляди та думки, висловлені в цьому матеріалі, не повинні жодним чином розглядатися як відображення поглядів чи думок всіх згаданих організацій.

This material has been produced with the generous support of the International Medical Corps and JSI Research & Training Institute, INC. through a grant by United States Agency for International Development. The views and opinions expressed herein shall not, in any way whatsoever, be construed to reflect the views or opinions of all the mentioned organizations.

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