«Nonviolent Peaceforce Director: Mel Duncan 801 Front Ave. St. Paul, MN 55103, U.S.A (++1)-651-487-0800 info ...»
Although neither one of these scenarios is that common a practice, you do find some international workers trying to make arrangements like these, depending on several factors such as how long the posting is, the nearness of ‘liveable’ places, whether the worker has young children, and whether it is the mother or the father working in the field, etc. Mothers would be more likely to make some kind of arrangement to be closer to their families. However, it is much more common to find married men with older children, single women of all ages or younger, single men in the field than it is any other type of person.
Given that most of the smaller INGOs generally do not have family postings as it is expensive proposition and that the vast majority of postings, IGO, GO and INGO in conflict areas are non-family postings it is not surprising that this is the majority composition of those working in the field. However, the possibility of family postings versus non-family postings are one of the factors that distinghish larger scale missions from small peace teams.
There are both pros and cons to living together as a team. If the security situation is such that the organisation explicitly demands or encourages its personnel to live in one place, than the place will have any number of security arrangements and precautions.
Internationals who do not live in ‘secure’ conditions are more vulnerable to being targets to local warring factions (the ICRC delegates who were killed in Chechyna for example) but on the other hand those living mixed in with the local community could just as easily be perceived by the local population as more committed and more trustworthy than fellow internationals living behind a secure compound.
Ultimately I think there needs to be a balance maintained between attempting to secure your safety but not being walled off from the environment in which you are living although it is often a delicate and at times competing balancing act.
Aside from security precautions, while living together can produce more of a sense of community and team spirit between individuals working in the same organisation, it can also produce tensions, especially because there is often little other diversion – no families; few extracurricular activities or community involvement outside of the work.
Living and working together at the best of times can be a recipe for difficulties but when you add in an unfamiliar environment where there is often nothing much to do outside of work or no one else you can depend on, the closeness that develops can be a two-way street. Most people living and working together in the field find it really important to have their own time and their own space at least some of the time.
3. Field relationships 3.3 Larger-scale organisations 242 3.3.3 Relationship to local groups The relationship between local groups and the international community is often a complex one. There is a mutual dependency that is beneficial but it can also be a doubled-edged sword.
Often the very presence of the international community creates an atmosphere of expectation, much of it unrealistic, of what can be achieved on the ground. These expectations are created as much by the international community bringing in large infusions of financial and other aid and resources and implicitly or explicitly offering solutions to the problems that have plagued the country. As well promises are often made which cannot be kept.
However the dependence goes the other way as well. Both the IGO and INGO communities need local groups to give their work legitimacy and relevance, but as in all other benefactor-type relationships, the relationship on the part of the international community to local groups is often patronising and paternalistic. Many international organisations feel it is their right to dictate course of action because they are the ones with access to vitally needed financial and material resources and assistance.
These days in conflict and post-conflict areas international organisations, both INGOs and IGOs, generally tend to work either through, or with, local groups either on a formal or informal basis. Most INGOs have formalised relationships with local partners through which their assistance is channelled while IGOs at a minimum collaborate with the local community in developing projects for the targetted group.
While this can be seen as a positive development in that rarely is programming developed without some input from the local community, as mentioned above the dynamics of the relationship is often one of paternalism. As the old adage says, those who hold the pursestrings also hold the power.
This kind of situation works to create competition rather than cooperation between local organisations because local organisations must compete with each for assistance from the international community. Not only do local groups often find themselves pitted against one another in accessing aid but because of the explosion of financial and material resources in the area, local NGOs have been purposefully set up, often at the initiative of the donor organisation, which are not self-sustaining.
And because these local initiatives are donor-driven, they will take on activities that do not necessarily reflect the needs and priorities of their constituents that the NGO is not equipped to work on.
For example, there are two programs funded by UNHCR that are dedicated to improving the situation of the women of Bosnia and Kosovo. Known as the Bosnian Women's Initiative (BWI) and Kosovo women's initiaitve (KWI), they are a $2 and $5 million USD program respectively set up to fund women's groups and initiatives by and for the women of Bosnia and Kosovo. However, the problem with both BWI and KWI, which came into existence as a grant from the U.S. Dept of State, was that they, like other donor organisations, are in a hurry to see their money disbursed. Thus, many of the women's NGOs in Kosovo and some of the women's NGOs in Bosnia were set up to access this windfall.
Activities for a single NGO could include everything from basic humanitarian aid to legal
3. Field relationships 3.3 Larger-scale organisations 243 projects, to hairdressing courses. What all this means is that there is an extreme amount of competition between the women's NGOs of both BOsnia and Kosovo, all competing for the same source of funding, an overabundance in the provision of some services and a gap in the provision of others depending on donor interests. As well, there is a strong question of the sutainability of many of these NGOs.
The most important relationship in the field is that with the local population. After all, all intervention is ostensibly on behalf of the local civilian population, whether it is strictly delivery of humanitarian aid or an international military presence or anything in between.
Many people deployed to the field have no or little understanding of the current social and political context, or historical and cultural framework of the region in which they find themselves working. Although the issue of training is dealt with in depth in Section 7, it is important to point out in addressing best practices in the field, how effective an organisation on the ground will be, often boils down to how individuals within the organisation [on the ground] not only understands both the current context and historical framework of the local population and the culture, but is able to parlay that understanding into a relationship on the ground with the local population.
This of course in part depends on the kind of training people receive before being deployed to the field, but a large part is also dependent on the personality of the individual. I have seen people deployed into a region with little knowledge other than the basic rudimentaries and yet because they come open-minded with a genuine interest and concern they become well versed in the situation and earn the respect of the local population.
I have also seen people deployed in field ‘armed’ with a fair amount of knowledge of the politics, history and even language of the region. Yet their arrogance, their unwillingness to recognise that they may have more to learn about the situation, or that the local population understands their own needs better than the intervenor, has obviously made it difficult to foster a constructive working relationship with the local population.
Thus, while it best if you know the language and are well-versed in the issues before being deployed to the region, personal attitude also accounts for a lot. People appreciate effort and not just knowledge. And so, although it isn’t necessarily always the best situation to have a translator between you and the local population, there are also many benefits that can come in working with a translator.
One is that it can be helpful to have someone literally to interpret the situation for you because even if you’re well-versed in the overall situation and know the language, as an outsider there will always be subtleties and nuances that will be impossible to grasp. As well, because you spend so much time with your translator, a close relationship often develops which can also give you insight into the culture and current socio-political situation of the society that you might not have otherwise had.
On the other hand, if you do not speak the language you are always dependent on someone to ‘interpret’ the situation for you. 99% of the translators working in the field are not professional translators and many may not even speak the language in which you are working very well, and so often ‘interpret’ rather than ‘translate’ what is happening. Cultural differences often come into play as well. Many times a translator tells you what he/ she thinks you want to hear rather than what is actually being said.
Some translators will inevitably have their own political agenda through which everything
3. Field relationships 3.3 Larger-scale organisations 244 gets filtered. But most important of all, having the local population work with the international community ultimately puts them at risk, especially if the intervening forces pull out of the region. This was well documented in Kosovo after the withdrawal of KVM and in East Timor after the withdrawal of the international community there.
Also important is the question of what kind of relationship the international community has with the local power base on the ground. If those in power are ambivalent or resentful of outsider presence they could hamper the work of the international community through a variety of ways, including not providing access to certain geographic areas or certain groups of people; making unwieldy entrance requirements to the country; being intransigent on issues that could help work towards resolution of the conflict, as well as other types of actual and figurative roadblocks.
There can also be problems when those in power embrace the presence of the international community; for example, using their offer of continued compliance with the international presence as a means of extracting certain promises or favours that ultimately run antithetical to resolving the situation.
This then leads to the question of neutrality on the ground. It is one of the more debated issues in the field. For some organisations such as ICRC, it is one of the main tenets of their work and guides all their actions right down to refusing to allow its workers to testify at war crimes tribunals even if they may have important information that relate to the charges of alleged war criminals. Those who are in favour of neutrality argue that is a much needed basis from which to operate simply because otherwise a lack of neutrality would jeopardise an organisation’s access to those populations most in need of assistance, including civilian populations trapped between warring factions, the wounded, the missing and the detained.
Other organisations, such as Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), do not feel that an organisation can or should operate under a guise of neutrality because this is not reflective of the reality on the ground in that organisations providing assisance can often be perceived as favouring one side of the conflict or another [and sometimes they are].