Frameworks for Intercultural Learning


Key idea

Charitable giving carries hidden messages.

What’s the point?

Inequalities are the result of multiple factors and are unlikely to be addressed by a single solution.

It is natural to want to help people who are destitute. On a global level, humanitarian aid can make a huge difference to those who have been affected by an earthquake, flood or other natural disasters. Similarly, families and individuals who have fallen on hard times often need help to get back on their feet.

We need to remember that it is easier to give than to receive and that acts of charity and generosity change the relationship between people. Charity tends to position recipients as victims. It is widely recognised, for example, that International aid can build a dependency culture and is often ineffective because it addresses symptoms rather than causes. Measures which help to build capacity and which promote equality between nations are liable to be much more effective in the longer term. The same applies to individuals.


Helping people to help themselves is the best form of aid and it also enables the recipients to retain their dignity. We need to be careful of knee jerk reactions and simplistic, single answer solutions to complex problems. Encouraging children to raise money for poor communities overseas may be laudable but can also carry hidden messages. 


Pitying others and promoting feelings of superiority are often unhelpful and counterproductive responses.


Research vignettes

In this vignette, which focusses on the issues around thanking a guide, the UK voice is presented first and the Gambian voice is a response.

  • What can this teach us about the unintended consequences of charitable actions?
  • What are your reactions to the two perspectives?


UK voice
"It transpired that Nigel had agreed to buy two young Gambian men a bag of rice [for acting as unofficial guides]. … This was completely out of proportion to the kindness [the young men] had shown us in offering to guide us around, and in the end [against my advice] a half bag of rice was bought for 300 dalasis*."


Gambian voice
"I am quite certain that the teacher meant well in buying a half bag of rice for the self–imposed guide without reflecting or knowing the long–term repercussions for both the visitors and the Gambians ……It must be emphasized that hand – outs or relief assistance often increase unrealistic expectations from recipients, enhances the dependence syndrome and decreases sustainable self- efforts. What The Gambia really needs today is to encourage its young generation to look inwards for self- development... Not the false impression that aspirations and immediate needs are better solved by outsiders."


* At the time 300 dalasis was equivalent to what a teacher might earn in a week.


Going further

Charania, G. (2011) ‘Grounding the Global: A call for more situated practices of pedagogical and political engagement’ in ACME  pp351-371


McEwan, C. (2011) ‘Development and Fieldwork’, Geography 96 (1), 22-26.