Some friends and I have been pondering on my Facebook profile about the recent allegations of child trafficking in Haiti. Of course by now you would recognize the allegations that have been levied against a group of well-meaning Baptist from Idaho.
Today in my class on Ethics, we spent a good deal of the time discussing and talking about this particular situation with specific regard to how each person in the class experienced this story; that is, how was it that with our experiences as sources of ethical authority we were processing whether this was a tale of horrific magnitude or just a big misunderstanding. (See Margaret Farley on The Role of Experience in Moral Discernment)
As I processed this more, my thoughts on my Facebook page began to make more sense and I began to draw greater links between the experiences that had shaped my responses and my thoughts there. For instance, on Facebook I wrote:
1. I’m convinced that there should be strict regulation of American non-profits who move to “help” other countries in crisis. Ex. Haiti!
From an international development stand point, my experience with those who said to me, “I just wish the evangelical Americans would stay out of the way and let the people who know what they are doing do it” deeply influenced my response. These comments were most often spoken with regards to development work in Kabul and in the tsunami in Southeast Asia.
In a way, I still find the critique of internationals with regard to American arrogance in action a fair one. In fact, I for one think that most Americans who live abroad need this kind of exposure to how Americans are perceived in these kinds of situations. (This isn’t to say that Americans don’t do an enormous amount of good in the world!)
Then I commented:
2. So, if its not regulation then what is it?
I still think in these situations (regardless of the phase of development or response) that some kind of monitoring needs to happen. In fact, because the opportunity for well-meaning but misinformed action is possibility in many cases, I think the international community needs to do even more.
Seriously, though Paul commented on my blog “if you are going to sin, sin boldly” with regard to doing good in this kind of the situation, the horror is: the Baptist got caught doing this but there are hundreds more children who have already been trafficked to other parts of the world WITHOUT ANYONE KNOWING IT! This is why groups like this I think need to be punished regardless of their intentions. It was illegal.
[As an aside, I also am one who thinks that the situation a few years back with regards to the two young missionaries from America who were captured by the Taliban and then rescued by the US military is an interesting case in ethical religious processing. Was this not the intervention of the US military into the legal system of a country of a different religion for religious reasons? In other words, they were breaking the law and yet we kept them from punishment? But what if a tactical group of Muslims broke into Guantanamo and rescued the people held there? Would they be liberators or terrorists?]
Finally, I commented:
3. At some point, every non-profit has to use donations to pay for overhead, people, and resources to help. It’s an illusion to think otherwise and I don’t trust ones that say 100% goes anywhere!
While Ben was right to point out that there are specific giving campaigns for certain causes, my experience is that non-profits inevitably have to use funds from somewhere to pay for things everywhere.
By this I mean to simply say that someone gave money to pay for their greatest vision for the work and most donors don’t find giving to admin stuff the sexiest thing to give to. Some do, but in my experience, most don’t.
This is why I wonder if most non-profits shouldn’t also be experimenting with some Fourth sector thinking. Or if not this, a stronger consideration with regards to for-profit activities ought to be taken during times of financial difficulty. And lets face it, we are in one of those times.
So, these are just a few more of my reflections on the situation. I must admit, after the conversation today in my class, I’m convinced that there are other classrooms of students who weren’t reflecting on how this situation reminded them of the exploitation of enslaved Africans brought to the Americans or, the sexual exploitation of children in India or, the need for people to know what it is they are doing when they travel internationally to help others (obvious).
I’m sure there were students at others schools praying for these people to be freed, hoping for the truth to be revealed, and yes, even rationalizing the good reasons why some of the parents have said they wanted to give their children up for a better life. Regardless of whether I agree, they think this is right.
The truth is, depending on where you are from, who you’re friends with, and what you’ve experienced in life, what you really think about this (tragic) situation is not borne out of a vacuum nor based on some greater ultimate principal. In fact, I think this situation may just demonstrate again why it is not reasonable to suggest that there is any kind of a universal moral ethic.