I was sitting in a office belonging to the biggest corporation in Norway. In front of me, across a big table were two well-dressed men. Everything about them matched. Their shoes, their suits, the color of their shirts, the hairdos and even their fingernails were statements of perfection, class and power. Before entering the office I had walked through the corporation’s headquarter, and it appeared more like a small kingdom to me. Once inside its walls it seemed like you became a loyal, faithful and devoted citizen of the kingdom. All the people spoke highly of the company they served, and if what they said was true, it was a flawless company. The company’s only aim and mission was to make the world better, safer, happier and healthier. That they worked here was only because their life ambitions were the same as the company’s. They would die pursuing the dream of a perfect world. You do understand, don’t you, that the company was an oil company.
“So what do you want from us?” they asked. It seemed like the question was genuine. It had been easy to answer the question: What do you want? when I practiced it at home before the meeting. I wanted them to give us money. Money to help children. Money to build schools. Money to train medics and to help the sick. Money to develop new methods to improve food production. But sitting there, across the big table, in the glass office, with the expensive suits and the high tech reception that was 100% digitized, I suddenly felt so small and stupid. Why would they give us money? We were like a speck of fly excrement on the top of their polished shoes.
And when I asked, the answer was as expected: “We don’t give money to groups like yours. We do of course give money to charity, but then we give to the ones who really matter, like the UN for example.” They went on to tell me why they couldn’t give money to any of the Partners projects. They also said that just because they were interested in oil drilling in Burma they weren’t directly or indirectly responsible for human rights abuses. And hearing what they said, I didn’t disagree. Even idealistic aid workers like me see the need for businesses to develop in order for a country to prosper. I just wished they had chosen a different business than oil drilling, and a different area than the ocean outside Rakhine state where currently the worst kinds of human rights abuses are taking place.
The honest truth is that there are times when I wish that my job was selling a product that promised beauty, long life and prosperity. It is so hard always promoting life-saving products, such as food, to starving, poor and oppressed people. There are times when I wish I did work for one of those large charities, the ones who claim to only be spending 10% on admin, but who still manage to find money to pay for ads that cost thousands of dollars every month, who still have a list of employees that is longer than our list of donors, and the ones who end up getting the sponsorships from large corporations who feel that giving to the big charities is the safest thing.
But then I think like this: I know that we are not insignificant. Not for the 911 kids that get a home to live in because of Partners. Not to the hundreds of people who received eye glasses and to the thousands who received medical care. Not to the 71 farmers who got training in agriculture and who learned how they can produce food for their families and communities. Not for the hungry Rohingya people who received 94.9 tons of rice. Not for the 10,000 Kachin who have access to community care. Not to the thousands who have received food and blankets. Not to the almost 100,000 children who are allowed to go to school. To them we are not small and insignificant. To them we are a life-source. To them our help makes the difference between life and death.
Some times I wish that the corporations, agencies and other groups that say No when we ask for support would be able to see the children’s smiles when they get their rations of food, their new shoes, the opportunity to go to school, or the news that they can still live with their parents instead of moving to a refugee camp to study. Some times I wish they had understood that for the price of one of their high-tech computer systems, we could develop land and grow food to feed hundreds of people, we could train community health workers and birth attendants. We could pay teachers and buy school books. I wish it was a little easier to make the world better for the people who need a better world. And, who knows, it may change soon. Next time I meet the men with the suits they may be asking me how they can help. Miracles do happen still.