Although humanitarian operations are meant to help victims of natural and man – made disasters, the presence of aid workers in a given community often causes some unintended negative consequences to the local culture. My central research question is: What are the cultural consequences of humanitarian intervention? To answer this question, I have chosen tsunami relief in Aceh province, Indonesia as a case study to illustrate the tension and challenges faced by international NGO staff and the communities in which they work. Semi-structured interviews with Acehnese people and expatriates in Aceh, as well as documents produced by the UN and the ‘Prosperous Family Office’ in Banda Aceh, were compiled to gather information on impressions of foreign NGOs and their staff. The interaction between relief workers and the community was often characterized by perceived disrespect, sometimes imitation, change in the local economy, disempowerment of local community members, but also increased hope and dedication to humanitarian values on the part of local people. Although the misunderstandings are numerous, and risks great for local people who choose to associate closely with foreign aid workers, there are some very simple things that could be done to smooth over these interactions. Some of these are providing training for staff heading to disaster zones and relying more on local staff from the area to advise on appropriate programming and behavior.


Other Social and Behavioral Sciences | Politics and Social Change | Regional Sociology | Rural Sociology | Sociology