This MP and Former Aid Worker's Response to the Oxfam Scandal Is Really Powerful
Peter Kyle was an aid worker for almost a decade before going into politics.
Having been an aid worker for almost a decade, MP Peter Kyle has seen some of the best of humanity — but he has also seen some of its very worst.
Now, he has spoken out about the Oxfam scandal — involving stories of staff paying prostitutes for sex while on a humanitarian mission to Haiti after the 2011 earthquake — with his own experience and perspective.
Kyle, the MP for Hove, has posted a response on Facebook that gives a glimpse into the world of overseas humanitarian work.
“In some truly extreme situations, such as in sudden refugee crises, humanitarian disasters, or areas of conflict and war, there is chaos, stress, and lawlessness that is really hard to imagine if you’ve not experienced it,” he writes.
“Our job as aid workers was to bring stability and security to people who had lost everything, including their human dignity,” he says.
Something went very wrong: Oxfam’s culture became corrupted.— Peter Kyle MP (@peterkyle) February 13, 2018
We, and govt, must ensure it heals instead of collapses. And cultural problems with the wider aid industryshould also be tackled with openness and determination.
People’s lives depend on us getting this right https://t.co/jHRBu7VyZB
He is careful to point out that in his experience the “vast majority” of frontline aid workers are “extraordinarily professional and caring… Please, don’t ever forget that.”
But he goes on to describe some of the individuals he came across in his years of humanitarian missions, who “thrive amidst the chaos and dysfunction of a disaster.”
He tells the story of standing in a refugee camp during the Balkan war, when he was approached by a doctor from a “well known large charity” approaching the team he was with. The doctor, he continues, told them it was boring in the camp, and they should head to Asia where “the blood and guts are.”
Kyle describes how his group stood “stunned at the right and words of this grotesque man.” But, he adds, it can’t be denied that it’s tough.
“In this country we struggle to get great maths teachers into challenging schools, so imagine the difficulty of getting brilliant doctors, who might have families and dependents of their own, to go to extremely dangerous and life-threatening places to practice medicine,” he writes.
In the revealing post, Kyle also highlights another issue: that competition within the aid industry has “driven some to become territorial and secretive in order to fight off challenges to its work and funding.”
He tells the story of taking a unit that could allow 1,000 people to shower twice a week in privacy into a refugee camp, and describes being told by the director of another charity that they couldn’t install the unit because that charity didn’t want other organisations’ logos in the camp in case television crews filmed there.
“I still can’t imagine what would possess someone to stand amidst a refugee camp full of desperate, lonely, and scared people and seek to deny them health and hygiene because of a bloody logo,” he writes. “Things were getting out of hand, some had lost sight of their true humanitarian purpose.”
But, he says, there is one key reason why he never became cynical — because he saw lives being transformed, and saw first-hand exactly what can be achieved through sensitive and professional aid work.
According to Kyle, aid agencies and the government must work together to come more open, cooperative, and sharing of best practice. And cutting funding to Oxfam will only make the problem worse.
“I fear that threats to cut Oxfam’s funding will only exacerbate [secrecy],” he writes. “The message to other organisations is ‘if you have this problem and make it public we will cut your funding,’ and the people who will suffer most from funding cuts are already damaged communities being supported by the good work being done.”
“We need to know everything and we need to learn from it,” he adds. “In the future, I believe the public will forgive organisations who own up to mistakes providing they are open and honest, and prove they have learned from it, but they will not forgive cover-ups and hiding the truth.”
He finishes by saying that he will be pushing as hard as he can for reform of large aid agencies, but he will “defend what they do and the work of all decent aid workers with everything I’ve got.”
Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals to end extreme poverty by 2030. We believe that overseas development aid is a vital tool in this fight. You can join us by taking action here, to tell your MP that you’re proud of UK aid and call on them to make it as effective as possible.