Confessions from an NGO worker (who actually lived and grew up in a developing country)

When I was 12, I remember distinctly telling my older cousin in a condescending voice that : YOU SHOULD BE CAREFUL ABOUT NGOs. IT’S RICH PEOPLE TRYING TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES, THEY MAY HURT MORE PEOPLE THAN THEY HELP.


I am now 22, and I have never been so sure that 10 years ago I’ve gotten all of that right. But who am I to say and judge the industry without me first being a part of it ?

I mean we all take cheap shots at working in the government, and that just makes me all the more impressed when my dad (who has been in that military industrial complex for real for real) does something bloody amazing with his work ethic and grit, and trudging in the muds of the system while everyone is sitting in their ivory towers, just shitting on the government again and again . . .

So here we go and let’s talk about NGOs THE SYSTEMS OF MODERN DAY CHARITY and INCOME DISTRIBUTION – from someone who’s lived it and let’s see where we’ll go there ? Shall we ? WE SHALL.

Confession 1. Working with the poor, with limited budget means working with a lot of incompotent people with a lot of heart.

Please go read that sentence again. I hope you please go savor every word of that sentence and realize where it goes to in it’s logical conclusions. LIMITED BUDGET. MEANS INCOMPETENT PEOPLE. WITH A LOT OF HEART. Most of my officemates are die hard catholics, with faith stickers all over their desks. They also do not know how to extend their next paycheck, and they’re not the brightest of the bunch.

When I applied, they didn’t grill me on my resume, and their work ethic is subpar only to the point that it is the quality of people WHO COME FROM THAT tax bracket, and would have the natural EMPATHY to make such sacrifices for the poor. They’re too lenient, too nice. And in nice filipino fashion, care about a lot of appearances rather than making hard decsisions and leadership calls that would be in the best interest of the company.

To be honest, they lack a ton of balls. They lack yang energy – they lack fight energy, and though i know there are a lot of raeging advocacy groups, the one I’m in are of the polite almost to the point of – I feel like im kicking a puppy when I don’t extend the same level of kindness.

And I swear God put me in this first job to teach me a lesson about the perils of having a too soft heart. I mean relatively, in the family I am the ‘nicest’ of the bunch. I’m the one that resolves conflicts, the level-headed one, the self-sacrificing one if it makes everything shiny and better. And hoh boy. Do I see how damaging that kind of attitude can be when taken to it’s logical extreme. You’ll make shoddy loans, you won’t know how to say no, you won’t know how to assert your needs since you’ve been overly concerned with your benificiaries you’ve run the NGOs expenses to the grounds.

oh hoh, okay sounds familiar?

dont do that to yourself maalia, if that’s any consolation

Confession 2. Foreigners, with PHds don’t know jackshit. They’re like glorified tourists. Not all, but a lot of them.

Let me tell you honey – LET ME TELL YOU. In the Philippines we have this thing called colonial mentality where anything white and is in accented english is immediately better than everything we’re doing here. HECK. There was even a time when I’d be impressed by master thesises written by MIT students with super sexy sexy sexy sexy infographics and i wanted to be them. Oh write about urban developing theory, write city plans and send them to city governments.


Let me tell you one thing they lack in buttloads: FUCKING. CONTEXT. APPLICABILITY. *hand gestures*. You know?? Practical shit.

Exhibit B: We had an intialian master urban planning intern who couldn’t speak a lick of proper english. He made one of the most bomb ass drop dead gorgeous helpthePoorout (TM). I’ve ever seen , it was floating, it was parisian graphic design, he made models that would blow you out of the water. But hear me- hear me out here okay ? HE could not present that itch properly to the community. Heck he doesn’t even know how much that stuff would cost and how to go about building such a weird design in this country. Let alone getting building permit approvals and community conviction to let alone fund this thing.

if anything- and let me be completely frank with you. the design, was for his masters degree. He has beautiful intentions, but that shit – was for the benefit of his degree and him looking cool and him trying really really REALLY damn hard to help and gloriously failing. This is what happens when you make us into extoic poverty tourist destinations honey. You sound cool on paper, and you’re colleagues would give you a pat in the back.

But you stare into my eyes – and you know – you know. You just wasted a lot of our time didn’t you? I mean it’s worth noting that you have a bunch of famous schools sending their interns to us trying to get a lick about what’s it like being in a poor country. I mean that says a lot about people always thinking the grass is greener at the other side but FAM.

You either send us money, or solve the actual problem babe. Not write a paper pretending to solve it. I mean this is problematic about the academe to BUT THAT WAS MY POINT. DON’T PRETEND JUST STAHP. We actually have to live out our lives after you leave, we actually have to make sense and sort of use(???) your intellectual hogwash. And literally your incapacity to even engage with the community (in like the local language) already means your design is essentially MISINFORMED. And wow i feel like such a dick but we shouldn’t be publishing it.


confession 3. You will be hit by poverty porn – so thrown out of your context porn. That for a good 2 months you would literally be quite an unhelpful little thing.

You have internet, you can read. You are reading a blogpost about working for NGOs and charities and I’ll have to say that puts you in top 10% of the world’s privelage bracket and yes I just made that statistic up so sue me. But ok. for real this time.

working with people who have a completely different background from you – even if they live just 5 minutes away from your house. FEELS LIKE TALKING TO AN ALIEN SPECIES. YOU WILL.

YOU WILL GET a lot of assumptions wrong, a lot of preconceived notions corrected – fleshed out, nuanced. You will have to be using a lot of context clues trying to catch up to an enormous stack of cultural references, and you would completely imagine the world they live in where they have an entirely different set of needs, desires and basic skill sets.

A sanitary toilet for an hunderd person community ? Not necessary

5 month flood on legal land ? Oh sure

having to trudge knee deep in temporary settlements with said practices of open defecation and have to sort of stare into their eyes with a level of dignity? DING DING DING DING DING DING OH YOU BET BABY

You will undergo severe symptoms of sudden gratefulness. You will suddenly see having three meals a day as excessive, having running water as miraculous, having legal tenement to a house that you would most probably inherit as something that would be like the moon for 1/4 of the philippine population. 1/4 of the philippine population live underneath the international povertyline.

i can complain about netflix not loading fast enough.

IF YOU WEREN’T BORN LIKE THEM. THE SHEER AUDACITY TO ‘LEARN’ TO BE LIKE THEM. Is the crux of what makes the good social worker actually great.

you will. This is a conundrum really. I’ve devoured a few community development books, and I completely empathize with them saying that there can be highly educated social workers who just fail to connect with poor clients. Where if they train with not so educated community persons – the friendship, the trust, the social cues just come so easily to them

and oh boy does this sound encouraging to me am i right ?

BUT THAT’S EXACTLY IT. I’m an educated person from a poor country – what more these first world country peeps who have not a lick of local slum culture?? IF ANYTHING. I feel like a transmorgified translator. We’ve got amazing community mobilizers on the ground who used to live in slums – being able to convince slum people of better programs.

and im here to sing and dance for our white overlords who lets us suck on their teats for our operational expenses. I NEED TO SELL THESE GUYS. I need to make us sound amazing in academic, grant savvy english TO KEEP EVERYONE AFLOAT. Since our community mobilizers can’t even spell right.

i am. Not kidding.

It’s continuusly baffling, the level of material lack these people subsist on. And i can feel myself be caught off guard a few times each month going just. Whatthehell repeatedly in my brain. And feeling absolutely stunned, paralyzed in place cause I’m just like what do I do?? wWHAT can I do?? (And other than making you feel like you’ve lived to be an actual goodess princess so far in your mortal life by comparison) you will grow extra ears.

An ear for the shame that you weren’t taught to do when you were younger. An extra ear, for the assumptions laced in their statement. Another ear for misinformation and you growing antennas trying to find something in the firmament that could best help.


you will be quite useless for a while though. You have been warned.

(BONUS: for people going to other countries for foreign aid, I encourage you to work FOR locals. They know what they need best, and know the context. Also stay for more than a week, heck six months is a minimum…)


confession 4: there are different kinds of poverty. in the right perspective: you can even come to say they aren’t poor even in such dire consequences. We’re all the same.

One of the most controversial tenement, social development writers, lived so long with the poor that he has even come to defend their way of life and identity and even come out with an idea : oh yo, they’re not poor they’re just different. They live and breathe and laugh, and might not have as much consistent electricity as you – but really what make all life experience similiar ? Is it not life? The value of money – in the end , arbritrary?

ok so hear me out okay. You don’t get into this without being a little bit (ok ALOT OF BIT) frustrated with capitalism. You claim you don’t need the paycheck and experience relative poverty working a minimum wage job in a tiny NGO.

I also have the slight insanity of being psychic. (Oh you forgot for a while you were in some esoteric blog eh? WELL MM LET ME REMIND YOU THEN). And I can genuinely say that rich people’s auras can be more fuced than a slum dwellers aura. And i’ve seen bums and what would be commonly thrown out as a ‘nobody’, be absolutly luminescent with divine truth.

I SAW IT. I KNOW IT. TO THE VERY MARROW OF MY BONES.. THat the play of the senses? Or at least what would be commonly touted as amazing (oh travelling the world lala, lots of money and property and money and status will make you happy) just CAnnot. Is . Like oh hello matrix that program is not gonna work for me no more.

People’s inner worlds are M.A.G.I.C. Full of S.O.U.L. You literally have the sky the moon and the stars. And an unconditional care and love from trees and the earth. When you’re surrounded by such infinity – having a new phone just doesn’t match up to scale.

And living with rich people who have fuced up mental health – ooh girl. You’ll really know there are different kinds of poverty. I’m just learning one genre, but don’t go on for a minute thinking writing off a whole group of people as DESOLATE, when you could even write the same things about traiditonally admired people – like celebrities, and be just as right.

This is what stabilizes me a lot. This truth of our interconnectedness, how we are all the same. I can go home with the comfort not of panic for all these “slum dwellers” but human beans with a lot of oppurtunity in their hands. With a level of respect and dignity and just the oppurtunity of seeing them as they are. Without the biases and the baggage, ESPECIALLY NOT THE PITY.

Just another soul. just more mirrors of me.




THIS IS WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS RIGHT NOW. Course correction, not leaving anyone out for the sake of ‘progress’ in by any which way we’ve been coming to define it. And though these are entitled confessions they’re ultimately lessons i needed to get off my chest and just be finally be aware of and be over with.





talk to me in the comments ??

Haha love, Maalia

have a good day hon.







your soul is welcome here

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