Not taking the time to understand a society's history, cultural and religious beliefs before proceeding with a humanitarian or political venture, even with the most altruistic motives, can result in tragic consequences. Sadly this scenario has repeated itself time and time again when the West attempts to intervene in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Sometimes this lack of understanding is unintentional and sometimes it is because of blatant disregard or disrespect for what is perceived to be an inferior culture. Either way the results can be negative for everyone involved. And such is the case of Zoe's Ark's attempt to relocate orphans from Chad.
DAKAR, Senegal: In 1890, King Leopold II of Belgium wrote to one of his colonial officials and asked him to set up orphanages in the vast African territory he ruled as his personal fief, the Congo.
The only problem with his plan was that there were no orphans. The concept scarcely existed in Congo or much of the rest of Africa. This is a continent where thousands of ethnic groups and cultures across a vast and diverse landscape nevertheless share basic traditions that dictate that a child whose parents have died is the responsibility of the broader family and community.
But Leopold's problem was quickly solved: his men kidnapped boys from their families and dispatched them to the "orphanages," where they received a bit of catechism, some military training and, if they were lucky, baptism.
Mostly, as recounted by the historian Adam Hochschild in his book "King Leopold's Ghost," the boys eventually became soldiers in Leopold's vast native army, if they did not die in the long, harsh marches to the orphanages from their villages.
For Africans, Leopold's orphan hunt, driven by relentless greed run amok in a colony he ravaged as his personal property, is only one particularly egregious example of a series of deep, and well-remembered, historical wounds.
That record helps explain the skepticism and outrage that greeted the efforts of a French charity, whose members were arrested last week as they tried to fly 103 children from Chad to France, to go hunting for orphans in the deserts between Chad and Sudan.
A Chadian prosecutor said the French, who are members of a group called Zoe's Ark, faced five to 20 years hard labour if convicted of child-trafficking. The charity, which said it wanted to place orphans from Sudan's war-torn Darfur with European families denied that it had acted illegally. Seven Spanish crew members of the plane chartered for the operation were charged as accessories, along with two Chadians.
Helen Long reports.
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an excerpt from:
Journalist freed by Chad criticizes aid workers
by Francois Murphy
ARIS (Reuters) - A journalist arrested with French aid workers as they tried to fly 103 African children out of Chad criticized the activists for their "amateurishness" but said they were convinced their mission was legitimate.
Marc Garmirian, one of three French reporters who were released and flown back toon Sunday, said he filmed some of the aid workers putting bandages on children to make them seem injured before the flight.
"I realized rather quickly that in what you could call the investigation, or the interviews they conducted with the children or the people who brought them the children, they displayed a dramatic amateurishness," he told TF1 television on Monday.
Several of the 10 Europeans still in custody are members of the organization 'Zoe's Ark', which has said it intended to place orphans fromwith European families for foster care and that it had the right to do so under international law.
But U.N. and Chadian officials say most of the 103 children, who are between 1- and 10-years old, have at least one living parent and came from the violent Chad-Sudan border area.