Tarnjeet Kang, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Zambakari Advisory
The Chasm between Communities and Institutions
During the course of my dissertation fieldwork in South Sudan, from 2014 - 2015, I found many discrepancies between the realities I witnessed and encountered on the ground, and the images that were being promulgated by the international community providing aid as well as the journalists reporting on conflict in the country. For outsiders that depend on these constricted views, it is easy to underestimate the level of labor and productivity that occurs in South Sudan to generate income and assume that the majority of citizens are complacently dependent on foreign aid due to underdevelopment and the conflict. Unfortunately, this view was perpetuated at times by the international aid workers that I interviewed, and then exacerbated by representatives of the national government where it was purported that community members were too reliant on the government for services. However, in approaching my research project with an expanded view of what constitutes self-determination, productivity, and growth on the part of communities, I was able to contribute to the documentation of the vital role that community self-determination has in meeting the needs of citizens in areas where governments and NGOs have failed. This narrative is often missing from existing literature, which inherently limits our knowledge of both the historical and contemporary realities we encounter when designing programs, policies, and research studies.
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