The history of NGOs in the global south is a complex one, riddled with palpable accomplishments as well as painful failures. Revolving around three white European humanitarian workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), this documentary by Stephan Hilpert examines not only their connections with the local people but also the broader relationship between so-called developed nations and countries whose precariousness is a direct result of imperial exploitation.
Across Hilpert’s stories, good intentions coexist with frustrations. Raúl is a researcher conducting a study on the rebel groups in DRC. Speaking frankly about his arrival as a spontaneous decision, Raúl was confronted by dangers that are more than just facts and figures. At one point, leaders of a rebel group talk of whipping villagers to death and mutilating white political activists. Anne-Laure moved to the country straight after college with little humanitarian experience. After a horrific incident where police shot at volunteers working at a music festival, her Congolese boyfriend Fred became a vocal activist, resulting in his incarceration.
Peter and his struggles shed light on the issues awaiting younger aid workers such as Raúl. Settling in the Congo after an idealistic stint with the freedom fighters of Nicaragua in the 1970s, 66-year-old Peter can no longer find work, as the age cut-off for humanitarian contracts is 65. Despite having lived and raised a family in the Congo for decades, Peter is forced to return to Germany.
It is worth noting that the film doesn’t aim to compare these stories to the hardships of the Congolese, which are demonstrably vast, but rather to question the efficacy of NGOs, whose workers are too transient to effect lasting change. In the end, the interactions between the white subjects of the documentary and the Congolese demonstrate the wide political and personal gap that no amount of money and goodwill can possibly bridge.