Is Working in a Developing Country Ethical?

I held a paid teaching position in Guatemala for exactly five weeks and one day.  Although I quit for financial reasons, the fact that my other co-workers resented my presence didn’t help the situation any.

At first I thought I was just imagining their cold looks and silent treatment.  And when they ignored me on the playground during recess or didn’t respond to my greetings of “Buenas Dias”, I honestly figured they were just shy and that they’d warm up to me eventually.

But then one morning, I innocently asked the secretary if I could have a poster board to make a calendar for my first grade classroom.  Instead of answering my question, she continued to type as if I hadn’t spoken.  And from the quick flash of annoyance she’d shot at the computer screen and the tense vibes she was giving off, I could tell she was pissed. Although at what, I didn’t have a clue.

“Um,” I tried again.  “Yo necesito un papel grande,” I demonstrated with my arms, making the international symbol for ‘big’. Finally, she looked up and then said something in quick-fire Spanish.

“Huh?  Como?  Una otra vez, por favor,” I said, asking her to repeat what she’d just said because I hadn’t understood a word of it.

And that’s when she lost it.  Standing up, she started to yell and point at the supply closet.  I understood the words “Spanish” and “dont understand” and imagined she was saying something to the effect of “Speak better Spanish, bi-atch.”

“Yo quiero solo un papel,” I repeated, mystified.  I only wanted a piece of paper.  Why did she have to be so rude?

Later my boss explained that some of the teachers didn’t like me because they were jealous and fearful that I was there to steal their jobs. I could definitely understand why they’d feel that way.

Before I’d accepted that job, I’d been concerned that by doing so I’d be taking a job away from a Guatemalan.  And with 30-40 percent of the country underemployed, the Guatemalans certainly needed all the jobs they could get.  But I’d been assured by the school that they only hired foreigners to teach their English classes.  Therefore I wasn’t stealing a job from a Guatemalan, because if I didn’t accept the job offer, there’d just be foreigner in line to take it.

Interestingly enough though, since I quit this past week, I’ve heard that they’ve hired a Guatemalan to replace me.  Apparently they couldn’t find another foreigner willing to commit to working those kind of hours for such low pay.  Go figure.  So perhaps it’s a good thing I quit?

What do you think?  Have you ever worked in a developing country?  Would you?

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Vin

    Foreigners from all over the world come to America to take jobs from Americans. Do you think they have a moral problem with it? Then why should you? I wouldn't think twice about it. You need work so take it.

  2. CK

    Ethical? Yes. Rewarding? As you have found out, probably not. If you are going to work in a primitive country with primitive people, you need to have a clear idea of the payoff (professional, financial, etc.) because the experience itself is unlikely to be enjoyable or educational.