Recently I saw a string of messages on a forum discussing whether we should still be using the term ‘recipient’ in international development.

It started me thinking of a conversation I recently had with a good friend in Rwanda. He told me about how one day when he was a child, he suddenly received a package full of toys. He had no idea where the toys came from or why, but nonetheless enjoyed them as any child would. It turned out he was a ‘recipient’, in this case from a child sponsorship program, and that a kind individual far away had sent him the toys. 

Having this conversation, as two adults, was hilarious. What a day, when randomly, toys arrive at your door! And yet it got me thinking about these two contrasting images - the pictures of thechildren I had seen on some child sponsorship websites, and this grown businessman who had received the toys.

What assumptions did I have in my head when I saw those children? Why did it surprise me that here, a good friend of minewas one of ‘them’?

Somehow, by seeing ‘recipients’ I had missed the reality. I had missed the individual. Where I saw a poor child that needed my help, I forgot about the happy child, the playful child, the child that hates vegetables and loves to pull Papa’s hair.

It may seem small – but this changed my way of thinking, and eventually my way of working. A ‘recipient’ can be so many things; so how about let’s just call them an individual? I believe that then we would be more likely to approach our work with open minds, and ultimately support solutions that reflect the reality of people that we are serving.

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