The Caduceus and Jaded Aid

According to the Oxford dictionary, the Caduceus ( kuh·doo·see·uhs) is an ancient Greek herald’s wand with typically one or two serpents twined around it. It was believed to be carried by the messenger god, Hermes, but it also has biblical origins that date back to the time of Moses and the Israelites as they wandered the desert for 40 years.

The Caduceus is now a universal symbol for medicine. It can often be seen beside hospitals names, clinics, and pharmacies. It’s on the sides of ambulances and is worn proudly by doctors serving in the military. For many it stands as a representation of healing, aid, and care. It brings hope to those who seek it and it is trusted to lead the sick and hurting to comfort.

We as humanitarians are human forms of the Caduceus, we aim to bring healing to those who are sick, aid to those who are crying out for help, and care to those who need it. The desire to help is in all of us and it is this desire that can help us change the world. However, when does this desire turn from serving others to serving ourselves? When does our help start to bring discomfort instead of peace? When does our help become suffocating instead of freeing? And when does our active aid become Jaded?

These questions are so important for us understand as we go into the world and interact with various communities. That’s why we are so excited to start this series called, “The Caduceus & Jaded Aid”. In this series we will be exploring some of the hardest and most uncomfortable topics that surround missions, medical outreaches and humanitarianism as a whole. Some of these topics include:

  • The Savior Complex
  • Voluntourism
  • Administrative Fees vs Aid: The Battle for Your Donation Money
  • The Art of Media and Starving Third-World Children

Whether we realize it or not, we’ve all witnessed, heard about or had first-hand experiences some of these issues. We’ve all seen the decade old ads that run on TV showcasing the same starving 7 year-old covered with flies with dramatic and sad music playing in the background. We’ve all scrolled through our social media feed and semi rolled our eyes as pictures of another mission team painting the same school that every team paints in some rural part of Central America. We’ve all scratched our heads and wondered how 39 cents a day could really help feed a small rural village in Africa. We all have these thoughts but we never really talk about it. Maybe because we are afraid of stepping on people’s toes or maybe we think, ” well at least someone is doing something!” But just because things are being done doesn’t mean they should be done poorly or without consideration of those receiving the help.

Our aim through this series is to open a space of conversation, intent dialogue and re-education in subjects that are often overlooked when it comes to outreach. We encourage you guys to join the conversation on social media with the hashtag, #Caduceus&JadedAid. What topics do you think we should dive into through this series? We are looking forward to your questions and comments!


The mission of HLH is to increase accessibility to medications and supplies for healthcare facilities in Guatemala. If you are interested in hearing more about the work we are doing, or in connecting with us, you can visit our website, check out our instagram or facebook, or sign up to receive our newletters. If you would like to support us in our work, please donate here.

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