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It’s Cool to Care

March 8, 2012

Joseph Kony. Invisible Children. LRA. Facebook. Social Media. Networking. Marketing. Videos. More marketing. More Facebook.

You have just read the words that have been floating around in my head for the past two days. If you haven’t heard of Joseph Kony and Invisible Children, then you must not be on Facebook or have a friend that is aware of who this person and organization are. I first became aware of Invisible Children in 2007. It was also the first year I started to do my research on the LRA. It was around the time I had begin my “quest” to travel to Africa. I was shocked to read about what Joseph Kony was doing to innocent children and women in eastern Africa. I purchased the first film by Invisible Chilrden founders, Jason Russell & Laren Poole to learn more about who they were and what they were doing as an organization. Facebook was still growing and social media sites were not in use like they are today so not very many of my friends were aware of this “cause”. I remember I purchased a shirt for Matt to help sponsor the work they were doing to bring Joseph Kony to justice.

Fast forward five years later with two trips to eastern Africa under my belt along with countless more hours of my own research and reading on the harmful effects of foreign aid, what sustainability look like in regards with foreign aid, and the LRA and I have a different take on Invvisible Children now. I read a fantastic article today that Matty K told me about. I have added this Yale professor’s blog to my bookmarks of favorite reads because what he had to say seemed to succinctly state was on my mind and heart. His name is Chris Blattman and you can read his article here. This is a snippet of what he had to say, “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. It’s often not an accidental choice of words, even if it’s unwitting. It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming. The saving attitude pervades too many aid failures, not to mention military interventions. The list is long.”

This is when I share my concerns with you in regards to Invisible Children. First, I am a believer that there is definitely a generation of young adults in the US who care more than most other generations in regards to justice, but I also believe the reason is because “it’s cool to care”. Hear me out before you roll your eyes. If there were no genius and creative marketing schemes going on behind the scenes of Invisible Children do you believe #1) You or someone you know would be inclined to read more and take action? and/or #2) if there were the same marketing scheme and only one person were talking about it, would you be the second person?

I really do think that it’s just another form of a popularity contest. While I watched the latest film “Kony 2012”, I wanted to hear more about Joseph Kony and how they (Invisble Children) were going to take Joseph Kony out of power; how Invisible Chilrden was going to ensure that none of Kony’s followers would follow suit and start LRA all over again once Kony is taken out of power and…the list goes on, which leads me to my second point.

I have said it before and I will say it again: We.are.not.saviors. We have voices, but it’s not (and should never) be about us. Too many aid organizations focus on marketing and gaining an audience that they lose site of what they are trying to ultimately accomplish. My point is what in the world does Uganda do (and Invisible Children for that matter) once Joseph Kony is caught?

One word that you want to become familiar with when you think of “aid work” is sustainability.

How is Invisible Children going to assist Uganda in maintaining the sense of peace? How are they going to ensure that the followers of Joseph Kony don’t pick up the pieces and start all over once more?

You see, it’s really no different than me saying that I want a community in Southern Ethiopia to have a water well, but it takes awareness and money to build it. So, I solicit my friends and family on Facebook to donate. I make videos, I post photos of the sick children. I tell them over and over that “they are making a difference”. Then one day, we have raised enough money for a well and we build it. Yay!! We pat ourselves on the back and we take photos of smiling children and we leave.

The well breaks two months later and on one in the community in Southern Ethiopia is trained to fix a well. No one knows where to buy replacement parts and the community is, once more, without a water well but that much more aware that aid work doesn’t always work. This happens all the time.

What happened? Sustainaiblity didn’t happen. There wasn’t a thorough plan and even though there were many supporters of the well, it wasn’t enough to keep it from breaking. So, in regards to Invisible Children how are they going to ensure that the LRA never has an uprise? Who is ensuring that this cause of 2,401,224 likes on Facebook is sustainable?

This brings me to the third and last point. If Invisible Children believes that all it takes is a bit of force (aka “ambassadors” who are comprised of United States Armed Forces) to find and capture Joseph Kony, what happens when these men in uniform leave? Military humanitarian intervention has serious consequences and history has shown that it can sometimes do more harm than good. It should be noted that if 2012 is the year that Inivisble Children has deemed “the year”, then I want to know that there has been given enough thought, planning, and implementation *with Ugandan officials* to ensure that this is an appropriate date. If not, then I don’t care what Invisible Children has planned. Action needs to be taken when calculated planning is completed and partnerships with key officials and people are in place.

Invisible Children is getting people’s attention and they should be commended for the work they have done to bring awareness of the LRA, but I want to make sure that people know that it’s much more complicated than a 20 minute film clip. If anything, I believe Blattman is right that there are other experts to consult besides Invisible Children when deciding what to do about Kony. Ask questions and demand answers. So before you click the “like” button on Invisible Children’s Facebook page, be aware that foreign aid needs to be approached by asking questions – lots and lots of questions.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2012 10:08 am

    Jen, God bless you for your true heart for the less fortunate and for your courage to take your thoughts to the public forum, regarding foreign aid and its’ effects on the “beneficiaries” from the monetary contributions made by the “first world” donors. Yes, sustainability is key. I am learning a lot about this, here as we work in the trenches in our project in Ethiopia. Perhaps the most significant thing I can do personally regarding sustainability, aside from planning and taking tangible actions toward achieve this goal, is to be patient, to deal with frustration in a way coincident with the culture I am living in, to be encouraging to the nationals I work with every day, to not condemn their actions which can easily be confused with ignorance when failure to follow directions / suggestions occur, to be ever mindful of the “tough road” the “beneficiary” travels every day in his/her plight to survive, and to remember first and foremost, my actions are not for my gratification but rather for the elevation in their standard of living however minimalistic that increment may be. Indeed, the young people of the world, including from the 3rd world (incidentally, “3rd world” as terminology immediately places it’s residents in a disadvantageous position,… something that can easily be looked down upon from the advantageous position of “1st world” or even “2nd world”. Personally, I hate this kind of terminology.) As I was saying, the young people of the world have a RESPONSIBILITY to “do for others” as their FIRST priority and not from an attitude of “hey, that would be cool to do, a trip to …… and help these people out, get some pix, have a few laughs, blah blah blah…” all the while having expectations attached to such attitude that are solely for self gratification. Our Lord God our Father, Creator of all things of the world, could so easily resolve all issues in the world so as to bring the overwhelming majority of His creation, those disadvantaged masses, to a much higher standard of living. But consistent with biblical teaching, He does not give the world such an easy way out of the mess it is in. His command for us to go to the world and make disciples of all nations, to do for others as we would have them do for ourselves, has no leniency for our abdicating our fundamental responsibilities for caring for our brothers and sisters of the ENTIRE world. Problem is, although He gave us the roadmap, we simply don’t like taking His route. As for me, yea I can practice all the attributes of patience, encouragement, mindfulness, and the like which I know I need to fully subscribe to, but I am convinced that unless I as a “charitable” donor who is working with a primary focus toward sustainability of whatever “project” I have in progress; If I do not have heir(s) to continue after me, well then, no doubt all is for naught. I invite all “young people”, especially recent graduates of college / university, to give a couple of years of their future to working, living, and aiding (on the ground, wherever in the world the aid is needed) and making their generation the generation of a difference. I wish I had gotten involved at a much younger period in my life. Knowing now that whatever good I do, daily, is acknowledged with such tremendous gratitude by the people I serve,… well then, can any other thing that I have achieved in my “working for salary” career possibly top that ?? No, I don’t think so. Selam – Shalom – Peace. …/tom

  2. lauren permalink
    March 9, 2012 3:51 pm

    wow jean, you have really dug deep and given me a lot to think about. this is thesis material girlfriend-you should just go ahead and get your Phd in sustainable development. thanks for sharing!

    • March 10, 2012 9:43 pm

      Ha! Thanks, girl. Believe it or not, but that has been something I have thought of doing time and time again. 🙂 Thanks for reading. 🙂

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