Charity is a good thing. Well, at least it usually begins with good intentions. Since we have come to Africa, we have seen many examples of feel-good charitable acts gone wrong. We believe there is a simple solution to this, but we will get to that at the end of this post.
Let's begin with an example. As a way for the centre to help sustain itself with some income, they have invested in rearing rabbits. I think the initial idea was to sell them to restaurants, but as far as I know that has never happened. Instead, the boys spend countless hours every day walking to the fields to cut grass. Then, they haul it all the way back to feed the rabbits. There are hundreds of these animals, so they eat a huge amount of grass. Every single day, at any given moment, there is an unfortunate group of boys either fetching grass, feeding it to the rabbits or tending to their filthy cages (cleaning rabbit excrement and throwing dead rabbits into the pond where the fish feast on the carcasses). The fish are part of an equally brilliant money-making scheme, but that's another story.
Many of our planned activities with the boys have been delayed due to the ridiculous rabbit chores, so we hope to find some way to get rid of the little buggers before we depart in August. If we do, the boys may just erect a statue to honor us, the great liberators of rabbit-chore slavery.
We have found that the weekends are the best time to be at the center. The boys are all around and happy to not have to walk miles to school. We also noticed that they often have nothing to do, because most of the staff are at home, and anything fun is locked away. Because of these reasons, we have decided to shift our focus to the weekends. Anything we roll up our sleeves to get involved in isn't interrupted, and this makes for a more relaxed atmosphere and happier boys. Playing football, dancing and just hanging out seems to happen naturally on the weekends.
This weekend we finished the library! On Monday morning the doors finally open, and we will be initiating the boys in groups of 12. The space is decorated and ready to go, including a new sign painted by Rene and piles of board games.
There was a huge surprise for the boys on Saturday. A container of donations that has been sitting in customs for months was finally cleared due to the hard work of a seasoned volunteer Paul and his colleagues from the UK. They went to customs in person to sort it out. Jean-Baptiste brought the goods in several truck loads, but this time we were relieved to find all the items were well-organized and labeled. The storeroom remains in order!
Included in the shipment were several crates of gift boxes for the boys. Each was marked by age group, which made handing them out a snap. The boys were still running around like madmen, bursting with joy and showing off their new toys and trinkets when we left, well after dark. This was definitely a charitable act gone right.
Back to charitable acts gone wrong. One thing that was bothering me before coming here was the way some creative Africa-based projects have been carried out. I won't point any specific fingers, but I think it is important to address this as a general topic. Again, these projects begin with the best intentions, but I don't think they do much good in the long run. For example, funding is raised for a film or a music video project. A crew with high-tech equipment and possibly a celebrity are flown to various locations in Africa, never staying in one spot for more than a few days. They take beautiful shots, teach various workshops, meet with different villagers, etc. and then fly back to their respective countries to put together the film or music video. During the project, it is all smiles and feel-good moments, but once the crew leaves, the connections to the communities they touched are completely severed. The people who have been filmed never even see the final product, let alone benefit from it in any way. Back in their Western countries, these films may raise awareness about communities in need, but a huge opportunity to help directly has been missed. Right, Dariya?
What is the solution? We believe it is quite simple. Go small, go yourself, stay in one spot and get involved. If you are there in person (or donate to an individual or small project with little overhead that you can trust is there in person), you get to know individuals and become a part of their community. Then, not only can you see where the help is really needed AND deserved, but you can make sure that donations (whether physical or monetary) are relevant and end up in the right hands. If Paul and his collaborators had not come in person, a huge shipping container filled with literally tons of donations could have just sat in customs, or maybe been sold off, or who knows? The point is, you don't know for sure unless you are here. A film project that helped inspire us to make this trip, and we believe had a positive and lasting influence on the lives of the Africans it involved is Staff Benda Bilili. See the film, buy the music and get inspired.
In that spirit, Willy Mutabazi and I have been hanging out with and filming the hip hop group Time Boyz. The group consists of three young men, all of whom are former children of the street and now live at Les Enfants de Dieu. Their message is positive, and their music urges other street children to hold their heads up and change their lives. We screened the final video for the boys and staff. Dariya's mother was very proud (top row, center).
It is with great pride that I bring you the world premiere of their new music video, "agahinda k,unwary"... Oh wait, we're in Africa, and the video has been uploading for the past 3 days. It should be finished by tonight though, and our American agent Stef is standing by to put it on Vimeo once it's finished. I will add the video to this post (and on Facebook), as soon as it is ready, so stay tuned for the freshness.