Yesterday I noticed some of my nephews were Facebooking a lot about Kony. I didn’t follow it up at the time, but heard on the radio this morning about it. It’s a YouTube video about the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and other countries, where the ringleader, Kony, forces children to join the army and then commit atrocities.
This YouTube video has ‘gone viral’ with milliions of people signing up for it. What children are forced into is ghastly, horrible, hellish: and whoever has done this to them deserves to face judgement.
Firstly, it appears the information contained in the video is well out of date by now. Secondly, a lot of people are already involved in rehabilitating the children concerned, so it is not as if this charity, called Invisible Children, is doing anything new.
It is very hard to argue against an organisation that wants to do good and to rescue children – but I have some serious misgivings about the way the whole subject has been handled, the slickness of the presentation, the way it makes everything look ‘black and white’, and the way it assumes that Ugandans can’t or are not doing anything themselves.
Because I’ve lived overseas I’ve seen at first hand the damage that can be done by people coming from the west, with the greatest good will, to try and ‘help’ another nation with serious problems. So much arises out of love and generosity. Trouble is, there isn’t always a great deal of wisdom. We saw a lot of this in Romania, with hundreds of people coming out to help the orphanage children, with no understanding of the language or the culture or the history and social context, or the emotional needs not only of the children but of their families and the staff who looked after them.
This attitude assumes that ‘we’ are like white knights, riding to the rescue of people who can’t help themselves. With that attitude come all sorts of other attitudes – for instance, the charity workers then get very upset if people don’t respond in the way they want them to. Huge areas of misunderstanding grow up. Not only this, but if we are always deciding what is best for other people – well, that’s very paternalistic, and in a way, it’s arrogant. What’s more, if we are always forking out to make a project work, then we create dependency in those receiving the money and the goods, and we send a message that we think they aren’t capable of taking responsibility.
We learned that the most important thing is to discover what the indigenous people are already doing – what is their vision, where is their energy and commitment? Would they like some support? And if so, we should also ask them, what sort of support? What resources do they already have?
If we take this attitude, we respect people’s dignity, their ability, their gifts and their values. We invest in them, instead of doing things for them. We treat them like adults and equals, instead of poor people needing us to tell them what to do.
I believe that we should as humankind show compassion to one another and if we are richer than someone else, then we are to share generously with them. But HOW we do it is critical, and for this we need much wisdom, a willingness to listen, and the ability to let go of our own egos in order to serve one another humbly.
So my plea is: don’t respond to the Invisible Children demand until you have read what a Ugandan thinks: http://projectdiaspora.org/2012/03/08/respect-my-agency-2012/
He is saying ‘No longer are we satisfied with the status quo. No longer will we look to the West and the East for a saviour to come. We here claim our political struggles as our own; our short comings as our own; our unrest as our own; our dissidence as our own; our broken infrastructure as our own; our diseases as our own; our uneducated as our own; our corruption as our own; our unfed children as our own.’