I keep seeing the conversation swirl about "Kony 2012" and the public disintegration of its founder, and I can't help but be torn in my response.
Some thinkers I respect a great deal have come out strongly against nearly everything the Invisible Children organization has set out to do, while some of my most relentlessly committed social-activist friends keep cheering them on, as if bolstering every one of us who is involved -- perhaps loosely, perhaps wrong-headedly, perhaps ethno-centrically, but always idealistically -- in work for a better world.
Not for the first time since I got involved with Cura Orphanage, I wonder whether critics like those who chastise and even mock IC's efforts would say similar things about my work, were it more bold, more public. Instead of toiling away in my home office, sending missives off to the other side of the world via email before the paid work of my day begins, had I been creating a media campaign to bring awareness to the little corner of the world Cura village occupies, maybe I'd be the target of these criticisms, too.
Of course, I hope not.
There are marked differences between my work and the kind that critics disdainfully refer to as a type of ugly colonialism. But the differences are nuanced. The similarities between my work and theirs are easier to detect and compare.
I, too, work in Africa, inspired by visits there in my early adulthood.
I, too, had a white, privileged background, tucked away in a Southern California suburb.
I, too, capitalize now on the resources of my friends and acquaintances, asking them to join the cause that is so close to my heart.
But I can't let the potential for these comparisons to slow my work or, worse, allow fear of criticism cause me to choose complacent middle-class suburban life rather than risk a smackdown for the impertinence of trying to make a difference in lives a world away.
Indeed, had Cura Village not had advocates on this side of the globe, its leaders wouldn't have, only a week ago, presided over their own groundbreaking ceremony to launch construction of the community's first secondary school! Seeing this project come to fruition inspired teachers, clergy, politicians, farmers, entrepreneurs and parents alike -- but it wouldn't have happened without the resources and energy generated by a jarringly distant source.
Two years ago, it was a Hollywood premier for Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice that raised the funds to build this dream, and work since then has been led by Creative Visions Foundation folks like me, as well as leaders of other non-profits like One Kid, One World and Construction for Change. Many of us come from outside Kenya, but our resources have been integrated with the efforts in Cura's local community -- with those who do the daily development work of raising children and otherwise providing stewardship for their future success.
Can we all at least give the IC true-believers credit for attempting an even bolder version of this work and for risking the smackdown? Can we hope that something new and interesting is bound to come of what they've done?
It seems to me that they were moved by the same things that inspire all workers for social change; they know that, as Victoria Safford notes, "once you have glimpsed the world as it might be, as it ought to be, as it's going to be... , it is impossible to live anymore compliant and complacent in the world as it is." ("The Small Work in the Great Work").
They might also recognize themselves, as I do, in this verse from Adrienne Rich:
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.