I'm from the We Are the World generation -- when I was a kid, watching all my favorite pop stars sing for Africa shaped my view of the world. Now the celebrity charity endorsement is a cliché, but in 1985 it sent chills down our spines. We are the World, Live Aid, Band Aid: millions of us came together to watch telethons, we bought singles, and we donated to Africa for the very first time (over $63 million from the single We Are the World alone).
Because of those efforts, the East African famine of the 1980's is "seared" into the minds of many Westerners, but what is happening right now in Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Djibouti might be worse, according to Nicholas Kristof. 12 million people in Africa are facing the worst drought in 60 years. Two rains have been missed, food is scarce, and people are becoming displaced, desperate to seek food. Aid groups are mobilized all over Eastern Africa and the UN has officially declared famine in Southern Somalia.
On NPR's The Takeaway, a BBC reporter described just one of the roughly 10,300 displaced hungry people crossing from Somalia into Kenya everyday: a woman who had just delivered a baby. She tied a cloth tightly around her waist so she didn't feel the hunger pangs quite so sharply. This woman and her baby, notes Kristof, "aren't getting the micronutrients they need and [it's likely the baby] will have a long term cognitive impairment." Food prices across the world are at record highs, making it more challenging than ever for aid organizations.
In the social media generation, a throng of celebs singing on stage about a problem far, far away won't cut it when most of us are concerned about the impact of high food prices on our own baskets. Bono understands that and that's why his organization, ONE, has sent a team of exceptional American women bloggers to Kenya. These women will use all the digital tools at their disposal to bring the conditions and the stories from African women to American screens. Hopefully, some of us will take a moment, and then take action.
Recently, the celebrity blogger Dooce covered a trip from Bangladesh. Many criticized her writing as reaching new heights of "poverty tourism" -- writing in the blog AidWatch, Bill Easterly states of this sort of coverage, "The real problem is [the] patronizing attitudes towards [the] beneficiaries -- that the poor are helpless victims and it is up to foreigners with superior expertise and funds to rescue them. Condescension ... is both offensive AND a sign of a counterproductive approach to development."
Visual media helps avoid condescension, and that is why I'm highly anticipating the photographer and writer Karen Walrond's photos from the ONE trip. From my perspective, bringing accomplished bloggers to the ground is no different than the New York Times' Kristof writing dispatches and trying to shake us out of our complacency (and god forbid, when he has a contest to bring a well-meaning student to journalist to Africa -- is that bad too?).
The bloggers will see women at work, and they'll send their millions of readers in America photos, tweets, posts and videos of what they see, in hopes that we in turn use our voices to advocate. In Lake Naivasha, Kenya the bloggers will visit a horticulture and daily sites run by small female farmers working with Feed the Future, meet with women undergoing pregnancy monitoring and birth attendants at the Lwak Nutritional Center, and more.
The power of the digital age is to make borders smaller. We saw it in Northern Africa. Surely the power of digital media lies not only in the trivial, the same way the power of the pop song was not just about selling singles.