He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision --
he cried out twice,
a cry that was no more than a breath --
"The horror! The horror!"
-- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
The new face of Africa: economies are starting to blossom; youth feeling confident about their future in a post-colonial world that is tipping in their direction.
But, you might miss all of this. Watching the news, as well as, NGO solicitations, we see far too many swollen bellies and pathetic faces with large eyes peering up at us and snot dripping out of little noses.
"For all that has changed," says James Ferguson in Global Shadows. "Africa continues to be described through a series of lacks and absences, failings and problems, plagues and catastrophes."
While the thought of helping these orphans and victims of war may make us feel powerful and virtuous, focusing on pity and pathology has not helped the Africans escape poverty. It has, instead kept them dependent on us. It is time to stop thinking of Africa as the "dark continent," the place where westerners (and our celebrity "icon-saints") find salvation healing the "horror."
Enough is enough.
Let's take the pity out of charity. Dispensing minimal disaster aid that keeps people barely alive, and educating their children in sub-standard schools, leaves them with nothing they can build on. What is gained by elevating the multitudes from starvation to destitution?
Instead, we need to have a vision of a brighter future, one that is based on a positive outlook about development and education.
"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why...
I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"
-- Robert Kennedy
We need to dream of things that never were, and ask why not? Why not envision Africans being the masters of their own destiny rather than being forever dependent on handouts from merciful westerners?
Why not dream of training forgotten children to be leaders by sending them to the very best schools and mentoring them with the intensity and love of parents?
That's what we do at L.E.A.D Uganda, an educational leadership program for children affected by AIDS, war, and poverty. We strive to be the organization that dreams of things that never were and does something about it.
We believe it is possible to end poverty in Africa by raising up today's generation of forgotten African children. The solutions to Africa's problems exist in the hearts and minds of the continent's neglected children (not on some Hollywood celeb's Twitter page). African youth will do the job if given the education and skills.
Our organization is dedicated to the next generation. You can see them on our website www.leaduganda.org. You will see images of hope, not despair. You will see the faces of brilliant children who have confidence in their future and the determination and character to make Africa prosperous and free. You will see the changing face of Africa.
L.E.A.D Uganda's children do not want your pity. They do not need charity. (Charity is patronizing and continues the "saint"/victim pathology. Visual: throwing a quarter at a beggar.) Africa's youth want your support as an active, equal partner, so they can transform their communities, their country, and their continent. It's time for us to stop looking backward and help Africa's youth to build a better future. The best way to do that is to train indigenous leaders.
"Why don't you go beyond being a charity.
This is not 'I'm feeling sorry for someone.'
People are still suffering.
It's like nothing is done.
Instead of giving me money because I'm poor;
give me your support because I am going to lead this country."
-- Ntege Paul, L.E.A.D Uganda student
In my next blog I will delve further into why charity-focused aid does not work. I will explore how our unconscious attitudes towards third world children and the way non-profits get funded contribute to making aid ineffective, and sometimes destructive.
In future blogs, I will look at approaches that help families escape poverty in the United States. Most importantly, I will share some of the things we have learned at L.E.A.D Uganda that help our children transform their lives and excel academically and socially.