According to this article, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie made their first huge donation to charity of the new year. They have donated $2 million to a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia (by the way, dear journalist, it's Namibia, not Nambia). This sanctuary takes care of injured animals and protects threatened species. A heartwarming cause, right?
I've never rolled my eyes so much in my entire life.
Look, I don't know the hearts of Ms. Jolie and Mr. Pitt. However, there are a couple things that irk me. First, this so called Namibian sanctuary is not even run by local people. While that doesn't automatically make it a bad organization and I've known several that have the goal of transitioning to local management, I have also known several organizations that ARE run locally, do amazing, sustainable work and don't even get half of the recognition of an organization run by white people. I worked with a wonderful organization that helped over 200 young people get trained in computers in the slums and learn how to manage their own businesses despite odds of lack of education and insecure property rights while also founding a medical clinic. They get NONE of the recognition as an organization that also happens to run a luxury guest house (as seen here). While Naankuse may be a good organization, all I'm seeing currently is an excuse for white tourists to do a small act of good while living in style. I'm not seeing a true impact.
Second, it seems that issues are only worth mentioning if they've got a pretty celebrity on the cover. Never mind that local people working on these issues may know a little more than Ms. Jolie does (considering she gets to fly home in luxury the next day), never mind that there are so many complexities to the issues of poverty and oppression, never mind that money isn't everything, as long as Angie's looking pretty and holding a cute African baby, the world is saved. While I know celebrities can at least shine a light on certain situations that would have been ignored (and, I'll admit, my pull to Africa started with a U2 obsession), there is a reason they are actors and entertainers, not development economists or environmental experts. It is a sad day when they get more recognition than those struggling and fighting to improve their countries and their situations.
If you really want to help, give your money to organizations that aid people to stand on their own but may not get that kind of recognition. The Acumen Fund allows people to invest in entrepreneurs in developing nations (examples: those selling malaria bed nets, thus creating a sustainable livelihood while also combating a major infectious disease). Global Giving allows others to give to local projects that may not have received attention (including a few projects by Seed of Hope, an externship site for one of my Kenya mates). Amani ya Juu is a business that creates amazing jewelry and products for people all over the world, products created by refugee women who are currently picking up their lives and making a living, thanks to this business. Finally, I must put in a good word for Alta'awon Youth Trust, a Kenyan organization that helps youth in the slums gain access to technology and entrepreneurship training, thus building their own livelihoods and gaining a leg to stand on (contact me for more info).
So, what's my consensus? Celebrities, to their credit, help make us aware. However, beware of what they endorse, lest it sound as glitzy as themselves. As mentioned, celebrities are only experts of their own craft (and sometimes, that's debatable). They also are extremely disconnected from the developing world and have the ability to escape from it (in their designer clothes and private jets) any time they want. What about those who stay behind? When will it be time to give them THEIR voice?