Thursday, March 31, 2011

"But at least they're giving!!!!" Katie's head hurts........

I rant about celebrities a lot. I think our society gives them way too much status as it is and I'm sick of their attempts to pass as experts on world issues. Where does this sudden rant come from? Well, I posted a Guardian article this morning that discusses a failed attempt of Madonna's to build a school in Malawi. Apparently, she and the government failed to recognize little things like land rights and, well, consulting the people. Of course, I posted this on my Facebook with a few things celebrities need to do before rushing to support a cause, like consulting experts and learning about basic economics, politics, world history, etc. Immediately, I got a response about how at least they're giving and should we all inform ourselves so heavily before we give to charity? Not to mention, why should we tell other people what they do with their money?

Granted, I believe all citizens should be informed about work that their charities do. I believe they should think carefully before entering into commitments like child sponsorship (which can lead to divided communities, due to preference of one child over another). I believe our education fails us when it comes to a basic understanding of geography, history and cultures from anywhere but the West. Our culture also holds suspicion for the elite, which includes experts on things like politics, economics, etc. However, we do place high status on celebrities and that's where the problem lies.

You see, most of our celebrities are famous for things like sports, acting, singing, dancing, or simply being born into wealthy families and doing stupid things. Whether or not they're even good at their crafts is debatable but they are good at getting attention. Of course, would I rather them shining the spotlight on poverty than on their own lascivious adventures? Absolutely. The problem I have is that, because of their status, people consider them the experts on issues of poverty and development. So they'll support things like HIV/AIDS treatment because it's sexy. Now, HIV/AIDS treatment is needed but not as much as prevention or treatment for things like diarrhea or pneumonia, which kills more children under the age of five than HIV/AIDS. However, no one's supporting that because it's not sexy. It's not in. No one reports on it so no one really knows about it anyway. Or, they'll do what Madonna did and build schools without consulting the people, which is a problem because it involves issues like land rights and property rights, which are already tenuous. Or, they'll adopt kids who actually have parents but make the argument that they can provide better, never mind that this encourages people to try and give their kid to any seemingly wealthy foreigner, which can open the door to evils such as human trafficking. Not to mention that there are hundreds of thousands of American children who age out of foster care and don't experience a loving home because adopting older American children of color or with special needs just isn't sexy.

These people and their decisions have a huge sway on a populace that may have good hearts but still are uninformed. People may say, "But this organization FEEDS people!" without realizing that it's killing local farmers because they can't compete with free food. "But this organization sponsors children who need our help!" Yes-if that child is lucky enough to be sponsored. What about organizations that offer services to people, but at a small price (enough for people making under $1 a day), so that they value the service and the organization sustains itself? Nope-not fair, all aid should be free. What about organizations that help people start small businesses? Becoming more mainstream-but not as sexy as starving kids!!! "But Angelina/Bono/etc have BEEN to Africa!!!!" OK, first, where in Africa because each country's different. Second, they go on short trips and go back home. I lived in Kenya, one out of fifty-four countries, for one semester and I STILL feel like I don't know anything.

If ending poverty is truly your fight, it requires intensive study and, at the very least, a lot of self education. It requires extensive work with communities who are finding ways to address their own ills but may need/want backup/someone to truly learn and understand what issues are at play. It requires a life of challenging the status quo, of making sure that the people who deal the cards deal fair hands and give people the tools to play them well. It requires strength to commit to a lifelong battle. Poverty can't be solved with a pretty face and a check going who knows where. It requires generations committed to fighting for a better world and it requires everyone.

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