I’ve been thinking a lot about controversy lately. Controversial actions usually attract a lot of attention. Media outlets go head to head, experts debate in Congress, professors engage students in lively discussions, and everyone, everywhere, takes a side. Often, in humanitarian and development circles, controversy is unavoidable.
I’ve been in
for the past week and have had plenty of access to media and the latest news. The film Kony 2012 was released by Invisible Children last week. The outpouring of support literally shut down several Invisible Children websites. Outrage over the alleged misuse of funds by Invisible Children also flooded message boards, blogs and Facebook pages. I went to see the movie, Machine Gun Preacher a couple of days ago here in Dar. It is based on the true story of Sam Childers, an ex-criminal, who makes it his own personal mission to help children whose families had been brutally destroyed by the LRA in Dar es Salaam South Sudan. He saves thousands of children from the horrors of war in South Sudan. In the process, he literally takes up arms and fights back against the LRA. The movie ends with the real Sam Childers saying during the credits, “If a madman abducted your child and I said I could bring them home, does it matter how I do it?” Controversial question? I’d say so.
On a smaller scale, I’ve had the opportunity to both talk and work with dozens of development workers, researchers and NGOs while I have been abroad. Some of these people have literally given up their own lives in order to improve the lives of others. Unfortunately, a lot of the talk in development circles is focused on what everyone else is doing wrong. Invisible Children is too late. Sam Childers was too violent. World Vision spends too much in overhead. Angelina Jolie is just trying to boost her image. Yes. Sometimes we have to look at what is done wrong in order to figure out how to do something right. Sadly, most of what I am seeing here on the ground, in academia and in the media, is just a lot of finger pointing.
When the media places blame, it’s more understandable. They’re creating hype, developing a headline story. But, when one NGO points the finger at another, well – I’ll just say it like it is: I think it’s appalling. From an outsider’s perspective, it just looks like one NGO trashing another in order to attract a new donor’s dollar. I’m not the expert, but I do know that just about every NGO out there is trying to right a wrong, win a fight, better a life, support someone in need. And not a single NGO out there gets it all right. Not one. Sometimes we spend too much in overhead and other times we skimp in the name of saving a penny, but serve one less because of it. In some cases we act on emotion, ignoring some of the consequences, but in other cases we sit in a board room, weighing decisions while motherless children sit in mud homes crying for help.
I’m not saying every action, by every NGO out there, is justifiable. And I’m not validating seemingly corrupt actions one way or the way. All I’m saying is that sometimes children are fed, wells are dug, schools are built and lives are saved despite our humanness. Do the ends justify the means? I don’t know.
What I do know is that fighting each other isn’t helping anything. So why don’t we stop calling each other out publicly? Pick up the phone and offer up your expertise. The blame game isn’t making Invisible Children look bad. It’s not making World Vision or Sam Childers look bad. It’s making the nonprofit sector look bad.