Sunday, March 18, 2012


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 Dar es Salaam 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 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.


  1. A good read here this morning, Becks! I do think it is hard sometimes to know where to draw the line-which side to step on-when is enough enough... It is hard when a person is so removed from the reality of it all to know what really happens in the trenches. We see the best of the best and the worst of the worst and there is all that "middle stuff" that happens that leaves us clueless.

    It is easier sometimes to just throw the money at a project rather than to dig into the guts of it and demand to know how the money is being spent. It eases our consciences to think that we have "helped" someone without ever lifting a finger except to sign a check.

    I don't think I could do what you do-live there seeing all the injustices- knowing that there are some people that will NEVER be helped because there just isn't enough money, or time,or interest to save them. You are braver than I am.

    Bless you and I hope you have a wonderful Sunday. ps- I think the gang might have saved you a green beer or two from yesterday. Love to you- Diana

  2. Beautifully written and thought provoking Becky. I really enjoy reading these. Thank You. Will

  3. I don't know how or why, but every single time I read one of your blogs, I end up having your thoughts lean on my mind for days and days. I have a feeling this blog entry will be no different:)

    My biggest struggle with criticizing and pointing fingers at NGOs is that they are doing something, which most days is more than I can say. And then to think that people all around the world are out there waiting for us to wake up and start walking God's talk...I don't know...I guess I just have at least a little respect (if not a lot) for those people (NGO or not) that are out in the world trying to make it better in the best way they know how. I would love to hear more of your thoughts and notes from your meetings with various people in Africa. My biggest fear was going to Africa and then coming back and living life as usual. I think about the kiddos from Upendo and the stories you shared from your time volunteering at KIWAKUKI and everyone else around the world living in situations I can't even begin to understand, but thinking about it doesn't change anything. I want to do something! If you have any ideas or suggestions on ways to get involved, I would love to hear them sometime!

    Thanks again for sharing! I feel like all of your blogs give us just another glimpse at your heart! I love it!:) Thinking about you and praying for you all the time.

    Jenny Hunter