Your Take: Where Are the Black Humanitarians?
The "do-it-yourself foreign aid" movement is an exciting opportunity for young people to bring help directly to children in poor countries. Why are so few of us involved?
Last month, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an article, "The D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution," that detailed the recent phenomenon of well-educated, highly qualified young people deviating from the path to being vice presidents and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to become foreign-orphanage operators and international-aid volunteers.
All of the women highlighted in the article were white. In fact, all of the articles I have read on this topic have featured young white people. As I meditated on this fact, I revisited a conversation I had months earlier with a man at a barbershop. After I told him about the organization I had founded, Bookbags With the Basics -- whose goal is to promote education as a natural human right and to raise awareness of the effect that poverty has on education -- he mentioned that he didn't see many of "us" involved with things "like this."
I, too, wonder: Why are so few young African Americans leading global humanitarian efforts? Perhaps it is because we are focused on our own domestic issues. According to new census data, in 2009 the poverty rate for African Americans reached 25.8 percent, with the poverty rate for black children nearly 10 percentage points higher than that. Our mind-set so often is that we have our own problems -- violence, education, health care and so on -- to worry about. Maybe our focus is on uplifting blacks living in the U.S. because we feel that we don't have the capacity to "do it all."
Learning to Think -- and Act -- Globally
I will be the first to admit that I, too, felt this way until my freshman year at the University of Georgia. During the fall of that first year, I attended the screening of a movie called Invisible Children, about the war in Sudan. I cried for hours after watching a film that depicted the painful reality of young boys doing homework by candlelight with one piece of paper and one pencil -- an environment that clearly was not conducive to learning.
I received more exposure to global poverty and education issues while studying abroad in Belize. As a one-day volunteer at an elementary school in a small Mayan village, I bandaged a small child's bleeding foot. His family could not afford shoes for him, let alone a one-subject spiral notebook that cost more than $2. He didn't have any school supplies of his own and would be able to take notes only if his school, which was supported by sporadic private donations, could afford to purchase supplies for him.
Most recently, a fellow volunteer told me that the average person in Uganda lives on $358 a year. She also pointed out that when the organization she works with takes food and toiletries to Uganda, the one thing families ask for is school supplies so that their child can learn. These people understand the power of an education and how it can greatly improve their situation.
There are countless debates about the ability, or lack thereof, of governments and the United Nations to help children in countries like these, and why aid isn't getting to those who need it. What is indisputable is that we can do something, albeit small and temporary, to make the lives of these children a little easier.
It's the Little Things That Count
When you ask impoverished children what they want in life, you won't hear anything about money, cars or clothes. They simply want food to eat. They want somewhere to sleep without fear of being abducted. They want an education. They want school supplies. Surely we can put our own issues aside long enough to donate a little of what we have to help someone else.