When my son Drew was 8 years-old, a visitor to our church spoke about Compassion International, an organization aimed at matching donors with young people from disadvantaged parts of the world.
Drew was so affected by the stories, he begged his father and I to let him "adopt" one of the youngsters.
"I'll give up my allowance if we can do this," he begged with youthful passion.
Fast-forward 10 years, and Drew and Frankline, the Kenyan boy two years younger than he, are still a pair. He still supports Frankline with monthly checks.They correspond a few times a year and my son loves knowing that he's helping someone across the world have a better life.
I saw traces of that 8-year-old Drew Sunday evening as I was trying to wrap up weekend jobs and head to bed. He'd just been to his church youth group where they watched and discussed "Kony 2012" a 30-mintue YouTube sensation aimed at shining a light on the abuses committed by the Lord's Resistance Army in central Africa. The capture of notorious African warlord and leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, is the aim of the group Invisible Children, which put out the video.
"You need to do a story about this Mom," he said. "Everyone needs to know what's happening, and we need to pressure the US government to do more to end the tortures, murders and rapes."
I explained that the Daily Reporter is really a locally-focused newspaper, and that this type of movement is a national one. Perhaps a column could address the issue.
"That would be great, some people read your columns," he replied, oblivious to the backhanded compliment.
I did a little research. I read about actions already being taken, behind the scenes, by the U.S. - covert military actions that don't really need or want a lot of attention.
Then I searched my own heart and my feelings about the U.S. as a "Big Brother" state, and I wanted to hear from Africans, those with an immediate stake in the game. What did they think about this movement? What kind of help do they really need, really want? Is Invisible Children being presumptive? Heavy-handed? Smart stewards of donations?
I also thought about grassroots efforts, great organizations such as "Love Takes Root," and "Hope in Haiti." I reflected on the things we do locally to help those in our backyard.
So Drew, here is that column you requested. I don't know if its message is exactly what you were after.
Emotional appeals, such as "KONY 2012" are effective in that they create interest in, and shine a light on, real issues in our world. Unfortunately, a 30-minute video, put out by a single organization, isn't the best way to learn about a problem, or decide to throw support behind an issue.
Ethiopian writer and activist Solome Lemma, raises concerns about the promotional videos created by Invisible Children, and urges cautious reflection when thinking about human rights aid in Africa. The following is her piece, from the website unmuted. It's good advice for all of us, in considering all appeals.
"Before you give, think! Seven steps for critical reflection whatever my feelings towards Invisible Children's work in Uganda, I can't deny the remarkable splash the organization has made with "Kony 2012," its recent awareness-raising video. The numbers say it all: it was viewed by over 55 million people worldwide and raised $5 million in just two days. And why was it a huge hit? One of the main reasons is the emotional effect it had on viewers. We are often faced with information that pulls at our heartstrings and compels us to act for causes (RED campaign, Horn of Africa drought/famine, Darfur) that are bigger than and far from us. After reading such materials or viewing videos, our emotions often drive an immediate urge to act, to do something NOW! These emotions should fuel our passion, BUT critical thought and reflection should drive our action. Here is a short guide to processing that information in a meaningful and effective way, so that the emotional, financial, physical, and intellectual energy you expend in caring is well worth the effort. This process can take as little or much time as you need.
1. View the video, article, picture...etc
2. Walk away. Breathe. Whether it moved you in a good or adverse way, breathe. Briefly ask: "Why am I emotional/what exactly am I reacting to?" Hold on to those emotions and give yourself time to turn them into strategic and thoughtful curiosity, information gathering, and the most important one, action.
3. While still holding on to the inspiration of your emotions, ask yourself some questions:
What did I learn?
What did I NOT learn?
Who spoke? Who did NOT speak? What was missing?
What information have I gathered? Are there issues or pieces of information that I need to have a complete picture?
4. Turn your questions into key terms and search away. Remember to express gratitude to technology for bringing information to your finger-tips.
5. Process the new and additional information. Then ask more questions:
Now that I have a better picture, what can I do?
Who do I need to talk to?
What's the right role for me? Why me?
What will be my contribution or value add?
6. And Action. Once you've answered those questions, go on ahead and be a change seeker and maker.
7. Repeat process for all issues, calls, and campaigns."