I was streaming Minnesota Public Radio the other day and because my daytime is Minnesota’s nighttime, the BBC news was airing. A report segment was on the air that focused on how certain fraud in Haitian relief efforts is just now being discovered.
And this reminded me of something that I saw while waiting for my flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul in the Shirpol Airport in Amsterdam this past December. The waiting area we were sitting in had one television mounted to the wall and it keep playing this one particular commercial over and over.
Normally, I don’t even think I would have noticed; but since our giant U.S. television that we brought over from the States only broadcasts the Canal Plus satellite signal in black and white, any digitized color images I see these days really grab my eye.
It was a commercial for an aid organization (can not remember the name). The visual image was that of an orphaned African girl sleeping on the sidewalk and the message was, ‘please give and help children like her’.
What I kept thinking to myself and then what I finally said as I leaned over to the Frenchman was, “Huh. That African orphan looks pretty good.”
And she did. She was wearing a pretty, floral print dress which was spotless and she had the glow of health about her. Her cheeks were full, her hair was in braids and her eyes were bright. She didn’t look like a kid that had been sleeping on the streets and left to fend for herself. And if she was, in fact, a real African orphan, I was pretty impressed with her street survival skills.
Does that sound horrid? Perhaps. And maybe I’ve become a tad more ‘hardened’, shall we say, since I left the cozy cocoon of my homeland. Or maybe I’ve just gained a bit of wisdom.
I felt uncomfortable having this commercial loop over and over, again. But, I don’t think my discomfort was for the same reasons that many people living in rich countries would feel. I was annoyed and it was because it seemed like this advertisement was developed to play specifically to a certain set of people and to rouse a certain set of emotions. It felt manufactured.
Who was this charity mentioned in the commercial, exactly? Where were they located? And what EXACTLY were they going to do with all that cold, hard cash they were requesting to help the little girl in the flowered dress?
Mauritius is a very, small island and it’s technically part of the African continent, but many people here do not directly associate with being a part of Africa. In fact, some of the people I used to work with didn’t really care for it when Mauritius was mentioned as being a part of Africa.
Back in the days when I was slowly losing my mind as an ERP manager in Port Louis and trying to figure out a way to progress with our project, one member of one of my teams told me, “If you think this is bad, you should go manage a project in Rwanda. I was sent to work on a project there and it’s whoo…it’s just whoo….”
Mauritian pride. A lot has been accomplished here and the people should be proud. In only a few short decades, this nation has built itself up and continues to do so. And I’m truly honored to have been given the opportunity to have worked with the people I got to work with while living here.
It’s developed here, but it’s still emerging. Jobs, foreign investment and different industry sectors are continuing to grow. But, for being such a small and intimate place, there are still some very poor people living here.
Tucked into the nooks and crannies of the island or just outside of Port Louis, there are small villages of houses made from the sides of metal containers. There is no water. There is no electricity. And the Summertimes tour bus will not be bringing folks from the SSR airport close to any of them.
About a week or so after the Haiti earthquake, I had jaw-to-floor reaction when I read that Carnival cruise lines was going to make its scheduled port visit into Haiti. The picture seemed out of balance to me – an unstable island nation struck down by a devastating natural disaster mixed with half-drunk, Teva sandal wearing, sunburned people on vacation.
There would be people seeking enjoyment in the bottom of fruity, rum cocktails (and who doesn’t find fun at the bottom of a glass which was once filled with island rum?) and people, who hadn’t really slept in days, seeking to find clean water to drink. No, I just couldn’t really make it come into focus.
I actually got into a spirited debated about this with another American who told me that I was foolish to think it was wrong for the cruise ship to stop there because the ship was bringing pallets of supplies. He even sent me a link of some photos of one lone person in a tiny forklift bringing a half-full pallet of what appeared to be milk powder from the ship onto the island.
And thank goodness someone, who saw the ‘action shot potential’, was there with his or her camera ready.
Uh-huh. And the moment that photo was taken, I’m betting all the contents of that pallet were loaded into a truck and put into black market circulation or deposited directly into the forklift driver’s home.
Oh, how could I possibly think such things? The cruise ship was being helpful, he told me, they brought like 80 pallets of supplies. They were helping, not hindering.
Supply and demand, baby. If you already don’t have and then you suddenly can’t get and then a jolly ‘ol cruise ship without any supported logistical coordination comes your way, you volunteer to drive the forklift…even if you don’t know how.
Maybe Carnival cruise lines was working directly with the International Red Cross and the American military units that were there to try to carve out some sort of supply chain coordination. And maybe the guy on the forklift was actually one of the ship’s bartenders who just also happened to be certified in forklift operation.
I don’t know, but it’s yesterday’s news, isn’t it?
Now that the movie stars have all smiled brightly while gracefully picking up the telephones to help bring in some cash (publicist to movie star: “Look, you should do it. It will show you care.”), it’s time to discover that hey! some of those charities weren’t really charities at all.
There is no way on my god’s, your god’s, her goddesses’ green earth that I would ever just send cash to any organization that just sprang up over night, such as, the fraudulent charity in Spain which was mentioned in the BBC’s news story.
I mean, cash never goes out of style, does it? I say, research it out before giving so freely. It’s not like if you don’t give that very moment, your money won’t work the next day or the next week.
Ask some difficult questions and demand answers. How long has the charity been established? What are some of the organization’s documented completed projects? What’s its operating budget? How many people are involved? And what, specifically, will your money be used for?
And if I’m considered to be a cold-hearted skeptic because I want to know these things. Then, so be it. I’m not sleeping underneath the twinkling, fairy lights anymore.
In fact, I’ve never felt more awake.