Do They Know it’s Christmas? (Learning from Bob Geldolf’s mistakes)

MDG : Africa Stop Ebola song : iken Jah Fakoly and Salif Keita working in studio

Over the last week my Facebook feed has featured a number of articles criticising the most recent “Band-Aid 30” version of “Do the know it’s Christmas?”.  The criticisms have hit on a number of faults including inaccuracy of lyrics (ie. there will be plenty of water and snow in Africa this Christmas) as well as inciting African nationals who have received it as patronising and a perpetuation of negative stereotypes of Africa.

For me one of the most significant criticism is that it undermines the efforts of native African singers who have already produced a song to raise funds for the same purpose: Africa Stop Ebola – Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare and others.  Geldolf and others involved in Band Aid could have used their influence to promote this song and see funds flowing back into Africa in two ways!

Seeing this once again got me thinking about the nature of aid and community work both internationally and locally.  Especially as we come up to Christmas time!  Christmas is a time when charities are often struggling to find room for all the good-willed people wanting to help and to off load their well-meaning goods (which charities need all year long but for which Christmas often provides a flood for the struggling resource drought throughout the rest of the year)

The good news is that we can learn from Bob’s mistakes:

  1. We can learn that when our efforts to provide charity undermine (by their timing, volume or nature) the capacity or willingness of individuals or communities to respond to crisis themselves then we are doing more harm than good.
  2. We can learn that both in Australia and internationally the best recovery and development projects come from the communities themselves.  And we can learn to support communities in this work- economically, by facilitation and through advocacy.
  3. We can learn to watch our language!  Language that evokes pity, stereotypes and labels is not helpful.  It dis-empowers, undermines accountability and creates a self-fullfilling prophecy (as most communities live up to their reputations)- my favourite article on this is called “Aiding is Abetting”.

So as Christmas approaches I’m asking you to write these rules on your heart.

And if I might- suggesting a few little ways of doing it differently:

  1. Why not, instead of volunteering in a Soup Kitchen this Christmas, befriend someone who is struggling and have a meal together in which you all contribute in some way?
  2. Instead of packing a box of toys made in sweatshops in Asia and sending it to a struggling economy in Africa why not purchase something made by an African women’s co-operative as a gift for a loved one thereby helping that mother buy her own gift for her child this Christmas.
  3. Build a strong community- get to know your neighbours.  Resilient communities are the best poverty fighting tool we have.

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