Recently I sponsored a friend’s independent journalism project on Beacon. She’s interested in traveling to West Africa to report on Ebola, titling her appeals “After Ebola Comes Hunger.” She’s lived in Ghana before, and, like many westerners who travel to the region, she apparently left a bit of her heart behind. I’ve heard from many the same story of coming back to the States and being overwhelmed to distraction by Western culture in the face of firsthand knowledge of lives lived so close to the earth.
In one of her first pieces on the project, she mentions Band Aid, the 30 year old organization that periodically gathers together groups of pop stars to record a song to sell with proceeds benefitting “Africa.” Two weeks ago they released yet another new version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” modified for the current Ebola crisis. The cultural capital seems bigger in Britain than it is here in the US, with this year’s recording being made in London and featuring a Who’s Who of Britain’s Pop Talent, complete with Bono and Harry Stiles.
Of course I had not heard of the most recent Band Aid project until I read about it amongst my decidedly non-commercial friend’s reports. In her piece, she uses the new recording as a vehicle to discuss her own role in Ghana as a “money tree,” or, one that I prefer, a coinage of local folks working to help local folks there for the long haul, a “voluntourist.” I like the way my friend discusses the issue without much judgment.
I was talking to another friend this morning about Ben and Jerry’s, the generally benevolent Vermont ice cream people. She knows someone who read a book about them wherein they talk about not giving up the good in order to chase the perfect. It’s relevant because so many people get horrible press when they do things like raise money for a culture they don’t belong to. They get criticized for ignorantly wandering into a problem with limited interest and dedication to solving anything. I have to imagine fly-by once-every-few-years Band Aid recordings must be viewed as amongst the worst by these armchair sociologists who make it their work to criticize the well-meaning efforts of others.
I strongly prefer my friend’s take – she’s fully aware of the way she delves into “Africa” for a time, doing what she can, bringing a measure of awareness to the rest of us who haven’t even been motivated to do that much.
So while I’m inclined to point out that worrying about whether a culture cares or knows that it’s Christmas at all is a little beside the point of anything that matters, I’m happy that these folks at least took half a day to show up and make a song to help others. All I’ve really done for “Africa” lately is support my friend’s journalism project. Harry Stiles is way ahead of me, and I daresay he’s out in front of a good chunk of those finger-waggers as well.
Thanks for reading,