After a recent conversation with a friend about Mama Afrika’s policies concerning donations, I thought this might be a good time to talk about that subject. I am sure that some people wonder why on earth Mama spends time, energy and money on things like glitter glue or Black baby dolls. After all, Africa needs much more substantive things than that right?
Well, I’d like to invite you in to my thought process and then we can discuss your views if you’d like.
Number one: Imagination matters. I’m going to say something here that might be contrary to accepted wisdom; but scientists are dreamers. We’ve always had this image in our head of nerds with pocket protectors and very little social skills. I mean, that is the stereotype right? Men (we rarely imagine women, let’s be honest) who are not interested in art, music or fun… just solid science. No dreams, just numbers and theories.
How ridiculous an idea when you take the time to think about it. After all, what does science do? It pushes the envelope; it reaches out into the future, new ideas, new ways of seeing the world around us or at the very least, new ways of explaining it. Science is, by its very nature, exploratory and full of dreaming. Thus, scientists need to be dreamers.
Think back in history to those who discovered new worlds or new theories which are commonplace for us. They were all thought of as ahead of their time, some even as crazy.
So, it is in that spirit that I send art supplies to children in Africa. I want them to step out of the rigors of daily life and dream a little. Creativity might be sparked in their first art project or in seeing and working with a new art medium that takes their brain to a new place… only God knows where it might end.
Am I thinking forward to a child being a scientist or artist of the highest caliber? Not necessarily; but goodness knows it wouldn’t shock me! Africa is full of young minds, brilliant minds which are capable of all things. There is only a lack of opportunity and exposure which prevents them from being the next great minds of the future.
Number two: It provides a glimpse into the world as they see it. Just another small positive aspect of the art supplies that we’ve sent in the past is that children have been able to describe their lives, their surroundings in a different way than they are used to. A group of kids in Ghana made these pictures for me and it was something that brought tears to my eyes. They were so skilled at conveying their daily lives to me a world away. None of these children have lived the hardships like some have in Africa (child soldiers, child slaves, AIDS orphans, etc.). But, in seeing their creativity, I was brought back to a film I’d seen many years ago concerning child soldiers of the LRA in northern Uganda. When these kids were brought out of the field, they were given simple pencil and paper as a form of therapy. It helped them to explain what they’d lived without having to talk. I never forgot those images.
Now to address those dolls: Why only Black dolls?
Ironically, in most parts of Africa, (a land full of black faces), it is even more difficult to find a Black baby doll. This fact, leads me to Number Three: Color matters. Dolls teach us how to care for others. As little girls or boys, we feed them, bathe them, love them and they are sometimes the only friend in the room with us when we’re having a bad day. I find it important that young African children have access to a doll which looks like them, their village and their nation.
I am not a militant who thinks that all things black are automatically better than others. I am not a woman who is trying to isolate ethnic groups, tribes, or people of different skin colors. But, I think that anyone with an honest heart would have to admit that it is crazy to think that little Black children in Africa don’t have the choice to have dolls which resemble their mothers, their sisters and their grandmothers.
Number Four: Buy local when possible. I met with a woman last month who was going back to her village in Southeast Asia to donate items to a local school. She had taken months to raise money and items and was so excited to finally be going to donate them while on her family vacation. One thing struck me though, she didn’t buy local. When I asked which items she was sending, she mentioned items that could certainly have been found in the country that she was visiting. She could (and should) have taken the monies and purchased those items locally. In this way, her donation helped twice: the local merchants and the school children.
This is the final reason that I am sending the items that I’m sending: they can’t be purchased locally. I am always vigilant about asking our cooperatives (or other recipients of donations) what they need. It sounds elementary; but it is SO often overlooked. Which leads me to the final point, one which I tell my children often: Number Five: Help means doing what people need, not simply what you want to do.
As a rule, Mama donates funds to some small, local organizations (like Mbwira Ndumva) who know how to stretch a dollar into five. But at the end of the year, I take the greatest pleasure to send some things to Africa’s children. It is my prayer that these items will be able to spark imagination, create dreamers, and yes allow kids to just be kids: playing with their dolls.
If you would like to participate by donating $10, Mama will use it to buy another doll and Mama will cover the shipping! We have thus far, been sending dolls to hospitals, HIV-AIDS clinics and employment training centers so that they can be shared by children; thus increasing the impact. In some circumstances, dolls are given to individual girls who are suffering particularly difficult times (due to serious illness, orphans, etc.)
Lastly, I’d like to you keep in mind that the real and lasting way to improve the lives of African children and their families is through the support of ethical and fair trade. Jobs not only help women feed their families; but allow them to do so in a way that maintains their dignity (unlike hand-outs).
Happy New Year,