Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Vivian Chow and Sammi Cheng save Africa

A quick detour from our usual fare of celebrity fluff:

Vivian Chow has long been committed to World Vision and its child sponsorship program, having raised funds and given concerts or them over the past 10 years. She and Sammi Cheng flew out to East Africa recently to bring some publicity to the death by starvation and faced by children there. World Vision is a powerful force among aid organizations in the United States where it raises a lot of money using images like these:

In the U.S. and the UK this is called poverty porn--Vivian and Sammi would be replaced with the appropriate actresses and singers, still surrounded by not-quite starving Somali or Kenyan kids, rescued by the "whites in shining armor". Image of white western aid workers flying in to save starving African children are the norm with black Africans as victims and white foreigners as their saviors. World Vision is using the same images as western aid, only these are Asians as the savior instead of Americans or Europeans.

Owen Barder, a long time aid worker, manager and much respected commentator discusses of the World Vision tactic of "adopting" a child in an impoverished land and how it is pernicious although seemingly necessary in his blog:
[A] broader problem, with the citizens of rich countries who seem to be unwilling to sacrifice a tiny part of their income to help a fellow human being unless they feel some sort of personal connection with the recipient. This is charity of a Dickensien sort: not a system of social justice and protection, but throwing some coins to a beggar in the street and expecting to be lavishly thanked.

World Vision or its supporters including Sammi Cheng and Vivian Chow aren't the problem, of course--but they aren't the solution either. World Vision raises money in Hong Kong; they would like to have their donors "sponsor" children in the PRC by sending World Vision $35.00 per month per child but those who make such decisions in Beijing aren't interested. One reason may be that World Vision is a very Christian humanitarian organization; another that China's image would be harmed if seen as being dependent on aid from foreigners; a third that the People's Republic has a very well defined and generally well executed strategy of tying aid to poor countries with Chinese investments in those countries. A good review of the politics and economics of this is The Dragon's Gift by Deborah Brautigam.

Images from Yahoo China. World Vision website. More cogent thoughts on all this from Texas in Africa, Good Intentions are not enough and Jason Stearns who asks if we really need white people to save Africa.

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