Friday, January 5, 2007

Then What?

Oprah Winfrey's bringing hope to South Africa. She's spending a good chunk of change to start an all-girls school in South Africa for the best and brightest girls with potential. And she means it; only 4% of those who apply will be allowed to attend.

I'm not a big Oprah fan by any stretch of the imagination, but even I have to give her a tip of the hat for her actions. But I do have one tiny concern. Then what?

What about the other 96% of the girls who didn't make the cut? What about 100% of the African boys? What happens after the 4% graduate from the school? Nobody talks about any of that.

Then again, Oprah's not the only ones. In recent years, we've seen some pretty heavy hitters start going to and talking about Africa. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and now Oprah. And before them, we had Band Aid and USA For Africa. And yet, nothing seems to be improving in Africa.

I think it revolves around how the world sees Africa. For centuries, we've treated Africa like that weird cousin we only see at Christmas and at family reunions: we acknowledge they exist, but try not to spend that much time thinking about them. This is a shame because we are not doing Africa any favors by keeping the people at arm's length, or more appropriately, at ocean's length.

Part of the reason we keep our distance is because we don't understand Africa. Most of the continent is primative by modern standards (meaning they don't know who Paris Hilton is), and we're not in any hurry to get ourselves up to speed. It's this lack of understanding that leads to many of the short-sighted attempts to help in Africa, like the ones I referenced earlier. What winds up happening is we do all the legwork to get food or money to Africa...and we don't follow through to make sure the food and money gets to the needy. We keep doing just enough to give ourselves warm fuzzies, but not enough to improve the situation.

At some point, we're going to have to do more than give Africa a passing glance every couple of decades. Look at the various problems they deal with on a daily basis. Drought. Hunger. Poverty. The spread of AIDS. War between tribes. The laundry list goes on and on. Addressing even one of them is going to take a lot of work, let alone addressing all of them. But we have to start sometime.

And if Oprah is the one who starts it, more power to her.

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