Africa for Norway: raising money in Africa to help poor Norwegians struggle through winter

Who says Africa can’t contribute to us in the cold north?  The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund – an aid agency in Norway  (www.saih.no) – has made a video in cooperation with South African students which turnes the tables and question about solidarity and power relations concerning third world development organizations are put in a different light.

The common stereotypical negative picture of Africa is one that the students are challenging by producing a fictional Christmas appeal video that portrays Norway as a bitterly cold country full of freezing people in need. And it’s Africans who are rushing to their aid.  “It’s kind of just as bad as poverty if you ask me… Frostbite kills too” says one of the musicians.

The people behind the Radi-Aid project try to make us look at these questions from another perspective:

The comments on YouTube are also revealing and illustrates well the everyday problems and questions solidarity organizations face:

“How do we know the radiators will go to the people who need them and wont all end up heating the Norwegian King’s palace?” Or “Radiators are only a band-aid”. These are just the kind of questions we got at Emmaus when I worked there.

“Norwegians must learn to keep themselves warm. We must educate them” is a commont which also turns the table around and has traditionally been the condescending attitude of many aid workers when they go to Africa to “assist” people in need. Often, without asking local people what kind of aid or support they need, aid workers stumble in to “help the poor”.

“If we say Africa, what do you think about? Hunger, poverty, crime or AIDS? No wonder, because in fundraising campaigns and media that’s mainly what you hear about”, says a student in the film.

The pictures we usually see in fundraisers pictures are of poor African children. Hunger and poverty is ugly, and it calls for action. But while these images can engage people in the short term, we are concerned that many people simply give up because it seems like nothing is getting better. Africa should not just be something that people either give to, or give up on.

The truth is that there are many positive developments in African countries, and we want these to become known. We need to change the simplistic explanations of problems in Africa. We need to educate ourselves on the complex issues and get more focus on how western countries have a negative impact on Africa’s development. If we want to address the problems the world is facing we need to do it based on knowledge and respect (Radi-Aid web).

The points they want to make by showing this video are well summoned up in four points:

Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
Most of us just get tired if all we see is sad pictures of what is happening in the world, instead of real changes.

We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.
We want to see more nuances. We want to know about positive developments in Africa and developing countries, not only about crises, poverty and AIDS. We need more attention on how western countries have a negative impact on developing countries.

Media: Show respect.
Media should become more ethical in their reporting. Would you print a photo of a starving white baby without permission? The same rules must apply when journalists are covering the rest of the world as it does when they are in their home country.

Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.
Aid is just one part of a bigger picture; we must have cooperation and investments, and change other structures that hold back development in poorer countries. Aid is not the only answer.

An interesting BBC video clip concerning the Radi-Aid initiative with an interview with among others Eric Evens from SAIH and historian Augustus Casely-Hayford who says he has not laughed so much in a long time and points out that laughing about these stereotypes and serious questions is important.

Mother Teresa, who was a clever women (even though I don’t approve of her mission work in India), would have supported the ideas behind the video. She sent her “brothers” to the Nordic courtiers since she believed that we in the West were a poor spiritually even if most of us had enough bred on the table.

When many 1000s of Finns started to knit quilt squares from leftover yarn to make wool blankets to send to Mother Teresa’s sisters in India – a suggestion from Mother Teresa herself since a blanket is a great a comfort for people sleeping on the streets to keep warm (yes even in India one has to keep warm at night if one sleeps on the street) and often the only possession they have – some people suggested that Mother Therese took the blankets herself. When I once was giving a talk about these quilts to a group of women who had knitted squares and made them into quilts I was told the same kind of story. A women in that group had tried to get the other knitters in the group convinced to hold an auction instead of sending them to India and use the money for something else because “a friend of hers had indeed visited India and seen that the blankets ended up in rich people’s (king’s) homes.”

An interesting BBC videoclip concerning the Radi-Aid initiative:

Mother Teresa was a clever women (even though I don’t approve of her mission work) and would have supported the ideas behind the video.

She sent her “brothers” to Nordic coutries since she believed that we in the west were a poor spiritually.

When many 1000s of Finns started to knit quilt squares to make wool blankets to send to Mother Teresa’s sisters in India – a suggestion from Mother Teresa since a blanket is a great a comfort for people sleeping on the streets to keep warm – yes even in India one has to keep warm at night if one sleeps on the street – some people suggested that Mother Therese took the blankets herself. When I once was giving a talk about these quilts to a group of women who knitted them I found out that a women in the group had tried to get the other knitters in the group to decide to hold an auction instead and use the money for something else since “a friend of hers” had indeed visited India and seen that the blankets ended up in rich people’s (king’s) homes.

I agree with the folks behind the video that we need to understand that we in the West not always are the giving part – as in any healthy relation both parts give and both parts reciev and we certainly need a more nuanced, fair and democratic debate about these complex questions. “Imagine if every person in Africa saw the ‘Africa for Norway’ video and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?” a person in the video says. I have to say that I do sometimes get questions like these when travelling in other countries – a classic is related to this video “are there polar bears running around on your streets” which again can turn the table around: What do Africans hear and know about the Nordic countries? Yes that it is cold here…and probably very often that WE help THEM.

Collecting radiators –
Shipping them over there –
Spread some warmth –
Spread some smiles –
Say yes to Radi-Aid.

Breezy Vee, spokesperson Radi-Aid

2 comments

  1. This is hilarious but true, in Botswana an African village was “blessed” by having water piped to the village so the women would not have to walk the long distance to the river to do their washing and get water. At first they were delighted, then trouble started, arguments between the women flared up and they starting accusing the men of lying around the house being lazy. Then the men started fighting as they were unhappy at home and working out their anger. Things were going from bad to worse until they decided to consult with the village elders. The elders said – everyone was happy until the water came. “Lets not use the water anymore and go back to the old way”. Despite the protests of the aid organisation who had spent a huge amount getting the water to the village, the next day the women headed out, baskets on head to go the river to do the laundry and get water. Within a week peace had returned to the village. The walk to the river and sitting on the river bank chatting to each other was the women’s time out. It was work, but pleasant social work and they enjoyed it. While they were doing that the men were sitting in the village smoking and chatting. By the time the women came back the men had gone off to tend the fields or bring in the goats. The piped water had taken away the social part of the day just leaving hard work. I am sure over time the village probably went back to the piped water but it would not have been a happier place because of the “improvement”

  2. Yes, wery interesting – and who are we to say what “development” is!

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