Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Kids or Commodities?

I watched the story of Amanda Lindhout on CBC a few nights ago (you can see the story here). In case you are unaware of Lindhout's ordeal, she was a freelance
journalist working in Somalia in 2008 when she was kidnapped, beaten, and tortured by her captors for 15 months.
She was only freed when her family paid an undisclosed amount as a ransom. She recently returned, CBC cameras in tow, to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya where tens of thousands of Somalian refugees - mostly women and children - are seeking relief from the drought and famine that has devastated the southern part of the country (as well as parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.) After coming home, Lindhout decided to start a charity to help educate the girls of Somalia. It's a moving and courageous story, particularly after all she endured in that country. So why did the feature leave me feeling so hollow?

I can't seem to put my finger on it, but there was a sense that Amanda Lindhout's purpose in revisiting Somalia and starting the charity is to somehow help...Amanda Lindhout. I don't know her personally, so obviously I'm making some assumptions, but too often I've seen people working in the charitable sector for the entirely wrong reasons. Perhaps I'm being too altruistic, and goodness knows my motives are not always pure, but ultimately, working for a charity should be about the people you are assisting and not your own goals. Working for a non-profit myself, I far too often hear people talking about getting their numbers, beating the competition, or referring to child sponsorships as "inventory" to be sold. It both sickens and saddens me, and the worst part of all is I found myself playing that same game just a few nights ago.

Some good friends decided to sponsor two children - one through World Vision and one through Compassion Canada. My first reaction (which I kept internalized) was, "why would you sponsor through them?" As if, Compassion's concern for kids is somehow less dignified than World Vision's concern for kids (there are some significant operational differences but that is not for this post.) My second reaction (not internalized), was, "that's great! Let me give you my code to make sure I get credit for the sponsorship." Ugh. I found myself caught in the same numbers game that I complain about in my co-workers. Yes, I need my "numbers" in order to keep my job. Just like any for-profit business, if I don't produce, then it makes sense to ask me to move on. But there is something different, dare I say something holy, about our work. We are not selling just another commodity. I'm not asking people to buy more widgets. I'm asking them to participate in the restoration of a life and a community. It's not about me, it's about the children we support, and ultimately it's about the fulfillment of the good news of the gospel.

I'm thankful my friends sponsored two children. That's huge! The fact that they were motivated to change the life of two children is what really matters, not whether they went through me, World Vision, Compassion Canada, or another organization. They are responding to the call of God on every believer to care for "the least of these brothers and sisters" (Matthew 25) and that's worth celebrating.

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