It’s hard not to cringe when I see a photo of a white person cradling a poor African child. It summons every feeling of frustration, ire, and embarrassment I suppress in my day to day encounters with the legacy of colonialism, slavery, disadvantageous foreign policy, corrupt and inept leadership, and the rest.
So when I first learned about OrphanAID Africa, a Ghana-based children’s charity and advocacy group committed to keeping kids with their families or in stable family environments (a mission I am passionate about because I find it unacceptable that many families in poor parts of the world give their kids up or away for financial reasons, among others), I was tad irked to find a snap of a white woman surrounded by several Ghanaian kids. When I reached out to the woman in the photograph via email, however, I got a modern-day lesson in why it’s so wrong to make a judgment call, when all you have is a picture–and a long-held bias–to go on.
Lisa Lovatt-Smith (above) has spent the last decade of her life fighting to create new alternatives for children and families in Ghana. Since 2002, hundreds of Ghanaian children and families have been supported by Lisa’s guerilla fundraising efforts. She has martialed the support of an international cast of influencers including designer Rachel Roy, hip-hop mogul Damon Dash, Ghanaian-born French footballer Marcel Desailly, and Angela Missoni of the Missoni fashion dynasty.
On Wednesday night, Missoni’s daughter Margherita (right), president of the Italian arm of OrphanAID Africa, celebrated the 12-piece capsule collection she designed, with a percentage of the proceeds benefiting OrphanAID Africa. Reporters from Style.com and other outlets were in the house to snap photos of Missoni, burgeoning socialite Shala Monroque, and models milling about the room in Missoni’s signature zigzag print seeking donations and wielding iPads to encourage purchase of the collection.
A loop of Margherita posing in the pieces she designed, and pictures of her visit to Ghana – yes, in a cheek to cheek embrace with a Ghanaian child – rotated on dual screens. And it was a good thing because money was raised for the ultimate benefit of the children and families OrphanAID Africa is committed to helping.
It’s true that Africa’s global branding as a poverty-stricken child eternally in need of salvation, is troubling. Especially when there are many African children growing up on the continent in stable, safe homes; and there are many people of all colors who volunteer their time and resources to pitch in where so many other children, women, and men lack safety and security and the essentials many who live in developed parts of the world take for granted. But we can’t be distracted from the critical point: there are people who need help, and if we are in a position to do so, we must meet that need–whatever color we were born with.
If we don’t like the picture, it’s easy to change by inserting ourselves.