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A Band Aid For Ebola

It’s a sad rendition of a song I never liked. I listened to it on YouTube when all the hoo-hah about the rehash of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ started up. Let’s just say that I’m glad I don’t live somewhere where I’d hear it endlessly on the radio.

But the song isn’t meant to be good, right? It is supposed to be a clarion call for raising funds for a well-deserved cause. And that it is. The UN was having trouble collecting enough for its war on Ebola, and this song quickly raised over USD 1.5 million. Where our governments weren’t willing to cough up tax dollars until Ebola patients started showing up in local hospitals, ordinary citizens showed solidarity with people of nations far away.But did they?

It’s a great thing that vitally needed money was raised, but not so good that before donating, people didn’t check if the money would be well used. I’m sure it will be: according to Charity Navigator, the Band Aid Charitable Trust has a pretty solid rating and good track record. But I worry about the fact that people donate without being clear about whether the money will go to research (by Western organisations?) or to paying for medicine, salaries and equipment that are in short supply.

It makes me wonder if we feel good about the act of having donated rather than the act of actually helping people. Do we want to give or do we want to affect change?

30 years ago this same song had a huge impact on the funds available to helping the starving in Ethiopia. Back then, Ethiopia was called Africa in the song; this time the three countries that are affected by Ebola are called West Africa even though they are but a small part of the 18 countries that officially make up the region.

Anyway, 30 years ago I visited my parents, who were working in Ethiopia, for Christmas. At a dinner with friends before leaving, someone asked me how I was going to be able to eat my Christmas meal when people were starving ‘just outside my door’. I didn’t get it. Did we donate our money in order to be able to make it OK to eat Christmas dinner in Canada?

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Perhaps it is because I live in Africa that I am sensitive to the offensiveness of the song’s lyrics. Of course the Christians in Ebola struck countries know it is Christmas; they are not starving and do not need to be fed – they need serious improvements to their health services; their Church bells will not be striking sounds of doom but of the joy and hope offered by their faith.

Do we have to make Africans seem pathetic and helpless in order to get people to donate to a truly justifiable cause? Band aids are things parents use on their children to stop the tears. They are only marginally active in healing the wound. The cause of the Ebola outbreak is the poverty of the governments in those countries that leads to low education and bad health services. If we really want to help people in those countries, we would be better to lobby our governments to stop subsidies to our farmers in order to give the African agriculture sector a bigger slice of the international trade pie. But that doesn’t make good lyrics to a song.

Diane Lemieux was born in Quebec and moved to live abroad for the first time at the age of three. That journey continued through 11 countries on five continents during which she collected 4 languages, two passports and several cultural identities. She started her career in international development but decided over 15 years ago to raise her two children and pursue her passion: writing. Today, she is author of four books including The Mobile Life: a new approach to moving anywhere and Culture Smart! Nigeria. For more information see her portfolio: www.diane-lemieux.com or blog: diane-lemieux.com/mobilelife

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