Issues of poverty and justice have many layers, many complications that prevent us from just seeing something as ‘wrong’ and attempting to ‘fix it’ for them. Unquestionably, this child actor ‘deserves’ a home. Who doesn’t? All children deserve peace, joy, comfort, and the stability of a family. All children deserve decent meals and roofs over their heads. But here is a prime example of complicated caste systems and government interference, and promises and good intentions ‘gone bad’.
This happens everywhere and often when you work in the area of nonprofit child care. Whether it be the government in Russia arresting you just to intimidate you away from working with their children–(oh yes– fingerprints, mugshots, and all…) or adoptions being stalled at the last minute due to ‘paperwork’ issues– or a child that you sponsored has been out of the program for 6 months– and you’re just hearing about it for the first time– or a project you donated money to that never actually reached the child you intended it to reach…
None of these situations are new to those of us who have been on the inside of the nonprofit world. And none of these situations are ever intended or predicted by those who work hard for vulnerable children. And most of these situations are not completely preventable or fixable.
So what can be done when a child is promised a house, but something interferes? In the case of slumdog– probably nothing. The child shouldn’t have been promised a house by people who have no business nor means to give him one. And when I say ‘means’– I don’t mean money. Money doesn’t buy you everything in many cross-cultural contexts. There are deeply rooted traditions and functioning systems that prevent much nonprofit work from happening the way we want it to happen. If these film makers were to build him a house on some land outside of the slum… what might happen then? Most likely, the same thing. Unjust, yes. But very likely. Who knows the motivation of the government? Surely the local officials know who this boy is! He starred in a major motion picture. Surely everyone knows he has access to money. But maybe people are angered by this… maybe people are angered by his fame. The caste system prevents him from rising above his status– and maybe this motivates the government to enforce the social norms that create order in their society. (and this is just speculation– but surely it is much more complicated than what we see and hear through the media…)
So what can nonprofits do when we see slums and children dying, hungry, thirsty? What can donors do when things don’t go their way with a promise they intend to make for the betterment of a child’s life? As in many situations– understand that it is just more complicated than seeing injustice and fixing it. Understand that a LOT goes in to cross-cultural communication, program development, getting permission from local authorities, gaining respect from local communities, and working intelligently and deliberately to make sure that complications are minimal… If a famous child star in America is powerless to get a home, surely the answer isn’t getting mad at the person communicating this to you. And the answer definitely isn’t to ‘bring the family to America and build them a home!’ And the answer isn’t to stop trying to work in the lives of vulnerable children and families– because injustice is something to fight against. But perhaps to respectfully dialogue about it and to thoughtfully look at the situation outside of a desire to ‘fix’ the world’s problems– This will only lead to respect, grace, progress, and perhaps a little more justice for the children we all love.
Stay tuned for doma’s fall trip announcement! Interested in working in a remote African village? (yes- mud huts and all…) Maybe you would like to interact with some of the 4,000 abandoned infants in Ukraine? Or maybe you want to push up your sleeves and get dirty helping to build and renovate a school/orphanage for children in Africa?… we will announce the tentative dates and trip contact person for each of these early next week.