It's been a dark couple of weeks since the election, so I wanted to take some time to highlight one of my favorite things in the known universe. Four years ago, a group called Africa for Norway released a charity single to raise awareness of how cold it is in Norway. A group of selfless Africans decided to generously donate their heaters to protect those poor, defenseless Norwegians. If you haven't seen the video, you need to take some time out and watch it right now.
The video is a spoof on such poorly thought-out campaigns as We Are the World and Band-Aid which produced the absolutely disastrous "Do They Know It's Christmastime?" South African students and yes, an aid agency in Norway, collaborated on this video and the subsequent Rusty Radiator Awards, which try to change the way aid workers talk about the people and places they are trying to work with.
Every year, the Norwegian Students' and Academics' International Assistance Fund gives out a Rusty Radiator Award, for the year's charity video with the most simplistic view of a place and a people, the "worst use of stereotypes," and a video that actually "hinders long-term development" by promoting solutions that aren't grounded in the cultures and communities of the people they hope to serve. On the other hand, the Golden Radiator Award goes to the charity campaign that steps outside of stereotypes.
One of the major problems with international aid and international development is that charities and companies apply a one-size-fits-all approach, erroneously believing that what works in one community will work for everyone. When people find something that works to increase school attendance in Kenya, they immediately fund the project and try to spread it across the continent of Africa, blind to the idea that something that works in Kenya may not work in Sudan.
Another huge problem is that the vast majority of international aid programs do not take into account the opinions and ideas of the people they claim to help. This results in a lack of capacity building, culturally incompetent projects, and overall unsuccessful aid. In going abroad to "help" people, aid groups often perpetuate stereotypes that remove the agency of the intended targets of their aid. And that's where Africa for Norway comes in.
Africa For Norway is masterful. It perfectly mimics the overly simplistic, do-gooder tone that many of these projects have, while showcasing the beauty of South Africa (I'm assuming this was filmed in South Africa, though honestly I'm not sure exactly where this video was filmed, which is one of the only faults of the video). On the other other hand, Norway looks like a freezing wasteland, which I'm sure isn't how Norway looks all the time. But in only showing one facet of Norway, we in the West have the smallest taste of our own medicine.
Radi-Aid's solution to the stated problem ("cold people" if you haven't watched the video, which why haven't you?) is laughably simplistic. Mailing radiators to Norway. Who is going to receive them? What will the Norwegians do when the heaters break? Will this actually save any lives? These are the kind of basic questions many international aid videos fail to answer, instead falling back on tired cliches like "spread some smiles."
The video is complete with a beautiful cast of singers, performing a beautiful song about how they can share their warmth with the poor people of Norway, interspersed with footage of brave humanitarians soliciting donations, and other gracious people donating their radiators. Now the tables have turned indeed.
Africa for Norway manages to highlight some of the biggest problems with international aid campaigns while still creating a hilarious video and a very catchy song. I have a friend who loved the song so much she put it on her iPod and would listen to it during stressful study sessions. And let's for a minute appreciate the wonder of the bouncing heater! You can sing along! This video is flawless! Every moment is a gift!
This Christmas, take a moment to be thankful for your heated home, and remember that some people out there aren't so lucky. If you can spare it, donate your radiator to a poor child in Norway, who dreams of a sunny, African Christmas. And if you are cold, do not be afraid to reach out. Wonderful organizations like Radi-Aid are here to help you. All you have to do is ask. This winter, spread some smiles and say yes to Radi-Aid.