Monday, February 12, 2007

I've got a bone to pick with Oprah

I guess I've got a few bones to pick with Oprah. All of them involve her 'work' in Africa. The most recent applies to her touching story of October 2006, where her correspondent comes to Ghana, West Africa to investigate the horror of child trafficking and child slavery. I hate to say it, but what a joke!! No westerner will understand me unless they can get a feel for what I've seen here, absorb what is Ghana and what it is not, and what makes it tick. It's all welll and good for Oprah to help Katrina victims in the States, and get involved in domestic abuse issues. She is great at fulfilling dreams of middle Americans, but it becomes much more dangerous and highly inappropriate when she and her well meaning crew decide to take on the world! The world is not America, and the diversity in cultures is something she can only pay lip service to, and never hope to skim the surface of understanding.

This article can be found on the Oprah site, complete with pictures and touching words.

But it's empty. It takes the Western ideas of childhood and security, and pulls at our heartstrings by showing us the faces of seemingly innocent children whom we relate in our hearts and minds to our own. The truth is that these children live in a whole different world. Their parents have 5 to 20 children. They are poor to a level which is uncomprehensible to Westerners, they sold their own children for $20 or whatever minimal amount, just to have one less mouth to feed. They do not want these children back. Life is no better for them once the righteous NGO's of the world have gotten involved for a week or a month and liberated them. The truth is that the foreigners go away, and life goes back to normal and there's still no money and no moral obligation for the parents to keep from selling them again. The article mentions how the Government of Ghana is trying to change the plight of these kids. That is absolutely false. That I can guarantee with my eyes closed. They may make convincing speeches to guarantee the continued influx of foreign aid, but the truth is that the government here is more concerned with sending the children of it's core members to Yale and Harvard, and buying bigger and better vehicles. There is no welfare system in Ghana. It is a survival of the fittest out in the villages here. We are working at a level so far removed from the West, that the West's solutions are absurd and useless here. In Ghana when a child dies, the funeral is small or non-existent compared to an aged person. This is because there is an intrinsic belief that the life of a child is worthless. Only when someone has survived this life for many years are they respected.

There is also a level of ignorance in the villages that defies western understanding, and is not going to change in the near future. Rural communities have been subjected to the World Health Organization's campaigns to end malaria for decades. Still, a recent study in Northern Ghana showed that the majority of adults had no idea of the link between mosquitos and malaria. Babies are born, and many times the correlation between sex and procreation is not made! Babies die, and people believe they or the family has been cursed.

Ghana is a society which still has tribal shrines where families are obligated to give up their children to the ownership of the lead medicine man, to atone for sins of their forefathers. Ghanaians have no problem with these customs. They are old and they represent traditional culture, and if change will come, it must come gradually. Oprah and her crews are like band-aids that dontt stick, placed on gaping wounds. It just won't work.

I can guarantee that the seven children saved from slavery by one of Oprah's viewers, will suffer at their new orphanage and that the Orphanage owner will benefit personally and without guilt from the donations that will follow. This is Ghana.
More bones to pick later...
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My Marrakech said...

hmmmm...I think I might be too depressed to read this blog any further.....!

Vivian said...

After a year in Ghana. I'm total agree with you.

Obibini Bruni said...

I appreciate your criticism of volunteers coming in and thinking they are making change, when for the most part, they merely return to their own lives in their cushy homes in whatever country they are from. BUT I feel your comments about children’s lives, especially in Ghanaian villages is a gross over-generalization and completely unfair. This kind of ignorance you speak of depends on many factors, which were created by the colonial history and its legacies in the present. If anything, this post perpetuates colonial ideas of the binary of village mentality as being a type of thinking that is inferior to the opposite urban mentality.

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