Giving back and trying to good in my community is something that’s been deeply ingrained in me from a young age. I’ve spent decades learning a lot of good but also hard lessons along the way about what it means and looks like to work towards just communities/society for all.
Now in its 7th year, #12days4good has a special place in my heart. I was one of the Official Do Gooders in its inaugural year and have been involved in the movement ever since. What speaks to me in particular is that #12days4good asks us not just to give back and do good deeds, but in doing so to meditate on our intention and compassion, then act from that space of thoughtfulness and love. To me, that’s a special thing.
A few years ago I had the good fortune of hearing Samantha Nutt, Founder and Executive Director of War Child, speak about her role and experiences on the frontline of many of the world’s major crises – from Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone to Darfur, Sudan.
When she finished speaking there weren’t many dry eyes. The crowd was moved by one story in particular of a girl who, walking to a town near her home in the Congo to purchase medicine, was horrifically assaulted. Nutt explained that the girl did not tell her mother because it would come at the risk to her chance of being married. Samantha also told us about the next time she met with the young girl and learned she had been assaulted again on that very same stretch of road.
When we hear these stories we are horrified and upset and angry and compelled. And we should be.
When the room opened up to Q&A a woman got up and talked about travelling to Africa to build a school, what followed was an exchange I don’t think that woman entirely anticipated. Nutt counselled (I’m paraphrasing):
Voluntourist projects like that can actually take jobs away from locals.
The projects are often completed by unskilled labourers and the work later has to be redone properly anyway,
The community may have no infrastructure or resources to support the project after voluntourists leave, so it often disintegrates, gets looted and sits empty.
Instead, if you want to support and experience Africa, go there. Purchase things from local merchants, support the economy and listen to the stories people have to share. Better yet, take time to learn how our buying habits directly impact violence, instability and war in other countries and make the change that matters.
In short, when we know about or discover a need or injustice we want to act, and that’s a good thing but sometimes we need to take time to pause and reflect on how to act.
Having worked with nonprofits in a number of capacities over the years, I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes we just need to mobilize, we need to start doing. Cause work needs to engage people whether their intentions are in the exactly right place or not (who’s going to be the Monitor of Intentions anyway? and, if nonprofits narrow their resources to only those obtained from the most well-intentioned the vulnerable will pay the price).
At the end of the day, if a real issue is being addressed in some way because a bunch of people who didn’t completely explore their intention and compassion were able to move the needle in a direction of good is that really such a bad thing?
Of course not. BUT, through Nutt’s words that day and certainly in my years working in these spaces we achieve the best results when we:
Look critically, beyond our need to do something to what needs to be done
Strive to understand the impact and implication of our actions and deeds (positive and negative)
Recognize that causes, issues and development are complex
Try examining how our habits may be contributing to the problem
Treat people as equals who are capable of engaging and finding solutions
A few years ago participating in #12days4good I brought my son along to donate clothing to a local shelter. After we had dropped off our donation we were having a conversation about homelessness in our community, specifically among youth (people his own age). He was surprised: we didn’t have homeless youth in our community, he didn’t see any.
I was floored. This issue and these people were invisible to my son. It was a moment that gave way to an important conversation in our family but also a great deal of personal reflection as well as research about how homelessness is affecting our youth. A relatively simple act- donating items we already had that someone else could use- became a much larger conversation in our household and lead me down a path of learning/understanding I wouldn’t have gone down otherwise.
Those are the moments that #12days4good inspires. This is how #12days4good ensures issues, needs and people in our community are visible. This is how #12days4good creates moments of good full of intention.
I hope you’ll join the movement and share the good.