I hear that J K Rowling is upset about orphan tourism. She started a tweet battle and let everyone know that we need to stop seeing orphans as a person you should go travel to hold. She has a point. There are terrible things that are done to orphans both in magical make believe worlds and more importantly in the real world we share
Rowling tweeted: “Globally, poverty is the no. 1 reason that children are institutionalised. Well-intentioned Westerners supporting orphanages…perpetuates this highly damaging system and encourages the creation of more institutions as money magnets,”
She is taking a stand – and it is a good one. She has a certain perspective – a good perspective … but her good intentions might hurt more than they help.
Here is the problem
Her opposition to an outsiders sweeping generalities because of good intentions for the care of children is (wait for it) sweeping generalities by JK Rowlings good intentions as an outsider.
(It could be ironic that I probably just stated a sweeping generalization about the good intentions of JK Rowling …)
Again – I think she is right. Institutionalization of children is a practice we have basically stopped in the developed world, why do we import this practice internationally?
Opposition doesn’t change much
The problem I have with her tweet is the focus on demonizing the very people who are most interested in solving the problem.
Complaining that well-intentioned westerners who support orphanages is the major source of the problem is wrong. It is too easy to pick on someone who at least is trying. A lot easier to play quarterback from the couch
Everyone loves to talk about how they would do it if they were in charge, but few take charge.
By blaming and focusing on well-intentioned westerners, she re-inforced the stereotype that nothing works and we should just get everyone out of the development business as quickly as possible.
Another conversation about orphan tourism is possible
What if we didn’t just focus on the good intentions of people involved in orphan tourism?
What about focusing on badly intentioned westerners who take resources from nations that need them desperately
Or more importantly
What about focusing attention on oblivious and uninterested westerners who have no idea that the very resources that power their cell phones are part of a globally unequal trade. That some places on the planet are unliveable for the people who were unfortunate enough to be born there.
Try this instead
Asking hard questions to the people who are trying and suggesting we should pause before we start a project to help.
If you blame people who are trying, and tell them how they are doing a terrible job long enough, eventually those people might just decide it’s not worth it. They give up.
I think JK’s tweet is a challenge to the idealistic who make mistakes (huge ones!). But to much of a challenge is discouraging. I would rather push hard to encourage better engagement.
Let’s joyously lead people who want to hug orphans and show them to engage in much more informed ways.
There are better ways – Even for Harry’s Mom.