Sunday, June 8, 2008

One Ball Can Change the World

I didn’t have many friends growing up in Timonium, Maryland until the day my feet met the pentagonal panels of a soccer ball. I, as billions of other youth in the world, was given the incredible gift of loving a game that transcends language, cultures, and sometimes even wars. It was the fifteen minutes a day of recess that I lived for as a young American boy and the feel of the dirt kicking up off my heels as I threaded my way through the crowds of students gathered around the playground.

About two decades later, in the northern region of war-torn Uganda, I found myself with a soccer ball looking out of the balcony of my hotel room. In the distance, I could see dozens of young, shoeless Ugandan children playing soccer with a rock that they had covered with layers of rubber bands and plastic bags. Minutes later, I was being outplayed by kids a quarter of my size and age. While I was clearly not at their skill level nor could I speak their language, we shared the same love of soccer and that was all that seemed to matter.

In 1982, Italy’s World Cup victory helped to unite a country that was trying to overcome a decade of national terrorism known as the anni di piombo. Four years later, an Argentine World Cup victory helped to bring life to a newly beginning democracy that was recovering from its dictatorial past. Germany’s victory in 1990 came on the heels of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1995, simply by qualifying for the World Cup, the Cote d’Ivoire’s multiethnic team brought a temporary ceasefire and peace to a country ravished by political and ethnic warfare, and, through their stunning example of teamwork, showed their fellow countrymen and women that there was hope for a multicultural society to exist in the Ivory Coast.

In 2010, South Africa will become the first sub-Saharan country to host the World Cup, an amazing opportunity to showcase the growth and development of a country still feeling the wounds of apartheid and still fighting the challenges of extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Being the most watched and celebrated sport in the in world makes the social, economic, and political impact of soccer undeniable. It has the power to life the human spirit, revitalize economies, and to unite entire countries. Through programs like Ethan Zahn’s (of Survivor: Africa fame) Grassrootsoccer which uses soccer to educate youth about life skills, team work, and HIV/AIDS and the Global Youth Partnership for Africa’s Girls Kick It Program that help women gain access to education and empowers them to take leadership roles in their communities, soccer, or football as most everyone else in the world calls it, is arguably changing lives more than most politicians are.

This summer, I will be travelling with 5 US college students to Uganda to meet with Ugandan college students to examine the effect of soccer on the Ugandan community and to try and create more opportunities for the sport to improve the lives of the people who play and watch it.

Before I leave however, I will have the awesome opportunity to work with Street Soccer, an organization that uses soccer to better the lives of the Homeless in the US. In fact, over the past three years, Street Soccer has sent a US team to the Homeless World Cup, an international competition that has brought over 500 homeless soccer players from 48 countries throughout the world to places like Scotland, South Africa, and Denmark in order to compete.

According to the website of the Homeless World Cup, “The impact is consistently significant year on year with 73% of players changing their lives for the better by coming off drugs and alcohol, moving into jobs, education, homes, training, reuniting with families and even going on to become players and coaches for pro or semi-pro football teams.”

There are a billion people in the world, or about fifteen percent of the world’s population, who are homeless. And while they need homes, food and clean water, and clothes, there are many less tangible things that soccer provides that helps them get these things. Soccer provides a sense of team and community, the confidence and resilience needed to overcome extreme poverty, and many more non-measurable benefits that bring more opportunities to the lives of the Homeless.

This June 26-29, Street Soccer USA will be hosting the Homeless US Cup in Washington DC to field the team that will represent the US in this year’s Homeless World Cup that will take place in Melbourne, Australia. Eleven US teams will be in attendance. For more information, please visit the Street Soccer blog.

If you would like to help, please do so by contacting me at We are in need of as many volunteers as possible for many different needs from simply handing out refreshments to our players to guiding them through the city. It will not only help to change the lives of those whom you are helping, but I promise it’ll change your life as well.

Soccer is more than just a game: it is the international language of peace, perseverance, and possibilities.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Serving Those Who Wish to Serve

For the amount of writing that my students do, it is probably not too much to ask from me to write more than once every four months. However, this makes me think a lot of choice. I can choose when and what I want to write about. However my students do not necessarily have that choice to and there is a chance that they may never get that ability to choose.

For most of them, the choices that they make everyday in school will greatly impact their future. While most people that have lived a middle-class childhood could get away with not doing well in school by shirking a few papers here and there, each paper that my students write are a big deal to them. They know that their futures are heavily dependent on how good their writing is. Unlike students who can get into college because they have money or the middle-class upbringing that has intrinsically blessed them with the type of writing needed to get into college, most of our students have not had experience yet. Instead, they have to work hard to write in a way that is different than what they are used to. So in a sense, they have limited choice into how they can write. I learned to write like how I was taught to speak. Unlike most of us who went to college and had parents who spoke and wrote in a way that colleges prefer, most of my students would be the first in their family to go to college and the way that they speak and write with their parents greatly differs from what colleges prefer.

But writing is just one of many choices that are heavily influenced by their socio-economic situation. As a person who has lived a middle-class life, I have many more choices - choices that my students do not have. When it comes to service, I also have many more choices that my students do not have either.

When I was in college trying to plan my alternative spring break trip or even trying to raise $3,000 to go to Uganda, things were much easier for me than for each of my students trying to scramble to find $500 to do service this spring in New Orleans. It took me a few minutes to create a facebook group where two of my friends (Thanks Josh & Annemieke) quickly donated $100, whereas my sixteen students have written dozens of letters only to get $50 between all of them.

There is a bitter coincidence in thinking that those who need service are also the ones most willing to do so. It makes sense because if you are experiencing poverty firsthand, you would also be the ones most motivated to work for those in poverty. However their connections are limited to those who live within their own community.

Having access to my college network and the middle class peers that I have worked and went to school with makes fundraising for service much easier for me. $50 for a friend with a $30,000 a year job is much more manageable than $50 for a student's parents who both work two jobs to make less money than their family needs to survive.

This begs the question that if we have less, does this mean we have to give less?

In Africa, top developmental experts like Jeffery Sachs and William Easterly, who disagree with each other on many things, at least agree that you cannot only give people who need to eat, fish. As the adage goes, they need the tools to learn how to fish. To do so, it takes the start-up money and resources to learn how to fish.

My students need to learn the tools to improve their community and how to fight for social justice. New Orleans, while half the continent away, offers a glimpse into this. While my students could be doing service in the local community, I know that I would not have the breadth of knowledge that I now have about service and social justice without the amount of travel that I have done to be able to learn from people in situations worse than me.

The choice to serve should not be denied to those who are economically disadvantaged. While students in middle class colleges can easily choose what they want to do for spring break (i.e. anything from service in New Orleans to partying in Cancun), my students are doing everything in their power to try to help the people of New Orleans with what limited resources that they have.

The choice to serve should be universal. Moreover, those who already have the choice should choose to help to give others the chance serve. It is almost selfish for those in the middle class to serve and feel a sense of catharsis when the opportunity to serve should be offered to others as well. When a student needs to worry about where their next meal will come from, it is hard for them to be able to serve others unless someone is willing to give them the choice to do so. If given the chance once again in college, rather than going on an alternative spring break trip myself, I would easily have spent that money to give student here the chance to do so.

If you agree with me, I encourage you to help an economically disadvantaged student in your community to serve. It is not that they do not want to serve – we had over 60 applicants for 16 spots. Rather, it is hard to serve when you have not been given the tools and resources to do so.

Donations to help a student from KIPP: Gaston College Preparatory or KIPP: Pride High ( do service this spring in the New Orleans Recovery Schools District may be made out to “Gaston College Preparatory” and sent to:

Patrick Wu
320 Pleasant Hill Rd.
Gaston. NC 27832

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sex May Sell Social Causes, but Abstinence Makes them Work

This week, a group of high school students from my campus are going into Washington DC for a youth Conference about the conflict in Darfur. I will be speaking with them before they go and knowing how delicate people's perceptions are of the region and how the media tends to slant the conflict, I know I need to be smart and savy with what I have to tell them.

However, the one message I feel like I can tell them without reservation is that Darfur is not cool and it is not something to get involved in if you need Leonardo DiCaprio to tell you to do so. In fact, the Save Darfur campaign has led way to many students and young leaders to get the wrong impression about how they can help.

Last week, the LA Times wrote a piece about people trying to raise money and awareness about certain causes by performing tasks like climbing mountains or running really long distances to try and media attention. The problem is that while these people are doing this for their causes, barely anyone is noticing. Click here to read the story. It got me thinking of all the ridiculous things that youth are convinced to do in order to raise money & awareness for Darfur and other SSA causes.

Much alike the people in the Times article, these students end up working very hard, but not so smart. Oftentimes, they spend more money than they will even make back in their efforts. By putting together sleep-outs, protests and ad campaigns they are trying to create awareness, but not necessarily beneficial education and advocacy around these issues. While I realize that awareness is the first step, in talking to many of these students that they have a very surface level understanding of both what is actually going on in Darfur, but even more damaging a very artifical grasp of what social change looks like.

Students are taken in by the sex appeal of a romanticized protest or novel idea that while creative, oftentimes proves to be ineffective. Rather, their focus should be on proven methods of affect. Raising money to pay powerful lobbiests to lobby on behalf of Darfur and not the tobacco industry, working on political campaigns to get Darfur on the radar of politicians seeking office and most importantly in the classroom. More of their peers will listen if they are listening to things in the classroom beacuse that is where youth will associate their learning. People are less likely to listen to a bunch of rowdy students just trying to get on the news and more to interpersonal interaction that takes place in a simple classroom discussion.

No, it's not sexy; no, it's not going to get you on the news; and no, it's going to be as personally rewarding as you want it to be. But if you're in it for those reasons, you're probably going to hurt the causes you are fighting for more than you are helping them.

People who run marathons and climb mountains to raise awareness for their causes are missing the point. You need people to care because they care about the issue and not because they need something shiny to look at. These causes should not be sexy nor should they require anything other than the truth to get people to care about them. In the end, sex may sell, but abstinence may be the best way to help the causes we truly care about.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How to Overcome a Fear of Commitment

Teaching is hard work...even if you’re bad at it. Actually, especially if you're bad at it.

Don’t worry if you’re one of my students or a parent. I’m doing my best to get better at it and I doubt you’ll find few teachers as dedicated, passionate and hard-working as I’ve been in my first month.

I’d like to use teaching as an excuse to ignore my blog, but as Batman once argued, “it’s not what you say, but what you do that defines you.” And if I am really going to encourage my students to become stronger writers by making writing a priority, I know I need to do the same.

I say this, of course, as I am awake at 2am, watching SportsCenter and trying to procrastinate my lesson planning by surfing the web and remembering the multiple blog postings that I had meant to write, but never did.

Perhaps the most appropriate posting I should write about has to do with last week’s Time Magazine’s Special Issue dedicated to Service in America. In the issue, there is even an article about KIPP schools and Teach for America (TFA), the program of which KIPP schools were born.

Now I’ve always had my issues with TFA. TFA’s website states: “Teach For America is the national corps of outstanding recent college graduates of all academic majors who commit two years to teach in urban and rural public schools and become leaders in the effort to expand educational opportunity.” It is clear that the website it geared more towards recruiting applicants rather than serving as a resource to the community. While there are several outstanding TFA teachers who I work with and it is undeniable that KIPP would not exist without TFA, a two year commitment to education is hardly a commitment to a community.

It reminds me of the reoccurring problem of service with college students. College students and so many recent college grads always look at community service as service and not as commitment. College students rarely register to vote in the same district that they go to college in, even though they live in that district for three-quarters of the year and are most affected by the politics of that district. Moreover, when you ask them where “home” is, they will rarely tell you the city their college is located in – it is always the town where they grew up. What is a better litmus test to how seriously you take community service than how you define your community or where you live?

In Time, the lead story speaks of how Harvard professor Robert Putnam has been in the news about his new research that argues that communities are more civically engaged if its racial make-up is mostly homogenous. The typical TFA teacher seems to be young and white, a dangerous combination in most of the minority majority populations that they serve. Those two things alone create justifiable assumptions in the students and parents that they serve. Add the fact that most students and parents see that many TFA teachers are only around for two years and then comes the snowball effect that young, white teachers are given little respect within the community.

While community members may show respect and appreciation to these teachers for taking two years out of their life to serve, it is clear that in the back of their minds they wonder, “why bother if you’re only here for two years? Are you ever going to truly understand our community?”

Moreover, as last week’s Time and many other resources have clearly documented, volunteerism in America is at its highest, especially with America’s youth. However social problems only seem to be increasing. This is because we are all willing to volunteer or serve, but unwilling to commit. Rather than calling it community service, we need to start calling and thinking about it as community commitment.

To me two years is hardly a commitment other than in the factor of time. Outside of time, most people are not committed to communities as much as they could be. While I have no empirical research to back this up, my informal conversations with most TFA teachers has affirmed to me that TFA teachers rarely go into their placements with any sense of the communities they are going to work in. Moreover, upon arrival, there is little immersion into the communities to create “the change they wish to see.” Outside of their usually plush homes (which I am guilty of living in one of these) and safe school walls, it will be rare to see a TFA teacher knocking on the doors of the local mayoral or superintendent’s office asking for better resources or a stronger commitment on their end to education. Or even better, TFA teachers could be looking for ways to find a successor within the community in case they decide to leave their school and community after their two-year commitment.

TFA is trying to create social change through service and not commitment. By change, they have recruited several strong teachers who are committed to social change and have revolutionized not only the schools that they work at, but entire communities. It is important for TFA teachers to overlook that they are not just teachers, but social change agents. The end goal of TFA is not to just close the achievement gap, but to revolutionize communities. If the schools that TFA teachers work at only leave their good works within the walls of the schools, the communities that they are in will continue to struggle.

Rather, TFA teachers, as do all teachers have the responsibility inspire their students not only to do great things, but to do so in their communities. It does not help out a community in the long run if their best and brightest students leave to go to college, only never to come back. Why aren’t more TFA teachers from the communities in which they serve? Besides the fact that few of these students are going to college, those that do are unlikely to apply. It would make more sense to hire teachers within the community, but this does not happen. Why?

I am not trying to pick on TFA, but use it as an example of the larger problem of service in America. Service is becoming more and more of a young, white, middle-class pastime where youth are convinced that they are doing great things by helping out poor, black kids. I am not saying TFA is doing this. I am saying that as a result of America’s youth having an incorrect notion of what service and commitment truly are, that many times we may be doing more disservice than service in the communities that we are trying to serve. Too often, there is an “us” and “them” issue. If people are going into a community thinking “what can I do for them?” then true social change will never happen. Rather, people should be committed to saying, “what can we do together to strengthen our community?”

This seems to be a problem Putnam is most famous for his book Bowling Alone, which used research and the stories of failing bowling leagues to argue that American communities are falling apart. In the critically acclaimed book, Putnam argued that in small American communities, the youth are trying to get out, while the elderly stay there and become more disengaged. No longer are people taking ownership of their communities. Instead, people are looking for ways to escape the responsibilities that take building a strong community that benefits everyone. People forget that by strengthening their community, they are creating better conditions for themselves. Selfishness is actually hurting people from being selfish. Who would have thought selflessness would actually be the best thing a selfish person could do?

This becomes a larger problem when combined with Putnam’s new research about the low civic participation rate of heterogeneous populations. In the community that I work in, the majority of the population is very young or quite old – I am actually convinced that teachers make up the majority of the twenty-something population in the area.

With a lack of educated, dynamic youth with a true commitment and vested interest in struggling communities, these communities are only doomed to fail without a paradigm shift in the near future. Teachers need to be encouraging students not only to create opportunities for themselves to go to college, but opportunities now to create positive social change in their communities. Rather than saving their passion and energy for college, we should be using it to inspire and change their communities. America’s young teachers have this to offer if nothing else. While we may not all be from the communities that we are teaching in, we can easily start becoming part of it by committing ourselves to changing more than what happens in our school, but what happens in our community. No longer should we refer to the community that our students live in as their community, but our community. It is only then when the real change will take place.

Let’s be clear here. I am not recusing myself from being a bad teacher. I am only stating something that I and every other teacher should be aware of. But I’m starting to make the commitment. While at first, I saw this as another chapter in my life, I am starting to see this as the book. Rather than leaving my community when this chapter is finished, I need to wait for the book to be done. Rather than simply serving the community, I am here to commit to it. In the meantime, I’ve even joined the local bowling league.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Teach for Mali

I remember...

It's the spring of 2000 and I'm only a few days away from my high school graduation. Bobby Snow, a mild mannered classmate of mine, who I have gone to school with for as long as I can remember, comes up to me.

Bobby is wickedly smart in the most humble of ways and has a slight stuttering problem that almost goes unnoticed on most days. However, he has somehow found a way to balance being a stutterer, a usually made-fun-of trait of a high schooler with being thought of a "cool kid." While at the time I had never thought about it much, Bobby really knew how to play the game of high school.

"So, wha-what are you g-g-going to study in college, Pat?" he asks in the most non-judgmental of ways.

"I'm not sure yet, Bobby. I think I may want to teach," I responded not knowing for sure at all.

'Ww...well, that's good to hear, Pat, because, the w-world needs more smart people like you who are w-willing to teach."

I am so overcome with emotion by the innocence and sincerity in his comment that I could cry. But instead, I just thanked Bobby for his kind words and forgot about my aspirations to become a teacher for the next seven years.

I remember...
It's a hot, arid day in July 2007. I'm in Scottsdale, Arizona. I walk into the conference room of a villa in a five-star hotel to see a muscular man with long blonde hair tied in a ponytail sitting back in his chair with arms folded and eyes intently fixated on everyone in the room as they all listen to the poem coming to life from his i-pod speakers. The man is Taylor Mali, a former teacher (nine years), turned spoken word artist, who has challenged himself to inspire at least 1,000 people to become teachers after listening to his poems.

For the next three hours, Mr. Mali has delicately woven in sound bytes and teaching tips in with the opportunity for us to experience our own poetry and thoughts as if we were all his students in the fairytale of an ideal classroom. Of the many exercises that he asks us to do is one where we write as many detailed memories as we can about any moments of our lives. I did not think of Bobby Snow at the time, but when I sat down to do the exercise upon my return to Gaston, North Carolina in front of a computer, this was the first memory that came to my mind.

It's people like Bobby and Mr. Mali who inspire people to become teachers and to love it. However, there never seems to be enough - hence, why Mr. Mali is trying very hard to recruit one thousand more. Mr. Mali, a five-time US National Slam Poetry Champion is one of the most gifted spoken word artists I have ever seen and one of the most respected people in his profession. His work includes many poems about his experiences as a teacher that will make you laugh and cry, and then do both at the same time. And while I am already a teacher, by hearing his poems, I am even more convinced in my reasons to become and remain one. I strongly encourage you to check him out on his website. Though to really appreciate his poetry, you have to see and hear it, which is why I suggest you check him out on Youtube. Perhaps, you will be one of the one thousand future teachers that he will inspire.

I cannot help but laugh when I think about a future student with Bobby's same stuttering trying to say my name, "Mr. W-w-wu." But I cannot help but be inspired in imagining that same student one day becoming a teacher. For all the "Bobby Snow"s and "Taylor Mali"s in the world, we owe it to them & the world to inspire each other to teach.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


It has been nearly a month since my last post and it is with good reason. I have been busy getting KIPP-notized.

Most Americans have no idea what this means just yet, but I am sure many will know very soon. For the next two (probably plus) years I will be embarking on an incredible journey - to try to become one of the top educators in the world for low-income students. In what was a small, simple idea from two, young, idealistic tecahers in Houston only a decade ago, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) now reaches 17 states including the District of Columbia, 57 schools, and 15,000 students.

While KIPP is a very complex program, the the concept from which it originates from is very simple: no excuses.

Two words that, I have no doubt will forever change the American education system. In 1994, two audacious teachers founded KIPP to change education for the better with this philosophy. So far, nearly eighty percent of KIPP graduates have gone off to college, a number than rivals most competitive schools in America. What makes KIPP different is that the students that they are teaching are all low income students who otherwise would have only a one in five chance of college. Moreover, the progress of such schools is undeniable. As Jay Matthews, education reporter for the Washington Post reported from the annual KIPP Summit, "the 1,400 students at 28 schools in 22 cities who have completed three years at KIPP so far have gone from the 34th percentile at the beginning of fifth grade to the 58th percentile at the end of seventh grade in reading and from the 44th percentile to the 83rd percentile in math." Click here to read the entire article.

However, even more importantly than getting their students into college, KIPP is instilling their students with priceless life skills that most American students don't even have when they graduate from college. While KIPP schools aim to get all of their students into college, they also are aware that this is only one of many challenges that these students face. These students will need to succeed in college and in life long after they leave the halls of KIPP.

Therefore, in order to do so, the students attending KIPP schools usually have actioned packed 8am-5pm school days, including Saturday schools when needed or in addition as a means to learn other life skills on top of their academic workload. Moroever, every morning, as soon as a student enters a KIPP school, they go straight into their morning work. This is a form of school work that they immediately do in silence as soon as they arrive and while they eat breakfast. In classes, students start each class with a "Do Now" another exercise that gets students directly into schoolwork unlike the lack of urgency that exists in most other schools. In fact, in KIPP: Gaston College Preparatory (where I work), mirrors have even been taken from the bathrooms so students will spend less time in the bathroom and more time in classes.

Moreover, KIPP schools have summer school in August before the grading period statrs to build the community of the schools while instilling the cultural norms and core values that are expected from each student. While each KIPP school does so in their own unique way, the amazing part of this is that unlike the other schools systems in America, these students are constantly challenged to take ownership of their actions, to make critical explanations of what their consequences should be for every action (whether it be positive or negative), and earn everything that they receive from college visits to even homework. Who would think that teachers could get students to be begging to go to class or be given homework? Somehow KIPP has found a way to do so.

This is not to say that KIPP does not have its shortcomings. In fact, the biggest critics of KIPP seem to be within KIPP. I have never seen an organization so proud of its commitment to a shared mission, yet so critical of their work as I have with KIPP. While there have been incredible gains in KIPP, teachers, principals, and students operate under the rule that "we are never done." There are always more challenges to come and we can always get better.

To make sure all of this happens, teachers, parents, and students all must sign contracts promising each other that as a collective team, they will all do as much as they can to help the student succeed by continuously supporting and challenging them to do better. Parents must sign the planners of students every night to verify that they have checked their son/daughter's homeowrk is done and teachers are given cell phones that students can call at night to get help with homework so that no child has the excuse not to have done their homework. Therefore, as the KIPP motto goes, there really are "no excuses." Moreover, when students do poorly on their assessments or make mistakes like being mean to another classmate, no one takes this as hard as the teachers of KIPP. There is a shared responsibility with the student to know that it is up to the teachers to teach these things and for the students to practice them. Therefore, teachers can always find a better way to teach and students can always find better ways to execute.

In the end, one of the main goals of KIPP is to disappear, which might sound a little crazy if it is doing so well. The point of KIPP is not to replace other public schools in America, but to challenge them to look at education as more than just a holding place for youth until they turn eighteen. Rather, KIPP challenges themselves and the rest of the country to push every student to acheive to the level where they can have more choices - the choice of whether or not to go to college, the choice of what college to go to, and most importantly the moral choices that we will have to make for the rest of our lives. KIPP teaches life long learners and not just middle school students. As the walls read in the KIPP school in which I teach, there is college, a better life, and then a changed world. With a little more KIPP-nosis, I believe that we will be closer to our goal of a changed world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Save Yourself

If you haven’t read it yet, you should really pick up Uzodinma Iweala’s critically acclaimed novel, “Beasts of No Nation.”

But before you do, you can whet you appetite with his opinion piece in this past weekend’s Washington Post, entitled “Stop Trying to ‘Save’ Africa.”

Iweala’s point here is not new. William Easterly’s piece, “The West Can’t Save Africa” appeared in the Washington Post eighteen months ago, right before his book about the same subject matter came out: “White Man’s Burden.”

The sad thing is that no matter how many times people are told they just don’t seem to get it: Africa doesn’t need to be saved anymore than any other continent in the world. Why don’t you think Al Gore’s environmental campaign slogan is "Save Antarctica?" Or perhaps the Democrats should run their 2008 campaign on, “Save North America.”

When it comes to the US, we don’t ever think we need be saved. We are, of course, hard-working and self-sufficient Americans. Therefore we should know how to save ourselves. So why don’t we feel that way about Africa? And who are we to try and save other people when we can’t even save ourselves?

I share Iweala’s frustrations. But what are our solutions going to be?

Maybe every time a US college student tries to give us a “Save Darfur” pamphlet, we should give them back a pamphlet that says, “Save our nation’s misguided college students.” I’m not quite sure how effective this tactic will be, but then again, how effective are they in getting people to really care about Darfur? Signing a petition and convincing themselves that they’ve done their part to “save” the poor Africans seems like more of an instigator of bad politics than it is a help.

It’s natural to want to help people. Saving people, however, seems egotistical & condescending. Personally, I think that I have a lot to offer to Africa and the rest of the world, probably more than most people do. However, there is a clear distinction for me between being a savior and being an important part of the struggle.

Critics of Iweala may ask: does it really matter? After all, if money and advocacy is going to charitable organizations to help, shouldn’t the ends justify the means?

The answer to me is unequivocally no. Because even if campaigns like “Save Darfur” succeed in raising money and awareness, it is also prolonging the two and a half century old American problem of manifest destiny - Americans and wealthy western nations are not any better than anybody in the developing world. Rather, we are only more developed because we stole the resources, exploited the people and destroyed the communities of the areas of which we are now trying to “save.” Africa would not be in the condition that it is in today if it wasn’t for colonization and slavery.

While the words “manifest destiny” are no longer used in our daily vernacular, they are still ingrained in daily American belief. While Americans are not destined to be the world’s premier superpower, we still believe us to be. We think it’s our responsibility to “save” the rest of the world by promoting our cultural and ideological influence. Rather, it is these same practices that seem to be plaguing the people we want to “save.”

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about working with my colleagues in Africa, it’s exactly what Nelson Mandela argues: ask not what you can do for us, but what you can do with us. Development should be about partnerships and not about misguided notions of manifest destiny. And so before people try to “save” others perhaps they should be trying to save themselves from thinking this way. In the meantime, the next time I go back to Africa, I’m going to see if I can get African college students to start wearing shirts that say, “Save America’s Youth.”