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Critical Charity Workshop

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Being civically engaged requires creativity for Marie Nele Wolfram, as she lives nomadically and does not have one place that she calls home. From 2015 to 2017 she volunteered in Love Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to connect people internationally to raise funds for water development projects in Kenya. Despite the good intentions of the cause, Nele felt there were some important aspects of what makes an ethical charity that could be emphasized and discussed more among the volunteers. Her idea was to create a space for reflection on what the project was ultimately achieving and the members’ own positionality. After working with Love Foundation for some time, Nele felt it was important for charities to be more aware of their position of privilege and also to avoid perpetuating stereotypes of the Global South. Back then, however, she did not feel she had the necessary skills to address these issues properly.

People argue that white charity work is just another form of colonialism and that charity work directed from the Global North to the Global South should be eliminated. We, however, believe that there can be ethical charity work. (Marie Nele Wolfram)

In 2019, Nele became a Fellow at Humanity in Action. She took part in the Warsaw Fellowship in 2019 and set out to acquire the tools and knowledge necessary to better grasp the issues she encountered during her work with Love Foundation. After her many discussions during her Fellowship in Poland and through her own profession as an educator, she now felt capable of hosting a workshop for Love Foundation. So this ended up becoming her Action Project.

When Love Foundation agreed, Nele began conceptualizing a workshop on critical charity and positionality. Her friend Joe Ntwali from Rwanda co-hosted the workshop. Joe was born and raised in Burundi and Rwanda where he has been working in national and international education for the past 5 years. He previously worked in Lebanon for a US-based University transmitting educational opportunities to Syrian refugees. Joe has been an advisor for “She Can Code”, a Rwandan based NGO bridging the gender gap for women in coding, creating up to 80 jobs so far. He also holds a BA in Communications and Global Perspectives Health Care from SNHU, U.S.

Joe and Nele jointly developed the structure for the project and in early 2020 on the premises of the Humanity in Action Berlin office, the workshop took place. Twelve members of Love Foundation attended, and together with Nele and Joe, they tackled numerous related topics, such as structural racism, neo- and post-colonialism, white privilege, etc., which are all related to the concept of critical charity she wanted to introduce. The feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive, and Love Foundation resolved to pass on the new knowledge acquired to a much broader audience within their foundation.

“We were challenged, touched and inspired by our amazing workshop hosts Nele and Joe and will continue to work towards implementing the values and work practices we want to see in the world in our organization.” (Love Foundation Berlin)

Nele’s Action Project demonstrates how awareness of and dialogue with one’s own positionality within the world’s power structures can actually help improve the quality of charitable work. She believes this to be particularly important for charities in the West, where the members and volunteers are predominantly white, so as to avoid perpetuating stereotypes of the Global South or giving way to “white saviorism”. Nele’s biggest challenge was tackling such loaded and delicate topics in a sensitive manner and within a limited time period. She quickly found that the group had more knowledge on the topic than she had anticipated, which proved to be beneficial in facilitating the discussion.