As with Part One of this feature, fate kindly provided me with the perfect intro for the next part of my Q&A with Project Diaspora co-founder and photographer Teddy (TMS) Ruge. The past week’s momentous events in Egypt are astonishing, inspiring, overwhelming, and frankly… past all the puny adjectives I can muster.
Because it easier to say Africa than to name 53 countries or make the distinction between North Africa and where the sub-Saharan states begin. It’s that place over there full of famine, hunger, genocide, and militaristic genocide. To isolate a country. After all, isn’t one poor malnourished African as true as the next? What’s it matter what country they are from? They are from Africa, aren’t they?
I am not really sure how we got stuck with that homogenous identity, but if anyone is going to change it, we have to do that and demand that our voices beheard. Each individual nation has to stand up and say, “our identity counts” and defend their country’s right to exist, not simply as an afterthought, but as an integral part of a whole. You don’t simplify Europeans into one description or all of North America as Americans. Mexicans and Canadians have a problem with that. So why should we be ok with simply being African?
I was happy the conversation wasn’t about this conference in Africa. Instead, it was a conversation about village voices in Kikuube, Uganda being heard. Purposefully, a very specific place on a map. We put a very particular dot on the map of Africa with video, and pictures. We put real live faces and voices to the generally accepted stats and figures.
As the platform grows, I hope it is not a “gentle” nudge, I hope it is a five-fingered slap in the face of the status quo: Hey look over here, we can express ourselves, and oh look, we are not all sitting around in poverty, genocide and helplessness waiting for knights in shinning white SUVs to come and rescue us. We can and are doing that for ourselves thank you very much.
Why do you think TEDx Poor fell through? Why do you think its model didn’t work for what you wanted to accomplish?
TEDx Poor fell through because it had to in order for Villages In Action to be born. My frustration was with TED’s restrictive terms on what and how one could hold the event; TED turned out to not really address what I wanted to achieve. At Project Diaspora, we are about elevating those Africans that are doing for Africa in hopes that it’ll inspire other Africans to do more. TEDxPoor didn’t really lend itself to supporting that really. It would have been yet another Western platform that Africa was being forced to adapt.
On reflection, perhaps “poor” didn’t suit their tastes. For me it was a jab at the faceless individuals that the CGI and the UN MDG summits kept referring to but were never handed the microphone. I think the VIA platform does a much better job of dispelling that label.
I spoke at TEDx Kigali and I got a feeling that the model was a little restrictive. Perhaps it was the location, or the way I delivered my talk. But, I don’t think anyone was expecting me to me as brazen as I was going after politicians in their failings to address our woefully inadequate education systems across the continent. And I purposefully went over my 20-minute time limit because I had a point to make and I wasn’t done.
As I’ve said before, TED has a highly successful platform in its own right, but we needed to run with our own map, in-line with our home-grown solutions. No more top-downism. And I hope that VIA is one of those home-grown solutions that does make a difference.