When the average America thinks of high-profile humanitarian work, she probably thinks of Angelina Jolie. Of all the activist celebrities, only Jolie has become a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations. She’s a glamorous celebrity, and I think that makes it easy to dismiss her, but in truth she has helped an extraordinary number of people. From the point of view of my very non-Hollywood life, she seems superhuman. She has six kids, acts in movies, and manages to devote a huge percentage of her time traveling to far off places to give back. I think we should all be looking to her for guidance. She has all the privilege in the world and yet, she uses her power for good! She could be basking in the spotlight, frolicking in the Riviera, and showing off her crazy handsome fiance. Instead, she works hard, every day, to make the world a better place.
Harnas Wildlife Foundation started on a cattle farm in the Namibian wilderness. The owners, Nick and Marieta van der Merwe, were farmers, making a living on the land, when a sick vervet monkey inspired them to do more. They began adopting animals, taking in the sick and infirm, even adopting a healthy pride of lions from a defunct zoo. As their love for animals grew, so did the farm. They hired a staff and expanded their facilities, eventually opening the farm to the public in 1993.
In the news this week, Democratic Republic of Congo’s Thomas Lubanga, accused of war crimes including the recruitment of child soldiers, was found guilty in The International Criminal Court. This is a victory not only for the victims of Lubanga’s crimes but for victims of similar crimes the world over.
I don’t often think of celebrities as being capable of divorcing themselves from their public. Perhaps I’m jaded by US Weekly or The Oscars—If one more stick figure tells me what she’s wearing I’ll lose it emotionally—but, my own prejudice aside, celebrities are people too. Many of them are people who care deeply about the world they live in. Sure, they hire stylists to make them look celebrityish and publicists to make them act likeable. But simply being a celebrity doesn’t make you vapid or incapable of giving or caring, it just carries some baggage.
I’m feeling philosophical today. It happens every so often. I wake up, go to brush my teeth and think, “Wow, there are so many brands of toothpaste, what a strange free market where we go berserk on a niche rather than simply meeting a need. How much waste could we avoid if we just had a single brand of toothpaste?” Then I think about the implications of that thought. “Americans need choices. What about people who have sensitive teeth, or who want whitening power? What about those poor souls?” Then I sit there over breakfast contemplating the world economy: needs vs. wants, the privilege of choice, the wastefulness of the free market, and my navel. I’ve brought this philosophical day right around to today’s blog post with the following question: is volunteering reward enough without the recognition, without the cultural A+ that we get for helping others?