Earlier today, I met with several students at Addis Ababa University to discuss the opportunities and challenges they face in their academic and professional lives.
One of the biggest challenges we have here on the Internet is hearing marginalized and underrepresented voices, especially those across the digital divide. You can’t amplify voices online that aren’t online.
While all of the young people I talked to used the Internet and most had regular access via a tablet, smartphone, or laptop, none had blogs or tumblrs or YouTube channels, and none had social network interactions with people outside their IRL social networks. I’m sure there are English-language tumblrs from Ethiopian students (although I haven’t been able to find any today), but almost all voices—even highly educated and privileged ones—from the world’s poorest countries go completely unheard online.
(And when we do hear them, it’s usually through an intermediary: videos edited by someone else, transcripts of interviews, etc. It’s not direct participation in the conversation by, for instance, posting to tumblr or reblogging HIMYM gifs. [The students I spoke to agreed that HIMYM is the best American show they have on TV, although a couple said that watching TV was a waste of time and a distraction from studying, to which I said HAVE YOU SEEN PHINEAS AND FERB BECAUSE IT IS TOTALLY EDUCATIONAL.])
Anyway, all of this is a long preamble to say: Earlier today I met with a 20-year-old law student who helped found an organization in Ethiopia devoted to empowering women and ending gender-based violence. (I’ll include her talking about her work in a video soon.)
The organization does fundraisers so the poorest women at the university can have access to contraception, and every year they have a Blood Drive for Mothers, where many students donate blood to combat maternal death. (Post-partum hemorrhaging is a too-common cause of death among Ethiopian women.)
We often think of global charity as people from rich countries giving money to people from poor countries. But the real story is much more complicated (and much more exciting!); we just don’t hear those stories often, because organizations like the one founded by the young woman I met don’t have YouTube videos or tumblrs.