10 Ways You Can Help Africa

Julius E. Coles has spent more than 40 years studying, visiting, and working on the African continent, primarily at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Subsequently, he served as the director of the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard University and the Andrew Young Center for International Affairs at Morehouse University. He has been president of Africare since 2002.

Mr. Coles wrote the following editorial toward the end of February — Black History Month — 2005, to “propose that we Americans continue the celebration by committing ourselves to help Africa year-round.”

I have worked with Africa for nearly 40 years; and as a result, I am often approached by people here in the U.S. who want to help the people of Africa but who also feel overwhelmed. It may be the continent's vast size that intimidates, or the depth of some of its challenges, or the media reports that highlight Africa ‘s problems but minimize the progress that has been made. “Can I really make a difference?” people ask. “Yes,” I always tell them, “you can.”

As I write these words, Black History Month is nearing its end. We have celebrated the achievements of our African-American community and honored our hereditary roots in Africa . Now, I propose that we Americans continue the celebration by committing ourselves to help Africa year-round. What follows are 10 ways in which you — an individual, a family, a member of a social or civic group, a small business, a church, a school — can do just that.

1.   Read. The more you know about Africa, the better you can motivate others to help. Read a survey of African history since the dawn of humankind more than 200,000 years ago. Read a book about black African leaders, from the Kushite pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the giants of 20th century independence (Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and more). Follow African current events on Web sites like AllAfrica (allafrica.com), BBC News (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa, and CNN (www.cnn.com/WORLD/africa/archive).

2.   Teach, learn. If you're a teacher, plan a lesson or special project about Africa. If you're a parent, look for a fun “African experience” your family can share. If you're a student, do a research paper on Africa or start an Africa Club with your friends. If your school has African students, have a special assembly and ask them to speak.

3.   Write. Voice your views and perspectives on Africa-related issues. Write a letter to your senator, member of congress, or state or local government official. Share your concerns with companies engaged in Africa. Author a guest editorial for your community or school newspaper, or a posting to your favorite Internet message board.

4.   Speak. If you've traveled or worked in Africa, give a talk to a group you belong to. If you've never been to Africa, arrange for an African immigrant who lives in your community to speak.

5.   Travel. If you have the means, visit Africa. Consider a group trip: traveling in groups can add to the fun as well as reduce the costs (group discounts are often substantial). As much as possible, do business with African vendors for transport, lodging, and tours. While in Africa, absorb the beautiful scenery and cultural sites — but also take the time to meet local people, learn about their lives, and understand the development challenges that they face. Finally, stay connected, and committed, once you return home. For example, if you visited a drought-prone country, involve your friends in raising funds for water wells.

6.   See, hear, eat … enjoy! African culture is accessible in most American cities. You can see an African film (Afrique-sur-Seine, The Gods Must Be Crazy) or a film about Africa (Hotel Rwanda, The Lost Boys of the Sudan , Cry Freedom). Attend a performance of African music or dance. Visit an African art museum. Eat at an African restaurant. Enjoy and appreciate the incredible variety of cultures that are “African” and share those enthusiasms with others.

7.   Meet. Almost every city and many smaller communities in the United States are home to first-generation Africans. Find opportunities to meet your African neighbors, to learn from them, and to invite their participation in local organizations. Reach out especially to new arrivals, who might welcome your help finding housing and jobs and generally adjusting to American life.

8.   Invest. You may be in a position to invest in an African business or to join a group of investors with African interests (there are growing numbers of African investment funds you might want to explore). On the other hand, even the simple act of buying African art in an American store helps to support the artists and their families in Africa. Depending on where you work, you might also engage your employer in African investment or trade.

9.   Donate. Make a charitable donation to one of the many reputable organizations assisting Africa. Your gift may be large or small. Usually, you can give online. You can support special projects or offer to help “where needed most” in Africa. You can give individually; you can organize a fund raiser; you can give in your workplace.

10.   Share. Send this article to 10 people, and ask each to send it on to 10 more — and encourage all recipients to help Africa this year in one of the nine other ways presented above.

I hope you will help Africa this year in one of the ways outlined above or in another way that fits your interests and skills.