White Saviors Withheld Chuffed.org Campaign Donation Funds from School of Hope in Kibera, Kenya for 3 years
School of Hope Fights to Retrieve Funding from D.I.Y White Savior Industrial Complex
Of course it was during Black History Month when I had to hear about another white savior situation in continental Africa. When the School of Hope building in the Kibera community of Nairobi, Kenya burned down in March of 2016, Australians Yuki Devine and Duncan Pedrana offered to raise funds for a new and improved structure. School of Hope is run by Gabriel (Gabi) Nerima Oboki in the largest urban slum in continental Africa.* School of Hope was established in 1999 by Gabi’s father Bishop Alexander Oboki. In addition to supporting orphans through a free education and food program, the school serves as a vital fixture in Kibera. (*slum is the term used)
In 2017, Devine, who volunteered at the school in 2006 and 2010, initiated a school building fundraiser campaign on chuffed.org (the campaign is currently unavailable/closed by the administrator). By 2018, according to the campaign page, the Australian campaigners created two websites for School of Hope (1 & 2) and raised $22,925 AUD ($17,350 USD) from 267 donations. However since 2018, based on an update and comment by Devine, the school had only received $4,950 AUD ($3,832 USD) for a temporary structure constructed by German architects — the campaigners brought in — and Kenyan workers.
It has been 3 years since the campaign was complete, and according to comments within the chuffed.org campaign site, Gabi has been attempting to retrieve these donations for some time now. He recently sought the support of a partner organization and financial conduit, Radical Joy Inc, to help recover the remaining $17,975 AUD ($13,854.69 USD). Unfortunately it is only now, March 2021, once Radical Joy became involved and pressured Devine and Pedrana, that School of Hope has been able to recover the remaining campaign donation funds for the construction of the school building that burned down 5 years ago.
On the chuffed.org campaign page and the websites created by Yuki Devine for School of Hope, Devine describes Gabi as a hero, a dear friend, and an essential leader and advocate within Kibera. So what was the hold up? If most of the funds were raised in 2018, why was School of Hope waiting so long for this money to build an education facility? This situation was already dire in 2018 when the funds were available. Now 3 years (almost 4 years) later with the COVID-19 pandemic creating more uncertainty and the pressing need for secure spaces, it is unfathomably how anyone could hold on to funding so urgently needed in one of the most underserved and marginalized spaces in the world. How can we keep Devine and Perdana accountable to this community and to the school’s director, Gabi, who trusted them as allies and supporters? And how can we address white saviorism — systemic, cultural, and interpersonal — so situations like this never happen again?
White saviorism can be described as a form of individual, cultural, and institutional racism and white supremacy that results in the systemic silencing and dehumanization of Black, brown, Indigenous peoples by maintaining white power/privilege while simultaneously upholding hierarchical systems of oppression. We encounter white people everyday using their “privilege” and “voice” to “help the less fortunate and voiceless” — particularly in the Global South.
In addition to propagations of the white savior narrative in mainstream media and film, the action and politics built around white-led and defined spaces of altruism are rooted in the history of white supremacy, colonialism, and violent occupation. White saviorism is “the white man’s burden”: the historical efforts of European and white settler colonial nations to bring civilization to Black, brown, Indigenous societies coupled with the modern endeavor to sustain control in a post-colonial world.
The School of Hope is experiencing a person-to-institution iteration of the white savior industrial complex — or what I have come to know as the “Do-it-yourself white savior industrial complex”, the realities of Nicholas Kristof’s lauded do-gooder “DIY Foreign-Aid Revolution”.
In this case, white identified volunteers (unaffiliated with an organization) made promises of support through virtual fundraising, and built a relationship with a dynamic Black African led community based school in Kenya. Although this school has more than 20 years of positive community impact foregrounded by Reverend Oboki and then his son Gabi, there was and still is a great need of financial support to sustain this work.
The white savior industrial complex centers the altruism and “good intentions’’ of white people and white led institutions, while simultaneously creating more systemic trauma and harm and disrupting effective support enacted by the community itself.
Coined by Teju Cole in a 2012 twitter thread and subsequent article in The Atlantic, the white savior industrial complex “supports brutal policies in the morning, funds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.” Although this industrial complex is extremely well funded, it’s positive impact on targeted communities is remarkably limited.
Evolved from white-led evangelistic antislavery movements in Europe informed by enslavers and colonizers themselves, this industrial complex functions from the persistence of trauma porn that pathologizes the Global South as innately dysfunctional and in need of “saving”. For example, 19th century British Anti-slavery activist Thomas Buxton advocated for abolishing the human trafficking of African peoples and chattel slavery in British colonies, but in the same breath promoted European civilization, colonization and the spread of missionary work on the African continent.
In continental Africa, white people supported by a network of white-led institutions travel abroad for government and NGO aid, religious missionary, and independent volunteer trips. With interventions for children being much of the work, large-scale NGOs and aid institutions circulate inappropriate and eye-catching images of Black African children with white volunteers. The internet and social media has revolutionized the way the white savior industrial complex is presented to the world. Celebrities, influencers and everyday people who circulate insensitive voluntourism images from trips in Africa have become the most formidable ambassadors for the white savior industrial complex (institutional and D.I.Y).
No White Saviors (NWS) is a Ugandan based organization that effectively campaigns for accountability, transparency, and transformation in development and aid sectors in Africa. Led by a majority female, majority African team of professionals, NWS is committed to dismantling white supremacy in these spaces and centering equity and antiracism. No White Saviors contends that “[White saviors], and the institutions that send them [into global non-white communities], operate from a deficiency-based, ‘white man’s burden’ model: these children are lacking/broken and I’m here to enhance/fix their lives. They use racist tropes as a means of connecting with kids then retreat back into white fragility when called out on it.”
I am exhausted by the lack of ethics and accountability in development and aid spaces. And additionally frustrated with how this trickles down into the way white saviorism plays out in person-to-person / person-to-community interactions.
As billions of dollars go missing, unaccounted for, and redirected to funding administrative and bureaucratic offices within leading institutions such as the Red Cross and UNICEF, No White Saviors gives equal focus to abuse and harm by individuals and small organizations apart of the same white savior industrial complex.
Just as in the case of School of Hope, paternalism plays an important role in why funding is withheld or mismanaged by white western individuals that campaign for donations on the behalf of community based organizations in Africa and throughout the Global South.
Paternalism stands outside of the realm of mutual aid and community care which have allowed marginalized communities to uplift and sustain themselves. This complex mixture of systemic and interpersonal power and authority gives white people and white founded and led institutions control over funding and the type of support underserved and marginalized communities receive. Additionally important to paternalism is fabricated common knowledge that elite white people, institutions, ideas, and structures must be trusted over the autonomy and leadership of Black, brown, Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities.
It is vital for us to continue to work to dismantle all iterations of the white savior industrial complex.
White Saviors “Making a Difference”
To understand the specifics of the School of Hope situation, I am using the chuffed.org fundraising pages (there are two, and they are now blocked from public view by the campaign administrator) and the two websites that Devine created for the school. Except for the update noted in the beginning, all of the facts I am relaying in this article about this particular situation is with content created by Devine, and conversations on one of the chuffed.org pages between Devine, donors, and Alicia Rahema Mooltrey, Director and Founder of Radical Joy Inc.
Radical Joy Inc, a Black woman led 501 (c3) organization based in Boston, MA, USA, is a vital partner and the fiscal sponsor/financial conduit for the School of Hope. In addition to raising money and completing proposed projects for the school, Radical Joy has supported Gabi and the school in their quest to retrieve these promised funds to build a permanent school building for the community.
I have questions:
How are two people fundraising as individuals for a school able to stall and refuse to give the fundraised donations? These two individuals are not affiliated with an organization with government oversight, so how was this lawful?
Why did Devine and Pedrana lawyer up when the school director and school partner, Radical Joy Inc, requested the remaining funds?
Why would Devine move herself through the narrative presented about School of Hope from a “volunteer” to “campaign fundraiser” and then to self appointed “Chief Executive Officer” of a school in Kenya?
At the beginning of March 2021, Yuki Devine updated the chuffed.org page stating that “further expenditure of the remainder of the funds is subject to site plans and construction costs.” This means she would keep withholding funds until she deemed the time and circumstance fit.
A volunteer and individual fundraiser should never have control over when, how, and under what circumstance fundraised donations are provided to an organization, especially if this was not disclosed prior. This statement was placed in the comments section as well, in which Devine addressed Alicia Rahema Mooltrey, again Radical Joy Inc Director and fiscal conduit for the School of Hope.
She states that Mooltrey “a person previously unknown to me” that “has demanded I hand over the funds raised to her and publicly made allegations of fraud against me with respect to the funds raised through Chuffed for the rebuild of the School of Hope in Kibera, Kenya. I have engaged legal representation to address Ms Mooltrey’s false claims.”
Mooltrey responded within the comments a few days later:
Gabriel Nerima went to his partner organizations because he has attempted to get the funds released from both Yuki Devine and Duncan Pedrana several times to no avail.
Yuki Devine has not been accountable to the director of School of Hope (Gabriel Nerima) because she still has not shown Mr. Nerima or the fiscal sponsor [Radical Joy Inc] for the School of Hope proof that the account that she claims is holding the donations exists and that the money is there. As a volunteer (which is how Devine refers to herself on the campaign page) she is accountable to Mr. Nerima, the fiscal sponsor [Radical Joy Inc], and those that donated to the campaign that she created as an individual. Yuki Devine did not even give Mr. Nerima user access on either of the Chuffed.org campaigns that she created.
Yuki Devine is operating as an individual, not a nonprofit organization, therefore there is no government oversight of her use of those funds. If she is concerned about accountability why has she refused to release the funds to the fiscal sponsor of School of Hope which is a 501c3 public charity and has government oversight over how those funds are used?
Devine is projecting power and authority in space that she should have none. She is a volunteer. Although her initial intentions may have been wholehearted and altruistic, the long drawn out impact of withholding this money has caused irreparable trauma and harm. Trauma for School of Hope leadership, such as Gabi, that trusted Devine with his story and the story of his community — as well as photographed images of him, the children and community members. The trauma and harm of allowing an outsider and volunteer to be involved in the details of the school and the inner workings of the community. The trauma and harm Gabi experienced and endured in attempting to retrieve the donated funds to no avail until this week March, 2021.
School of Hope has waited nearly 4 years for the funds to build a permanent facility needed and promised to their students, the community, and the staff and volunteers of the school. Devine and Pedrana are both evoking white centered power hierarchies to protect themselves from accountability and responsibility. In white saviorism, as long as your initial intentions were in the right place, then all should be absolved when the impact and execution creates trauma, harm, and further destabilization.
Yuki Devine and Duncan Pedrana have NO leadership role at School of Hope. They were volunteers, and most of their volunteer support was done virtually by way of this financial campaign to construct a school building. Devine projected leadership roles for her and Pedrana in the websites she created for the school as a part of the fundraising campaign — “Chief Executive Officer” and “Executive Director”. There was even a disclaimer on the campaign page, “100% of the money raised goes towards the school. It is not spent on salaries or administration costs in Australia. Project Hope is run by volunteers. As a small charity we rely greatly on the efforts of individuals to help us raise money.”
Although maybe there were early conversations about Devine and Pedrana taken on formal roles and maybe even creating an NGO to support donations and facilitate international support, these never amounted to official agreements or legal contracts — throughout the campaign they remained volunteers, nothing more.
But what truly baffles me is whether Devine and Pedrana were qualified to take on such vitally important leadership positions. In “How the “white-savior industrial complex” failed Liberia’s girls” journalist Abigail Higgins wrote about Katie Meyler and More Than Me Academy. In addition to exposing abuse within More Than Me schools in Liberia, particularly by the white American male co-founder, the article is an indictment on inexperienced Americans in the WSIC and the “DIY Foreign-Aid Revolution” valorized by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof. Teju Cole’s 2012 piece is also in contention/conversation with “feel good” white savior narratives and projects produced by Kristof.
Kristof’s 2010 article features mostly white women lauded as heroes with “great ideas” doing good work in the age of the internet and social media. But every day I hear stories of white saviors and their institutions failing — gross financial mismanagement, abuse, paternalism, overt white supremacy.
How many of these westerners and the institutions they create and uphold have been allowed to fail up? How many white westerners with “great ideas” and a “passion to help” have created irreconcilable harm and trauma in already underserved and marginalized communities?
“Do-it-yourself” Foreign-Aid is the “Do-it-yourself” white savior industrial complex. This allows white and white presenting people in particular — anyone from anywhere with decent wifi — to assert dominance, expertise, and positions of authority without proof of positive impact, the proper training, and social geo-political knowledge. This allows a person to go from a 2-time volunteer to project themselves as CEO of a Kenyan school based solely on “good intentions” and “great ideas”, not actual impact and execution. This allows individuals to flex power and withhold funds based on their subjective determinations.
I do not doubt that Devine and Pedrana’s initial efforts and intentions were in a good place, but their impact and execution have caused stress, trauma, and harm to School of Hope director Gabi, the children waiting for a school to be built, and the community that was promised a vital space.
“Cancel culture” will be elicited as a response to this article and current efforts taken for accountability. I share in educator activist Ericka Hart’s assertion that “‘cancel culture’ is a made up concept to protect the harmful, to deter from the issues raised, using tactics of emotional abuse to center the harmful….cancel culture centers the faux ‘pain’ of the person who has been called out …White people and their institutions can always ‘move forward’ ‘enact changes’ however modest and ‘re’create themselves. One of the greatest benefits of white privilege is that you get to rewrite your own narratives and have people believe you.”
But as I predict that Devine, Pedrana, and their supporters will likely evoke “cancel culture” in response to calls for accountability, what about Gabi, the children, the School of Hope community, and the people of Kibera? As Hart also suggests, “what is it then called when the person or the people who did the calling out lose opportunities, are gaslit, fired, killed, ostracized, ignored, etc.? Is that also cancel culture? Because the people who are ACTUALLY cancelled are not getting a phrase/concept to protect them from, or anyone else, getting harmed.”
Gabi and the School of Hope community have experienced harm, we must support them in their quest for accountability.
No White Saviors says it best: “What can be true at the same time: you can have good intentions, help people and still make mistakes / perpetuate harm in the process. We do not demand perfection, but we do need to see a real commitment to do better. How you respond when being held accountable says a lot about what your real intentions are. If you actually care about a group of people, then you will prioritize the impact of your actions over your intentions. Your discomfort in being wrong is the smallest price to pay & it gets much easier the more you understand your own humanity and fallibility.”
When I first began writing this article it was a Call To Action, but now it is a Call For Accountability. Although School of Hope received the donation funds this week with the support of Radical Joy Inc, this update does not change the tone or appeal within this piece. What occurred was wrong and beyond unethical. What occurred happens all the time without resolution, accountability, or reparations.
How you can help:
- Please Donate to School of Hope through Radical Joy Inc: https://www.radicaljoyinc.org/materials-for-learning
- Connect School of Hope and Radical Joy Inc with Australian or International legal aid.