Do I hate clowns?

I have received some comments flak for suggesting that clowns ought to have borders.

While I was only half serious, it’s worth pointing out that people who wear masks and perform magic tricks in Africa are not, as a rule, objects of fun and merriment. Traditions vary from place to place, but my sense is that clowns = devilry in more places than not.

But maybe the children are not terrified.

So I’ll try to remain open-minded, even if they probably do spend $10k per clown trip. “That $10k would probably not have been spent on clean water anyways” is not the best thing to recommend an NGO, but perhaps it doesn’t make them the “worst”.

Fortunately for all of us, a new candidate has arisen for worst NGO of all time. I give you WAVES.

The best that can be said: at least they did not call themselves Surfers Sans Frontieres.

P.S. I have another contender, but they are big, and if you didn’t like the clowns comment, you will hate me if I call them out.

25 thoughts on “Do I hate clowns?

  1. Pingback: In Defense of Clowning (as a development strategy, that is) « ox the punx

  2. Pingback: In go the clowns « Aid Thoughts

  3. I’m quite curious as to why you would call out an organization such as WAVES. Other than the fact that ill-informed academics, development workers and followers of you blog may have been given a “kick” out of your attempt at humor in slighting an NGO of “surfer brahs”. I find it sad that someone of your esteem and intelligence (something I’m assuming based upon your position at Yale…but then again you know what they say about assumption) would be so uncreative in using such an old cliché.

    In naming the worst NGO of all time, quite possibly you could have done a little more research than opening your internet browser and searching for extra curricular activities that you may find beneath you, such as clowns or surfing, and cross referencing those searching to NGOs. Possibly you could have used you knowledge of the development world and provided a more thought provoking dialogue about certain NGOs that have proven to be ineffective, stagnant, promote a culture of “give me” as opposed to sustainability, or in the worst case scenarios are filled with corruption and/or absurd levels of overheard.

    Instead, you decided to stoop to a sophomoric level. Now, I wouldn’t have as big of a problem with you assertion that WAVES is the worst NGO had you done some homework and presented a logically sound argument as to what WAVES did or did not accomplish and why it was in fact a poor organization. Clearly you didn’t.

    While it may be easy to point fun at surfers, it’s not easy to deny the fact that the surfing industry has become a billion dollar industry and a juggernaut in the apparel market (several leading brands are public companies). Anyone with any decent travel experience will have noticed a transformation of apparel in the past 10-20 years with surf brands taking over significant market share in both the developed and underdeveloped world, both in costal and noncostal locals. In Peru, for example, while walking in rural town in the coast or the sierra the majority of the people with branded clothing (albeit many of which are fake) are of surfing brands, no longer athletic brands such as Nike or Adidas. Same can be said for the Midwest of America. But I digress.

    Aside from the seriousness of the surf industry, surf tourism is an industry within itself; with economic studies indicating the economic impact is well within the billions of dollars on an annual basis. However, some of the best surfing spots happen to be located within some of the poorest countries and/or communities. Its sad that these spots are located in places where the local populations, especially the youth, are unable to take advantage of their natural resources, both through the enjoyment of the waves and the monetization of the tourism.

    That’s where organizations such as WAVES step in (For the record I am not affiliated with WAVES, I simply know about their programs as well as several other similar organizations). WAVES provides access to surf boards and other necessary equipment as well as instructors to the local youth. However, it is far from a free surf school to disadvantaged youth. Surfing, while the backbone of the program, is just one component. The primary goal of the program is to create sustainable development through education, voluntourism and local job creation. Surfing classes only compose about of quarter of the classes offered through WAVES. Additionally, the organization provides English classes, environment classes, health and safety classes, micro financing to local youth, life skills training and hires from the local population. The entity is funded through volunteers that pay to participate in the programs, in a traditional voluntourism format, as well as through in-kind donations and a small amount of cash donation. To further the sustainability, WAVES works with national, regional, and local governments whom contribute resources, both financial and in-kind, to the programs.

    WAVES is far from an excuse for surfers to get a free surf trip while teaching a few kids to surf. Quite the contrary, participants pay to volunteer. The world would be a better place with more organizations such as WAVES. Leanly run through sweat equity that provide true sustainable development. Who needs another overhead ridden organization that simply throws money at bloated salaries and unsustainable projects?

  4. The Niall Mellon Township Trust sends middle aged Irish people, after fundraising €5000 each, to build houses in South Africa. I don’t think Africa lacks unskilled labour. A recent documentary showed the relatively short working day spent applying sun cream, and adhering to the other health and safety regulations required when very pale office workers and housewives go onto African construction sites. USAID might start giving them money.

    A former employee told me that they are now competing with African builders for the contracts. More scarily, a €7m grant from Atlantic Philantrophies was forgone when the founder refused to remove his name from the title. What do you guys think? Are they crowding out? or would the money not otherwise flow into Africa?

  5. I have known “Pallassos sense fronteres” (it is a Catalan NGO) since their origins, during the war in Yugoslavia. I think that the NGO made quite more sense in the context of that conflict, where cultural and physical distances were not as huge as in Africa. I would agree on that it does not make that much sense to perform these activities in Rwanda and Congo, but yet, they do not seem to be harmful.
    Maybe we should run an experiment to study the effects of their performances on…happiness?

  6. PS Do you get to pick your captcha comments? Mine was just “Tilly.”

  7. It’s got to be Enough. That “Can You Hear Congo Now?” email almost caused my laptop keyboard to be ruined with diet coke.

  8. I don’t surf, but I’m going to come down on the side of the surfers here. One of the basic criticisms of Big Development is its inability to get in touch with (and respond to) local needs and conditions. These guys, as essentially development amatuers, have the potential to avoid the pathologies of larger aid organizations.

    At worst, it’s a clever way for surfers to get sympathetic rich people to underwrite their surfing in exoctic locales in exchange for some volunteer work of minimal upside (or, for that matter, downside).

    -Dave S.

  9. Dude… don’t dis surfers. Sometimes surf towns in developing countries have thriving economies, the greenest practices, and a population of expatriates who actually try to understand and preserve local cultures. Maybe an NGO isn’t necessary, but there’s something to be said about surf economies.

    Plus, you’re really crimping my plans to start a Surfing Clowns without Borders NGO.

  10. Oh come on, Blattman! Man up a little, will ya? It doesn’t take a lot of stones to ridicule Clowns Without Borders and WAVES. Besides, you’re not “calling anybody out”. You’re just take pot shots.

  11. Now you’ve got us all curious: who’s the most wasteful NGO of them all?

  12. Yeah, I got some of the hate my way as well. This has taught me that while most folks don’t seem to like clowns, people hate clown haters.

  13. I’d love to know who else you think is bad. But I’d also like to know who you like. Which NGOs do you feel are really making a difference long term.

  14. I have a relative (no Rockefeller, but living a solid US lifestyle) who flew with a group to an extremely poor region to perform faith healing on extremely poor people.

    Give me clowns or surfers any day of the week.

  15. No love for Acupuncturists without Borders? I’m really not making this up. Here’s the mission statement: “Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) vision is to foster the creation of stable, peaceful global communities through its community-based acupuncture services and training which interrupt the cycles of unresolved trauma.”

  16. That’s a good point about IC’s NGO work (micro-economics, education, etc.) It’s just a shame that they can’t concentrate on that instead of the sensationalized movies and garment lines.

  17. No, it’s not IC. A bigger fish. IC’s NGO arm (the one that delivers aid) is not bad, actually. It’s the filmmaking and advocay end that I’ve quarreled with in the past.

  18. Dude, what’s wrong with letting a bunch of kids surf more? I know it’s not exactly The First Priority, but there are so many worse things…

  19. I loved the clown comments, and am itching to know what NGO is the other contender. At least neither the clowns nor the surfers are building a Congo theme park ride: