Book #12 of 2012 rocked my world. It was Intuitive Eating, and I picked it up after seeing it on a friend’s coffee table. She’s a public health educator, so I figured it had to be at least okay. Way past okay. The idea is you eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and recognize that restrictive eating doesn’t work. Wait, you mean that’s how most people eat? As not mind-blowing as that should have been, it was. Like it was written just for me. I feel like I can hardly do it justice here, but it was a game changer for sure.
Book #13, not so much. It was At Home in Mitford, and was kind of a place holder. I was out of things I really wanted to read, and had heard about it in Christian circles and thought I’d give it a try. The writing isn’t bad, per se, but it’s just sort of meh. The descriptions are long and drawn out, but not in the breathtaking way. There are also very odd time/space transitions that kept throwing me off. And really, it was about 1/3 to 1/2 too long. Nothing. Happened. Again, not in a good way. I’m not sure if I will read more or not, I guess it depends if I run out of better choices.
After the hum drum of At Home in Mitford, I started, and quickly finished Book #14, Room. I picked it for summer book club after reading a review, and LOVED it. A friend who is in book club asked if I picked a sexual abuse theme…definitely not. But it did turn out the three books we read contained sexual abuse. The interesting thing about Room is that it isn’t the focus. The story is told from a child’s perspective, something the author did on purpose according to an interview, so that it would be readable and not so dark you couldn’t read it. It’s a story of captivity for sure, but also of wonder…of discovering a place you never knew existed, and figuring out how to cope with it. Definitely a must read.
The most recent book I finished was Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Book #15 of the year. I heard an MPR discussion on the radio about favorite summer reads, and this one was mentioned quite a few times. It’s the (nonfiction) story of an Indian slum in Mumbai, told by a reporter who, according to her accounts, did extensive research and spent lots of time interviewing, recording, and interacting with the residents. It’s engaging for sure, well-written, colorful, but as I read it had the smack of embellishment. And I’m still not sure what to do with that. One of the things that bothered me the most was the assertion, on multiple times, that World Vision had either misused funds, or much like the rest of the slum as portrayed by the author, succumbed to corruption.
It’s not something I talk about a lot, because it’s not a badge of honor, but I sponsor children through World Vision, one of whom lives in India, though not in Mumbai. The reason I chose World Vision over Compassion and other organizations who work to alleviate childhood poverty is that World Vision works on a community development model. They understand that to change a community, you have to change the structures, and improve life for all. And the portrayal in Behind the Beautiful Forevers shattered the image I had of the work they were doing. So I did what I always do. I wrote a letter. I emailed World Vision and told them my concerns and asked what their response was to the book.
I was so pleased and reassured by their response. It wasn’t a blanket “We’re doing everything we can” or some kind of vague way to dodge responsibility. They answered in more detail than I would have expected, and addressed each claim made in the book. They also shared the accountability measures they have in place in detail:
In the book Ms. Boo asserts that World Vision representatives colluded with political candidates in India to provide community improvements in advance of elections. However, World Vision is nonpartisan. We provide aid solely on the basis of need, not to advance any political agenda. Our area development programs (ADPs) can run up to 15 years, with improvements provided throughout the course of the program. Our focus in this community was on clean water, health, education, and economic development. It is possible that physical improvements to a community could take place during the course of an election, but according to the schedule agreed to by community members and World Vision staff, and for no other reason. We regret the appearance to the community that these acts were politically motivated.
The book states that a World Vision social worker collected funds from community members for a water tap, then used the funds for purposes outside of World Vision’s programs. A local volunteer did collect funds from community members; however, the volunteer acted outside of World Vision’s established policies, especially in collecting funds without a written agreement. Staff members confronted the volunteer about the policy violations, and she has since left the program. Even so, World Vision built the pipeline and tap to provide water for local residents.
The book also states that clipboards donated by a car dealer in Arkansas for specific sponsored children were retained by a social worker. World Vision takes very seriously the intent of our donors to help specific beneficiaries. There was never an intention by this business to help specific children. In fact, the clipboards were not donated by the Arkansas firm, but most likely by a company that produces promotional materials which, for reasons such as misprints or a change in business plans, could not be used by the original customer. World Vision U.S. shipped a quantity of such supplies to World Vision’s India office in 2004, and it was their discretion as to where and how to use them for ministry purposes. Part of that donation made it to Mumbai but not specifically for the use by sponsored children. In actuality, at the time of the book’s writing, World Vision did not have a sponsorship program in this specific community. We are sorry for the hurt feelings and misunderstanding by community members.
If you are interested in learning more about World Vision’s work in India, we encourage you to visit the country profile page on our website.
Rest assured, World Vision has implemented several measures to prevent occurrences like the fraudulent collection of funds mentioned above. For example, we have increased field oversight of programs, improved background check procedures, and funded training programs to increase the ability of local staff to detect and deter fraud. In addition, we have enhanced our international, 24/7 integrity hotline and online reporting tool by which World Vision employees, partners in the field, contractors, and others wishing to report suspected illegal or unethical conduct by World Vision or its personnel can contact a third-party provider of ethical reporting services. You can learn more about the online reporting tool by visiting our website.
Please also visit our website to view the 2010 Accountability Report for the World Vision Partnership.
Which really makes it more of a he said she said kind of thing, but a good discussion nonetheless. I’d definitely still recommend the book, because we all know there are two sides to each story.