The White Savior Complex, Passion Without Experience or Education: An Open Letter to Maggie Doyne

“Winner of the CNN Hero of the Year Award, Maggie was just an average gap year student trying to find her way in the world when she came across something she could never un-see. This is how one girl single-handedly changed the lives of hundreds with this one thought: “Forget the 80 million, start with one”

As our platform grows over at No White Saviors we are watching recovering white saviors start to get it, realizing that intention does not matter as much as impact. We are seeing people take ownership of the mistakes they have made, understanding how necessary it is to be held accountable for the work that they are doing in at-risk communities, namely, communities in over-exploited countries such as Nepal and Uganda.

When you have received nothing but adoration for all your good deeds, it can be challenging to hear critical feedback but we hope you will listen. Maggie, we want to start off by saying that we can recognize passion when we see it and you are no doubt filled to the brim. We can see why so many are sharing your story, why you became CNN’s Hero of the Year in 2015. If we did not have the knowledge, education and professional backgrounds that we do, we would likely be inspired by your story as well.

After being sent this video about an American woman adopting 200 children, you could say we had some questions. Below are our questions and feedback that we are hoping to hear your response to. We would love to see you engage in the larger conversation we are having about challenging the white savior narrative.

  1. If it wouldn’t fly for children in your community, why is it good enough for children in Nepal?

You moved to Nepal at 18 or 19 years old and with no college education, relevant experience or training. Do I have this correct? You entered a community from a totally different country and cultural background. How could you know the best way to address complex problems in Nepal? Have you since realized why this is problematic?

2. An orphanage or a children’s home? HINT: They are the same thing

We need folks reading to understand that most children entering the care of orphanages / children’s homes have families. Children often enter care because of poverty and a lack of supports to help keep the family together. You mention in this video that you raised 200 children. This is just not possible. When you speak about it as though you single handedly raised that many children, it’s dishonest to leave out the countless staff I am sure it took to help you provide adequate care and supervision.

I’m not an expert regarding the legal framework for OVCs (Orphaned or otherwise Vulnerable Children) in Nepal specifically but our team has a vast knowledge of research surrounding global child protection and child welfare. You are running an orphanage. A children’s home is just a nicer word for orphanage. Have you been introduced to best practices in OVC care? We can provide you with a number of resources that can shed more light on this. We suggest looking at the Better Care Network for relevant resources.

3. Going to college and gaining relevant experience could have helped you make fewer mistakes along the way

As stated above, the majority of children who are in orphanages are there because of poverty. What would the outcome have been if you had gone to school in a relevant field of study, taken the time to gain experience working with local NGOs already on the ground and I don’t know, maybe researched what best practice looks like for at-risk children in Nepal? You would have likely ended up in a very different place, recognizing you were not the best option for all 200 children.

We are not saying that some of these children could not be kept with their biological families. For those who were unable to stay in their immediate or extended families, best practice is that domestic foster care & adoption are prioritized. You would have been able to work with your national partners to develop family preservation and foster care programs. I am not saying good has not been done, but that needless collateral damage has likely been done along the way due to your lack of knowledge or expertise going in.

4. It is our understanding that you are the only foreign national on your staff, however, you are consistently celebrated as the hero of the story. What are you doing to challenge this narrative and place the focus back on the nationals who are working tirelessly to serve their own community?

It seems like there is a great deal of good work you’ve been involved with. It also sounds like you have worked side by side with Nepalis people to serve their community. This is great, but it is not the story that is being emphasized by the international media or your supporters. You are being celebrated as the hero of the story, the one who swooped in and “saved” or “rescued” so many of Nepal’s poor, and vulnerable children.Have you found effective ways to challenge this? If you have, we would love to see it in action! We understand it is not entirely in control, but we believe that you have a responsibility to remove yourself from the center of the narrative and highlight the work that people in Nepal are doing for their own community.

We know you mean well, we know you have wanted nothing more than to meet the needs of the people in front of you. This is not a bad thing, in fact, it is a beautiful thing. The problem is not that you have made mistakes, because everyone will along the way. The problem is that there are so many onlookers hearing your story and seeing you celebrated in such a way. The problem is this persistent narrative that passion and good will are enough to solve complex problems in vulnerable communities. As more and more people hear your story, you have an incredible opportunity to help shift this narrative away from you and back on the Nepalis leaders who are transforming their own communities. You have an opportunity to be transparent & to help others learn from your mistakes.

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