When a Vogue editor trades designer photo shoots for community development, the steep learning curve makes rich material for this memoir.
After a nomadic and sometimes-difficult childhood, first-time author Lovatt-Smith planned a trip with her daughter to Ghana to volunteer in an orphanage. What seemed like a solid plan to give her daughter some perspective and the two of them an opportunity to bond became the first step toward new lives. After five weeks at Awutiase—a run-down and crowded orphanage—Lovatt-Smith decided that she had to do more. She started her own aid organization, OAfrica, with the goal of offering orphanages assistance with modernization, staff, training and more. In her time at Awutiase, the author experienced both knee-jerk, righteous anger and the first bloom of guilt for making assumptions about best practices due to what she calls her “own poor grasp of the macroeconomics of the developing world.” She eventually learned that the orphanage directors were truly corrupt, which colored much of her experience and seems to have vindicated many of those early opinions. Still, Lovatt-Smith is willing to show that some of her assumptions were both hurtful and wrong, and she was clearly willing to learn as she went. Soon after finally establishing her own orphanage, she discovered research indicating that orphanages were not necessarily the best way to help children. By nature an impulsive woman, the author was as willing to change the direction of her organization as she was to start it in the first place. That adaptability led to OAfrica becoming an organization that tries to keep children in their families rather than one that works with group homes.
Lovatt-Smith is understandably proud of her accomplishments with OAfrica, but a bit more humility would have benefitted this memoir.