It is essential to connect with a specific community and identify its needs before you jump in to help, said musician Will Butler at a campus event kicking off The Civically Engaged Young Alumni Week yesterday evening.
Butler, who is a 2005 Weinberg graduate and a multi-instrumentalist in the award-winning band The Arcade Fire, whose first album Funeral came out his senior year at Northwestern, has taken on Haiti as his preferred cause along with the rest of the band members. He emphasized the crusade is personal because his sister-in-law and fellow band mate Régine Chassagne is Haitian.
“[Haiti] is part of our community as a band,” he said to the audience of more than 100 students, fans and faculty that gathered at the Donald P. Jacobs Center. “If we weren’t successful we’d still be giving money to Haiti.”
Since the band’s initial success in 2005 they have been committed to using their influence to help Haiti. The band has given almost a million dollars to Partners in Health, the global health organization founded by Dr. Paul Farmer and featured in Mountains beyond Mountains, this year’s selection for One Book One Northwestern.
The Arcade Fire chose to support PIH’s efforts in Haiti because it is “the most efficient” and is “rooted in the love of a specific community,” he said. Farmer is operating in an impassioned way that is more effective than any other organization, Butler said.
Most of the money has come from a $1 surcharge on every The Arcade Fire concert ticket that goes directly to Farmer’s organization, which has also raised awareness, he said. “We do things that are so easy it’s stupid not to do them,” he said, adding their efforts have been magnified by their success, and downplaying the band’s obvious commitment to social justice.
But it is important to truly understand the community you wish to serve and feel a personal connection to it, he said, or else organizations can cause serious harm. “This isn’t a call for inaction, it’s a call for caution,” he said. A simple Google search can help people who wish to donate or volunteer know which organizations and individuals are effective, he added.
And serving doesn’t necessarily mean being on the ground doing the work. Butler has never been to Haiti, but is trying to do his part through raising money and awareness for Paul Farmer, he said, who is actively engaged in the Haitian community and understands how to best help that community.
“Do something useful for someone doing useful,” he said. “Just learning about everything is really helpful.”