Drax Files 16: Live, learn and feed

The 16th episode of the Drax Files has premiered,  showcasing the work of Brique Topaz (Brique Zeiner, RL) and her organisation Live and Learn in Kenya (LLK). They are engaged in work to feed and educate poor children in Kenya, including covering fees, uniform, shoes, textbook and school supplies and now, even building a school of their own.

Brique Topaz (Brique Zeiner RL) and Kenyan children in the Feed a Smile programme
Brique Topaz (Brique Zeiner RL) and Kenyan children in the Feed a Smile programme

Feed A Smile is a programme run by LLK to provide nutritious warm lunches for over 400 children every day, paid for entirely from donations to the project. Over a third of the money directed at the programme comes from donations received through Feed a Smile in Second Life – and that’s a remarkable figure.

The money is raised through live music played at the Lavender Fields club, which stages around 5 or 6 events weekly and to which musicians donate their tips and visitors are asked to donate just L$100 ($0.30), which is enough to purchase a filling meal for a child in Kenya, a fact that within itself is quite mind-boggling.

The Lavender Fields club at Feed a Smile in SL
The Lavender Fields club at Feed a Smile in SL

“I keep waiting for the mainstream media to realise that Relay in Second Life is the greatest human interest story,” Zander Greene commented when discussing Fantasy Faire and RFL with Drax in 2013.  “I just don’t understand why CNN and forty other media outlets aren’t beating down our door to try to tell this story.”

Those words apply equally here; who would have thought that people creating digital avatars and logging-in to a virtual environment and sharing time listening to one another’s music, could have such a profound effect on the lives of young children in Africa?

This is very much a story which should be highlighted and pushed out before the mainstream media; not because it is “feel good”, but because it is a clear demonstration of the positive and lasting influence virtual words can have on the real world, and more than an antidote to the hoary old view the media has that those involved in such spaces do so because they “lack” a life elsewhere.

“There are a lot of people out there who really want to do good things,” Brique observes, “but they don’t know how … in Second Life, it’s all there. It’s all possible.” Indeed. Where else has such an immersive, engaging and free-flowing environment become the conduit for so many from around the world to help support others?

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Silence may be golden, but it also weighs heavy

I keep promising myself I won’t start banging  on about Linden Lab’s inability to openly communicate. That was more-or-less the tone of things in this blog back in 2011 (see my views on business, communication and growth, and the growing frustration over the Marketplace situation in 2012, and weel as point in between and after, if interested). However…

Rod Humble may have gone, but the Lab apparently has yet to issue any statement in reponse to enquiries from the media
Rod Humble may have gone, but the Lab has yet to issue any statement in response to enquiries from the media

Friday 24th January saw the news break that Rod Humble had departed the Lab. According to his own comments pass to others at the time of the announcement, he’d left the Lab “last week”. If so, this could mean the Lab has been absent a CEO for about two weeks, and they have yet to say anything on the matter.

It’s not just the fact that repeated enquiries from the likes of Hamlet Au and I (among others) have gone without response – we’re still small fish in the ocean of blogging / journalism. Where the story has been picked-up by the games media, it also appears that enquiries made to the Lab also remain unanswered.

True, the message has been somewhat slow in spreading to the media at large; only Gamesbeat picked-up on the news in the 24th along with as did Games Industry. Since then Gamasutra covered the news on January 28th, as did  Massively. Nevertheless, one would have thought some message would have been forthcoming from the Lab in order to squash the potential for speculation or negative rumours to become established as fact.  Or could it be that Rod Humble’s annoucement was a knickers-around-ankles moment for the Lab?

See what I mean about speculation?

Beyond this, as Ciaran Laval observes, there is still ongoing confusion and upset relating to attempts to cash-out and  / or tax ID requirements.  A part of this seems to be down to the Lab possibly being overwhelmed by the inflow of documentation, and it is taking time to clear things up. However, the fact that noting is  – once again – being done to communication matters and provide some form of open feedback really isn’t helping matters at all.

Of course, the Lab may well feel secure in its position that the majority of SL users are likely to be oblivious as to what is going on, and are happy knowing that SL is still there for them when they are ready to log-in. But in terms of those who are investing time, effort and money into helping make Second Life a place people want to log-in to and enjoy, not actually taking the time and effort to offer reasonable clarification of what is going on as requires things like cash-outs and tax (and, indeed, what is and isn’t required ahead of time) doesn’t tend to send a positive message, but does tend to add a little more weight to an overburdened camel’s back.

In writing about Rod Humble’s tenure, I pointed out that communications had started on a downward trend prior to his arrival, and had continued to sink throughout his time there, despite his own initial attempts to ramp things up. This smacks of a deep-seated cultural element within the company (driven out of the board?) which doesn’t see communications as having any real priority. As such, I’m not holding my breath in the hope that things will change, even with a new CEO, when (if?) we ever get to hear about one being appointed.

But even a short-term upswing, as witnessed in the months immediately following Humble’s arrival at the Lab prior to the downward trend resuming, would actually be better than we have at the moment.  I won’t borrow from Tateru again and use her Silence of the Lab logo, but I can admit, I’m sorely tempted to do so.