KIGALI, RWANDA—In an effort to provide relief to a people devastated by civil war, genocide, and poverty, members of the humanitarian aid group Socialites Without Borders spent several hours this week teaching destitute Rwandans how to mingle.
"These poor souls, there's so much we can do to help to them," said Tinsley Rothschild, an event planner for the non-profit organization, while surveying the country's bleak and arid landscape. "Just look around, there's nothing here: no hors d'oeuvres, no towering ice sculptures, nothing. Nobody should have to live like this."
"I bet most of these people have never even seen a Bellini, let alone know how to sip one," Rothschild continued. "Unless we do something fast, these men and women stand no chance of surviving a high-society dinner party."
Arriving on private jets from their headquarters in Martha's Vineyard, volunteers from Socialites Without Borders touched down in northern Rwanda early Sunday morning. Following an extravagant luncheon held in their honor, the charitable luminaries were driven by limousine to a nearby refugee camp, where they provided impoverished villagers with emergency lessons in everything from making small talk, to name-dropping, to drastically improving one's life by marrying a wealthy steel magnate.
"Always remember to keep things light and breezy when mingling," Danielle Watters, a real estate heiress, was overheard advising a group of war-ravaged amputees. "Talk about where you recently summered, or what boarding school you went to. When you feel at a loss for words, perhaps try remarking on the stunning architecture of the tent you're in."
While the outreach program stresses the fundamentals of being a warm and friendly host, the socialites were reportedly concerned when several Rwandan villagers failed to make eye contact, exchange pleasantries, or offer flattering compliments when prompted. More disturbing was the apparent lack of effort shown by many of the emaciated citizens to appear fascinated by the conversations going on around them.
"What I witnessed was appalling," said Adelina Thornton, an accomplished equestrian, who was moved to tears by the sight of a young orphaned child dressed in horizontal stripes. "Not a single person expressed any interest whatsoever in how long our estate has been in the family."
Added Thornton, "The people here are even worse off than we could have imagined."
Despite initial concerns, volunteers reported that some progress was made by Monday afternoon, with many pointing to the look of elation and joy on the faces of several men and women moments after being shown the proper way to hold stemware. In addition, the fact that many Rwandans seemed to already know how to speak French seemed promising, if nothing else.
Still, sources said, the work ahead of them was astronomical.
"That is not how we eat a deviled egg," said volunteer Yvonne Chantecaille, playfully knocking the protein-rich appetizer from an elderly villager's hand. "We do not gobble it up. We savior the complexity of flavor profiles, and leave the garnish around it alone."
"Also, we do not bring up how a senseless genocide ravaged our family, leaving scores of dead as far as the eye can see," Chantecaille added. "Not even over dessert."
Due to Rwanda's widespread unemployment and limited access to basic necessities such as food and clean water, Socialites Without Borders made it their top priority to rebuild the nation's confidence. The volunteers reportedly boosted the self-esteem of poor Rwandan farmers by referring to them as "organic agriculture tycoons," while women suffering from Hepatitis A were touched up with foundation to conceal their jaundiced appearance.
"See—all better now," said Roberta Furlein, wife of steel magnate Michael Furlein, applying makeup to the face of a sickly Rwandan woman. "A little bit of color was all you needed."
Furlein, who has donated more than $20 million to improve living accommodations for Columbia University students, blamed the sub-Saharan nation's education system and illiteracy rate for many of its current problems.
"Reading is so important to bettering yourself," Furlein said. "No one here seems to ever look at New York Times style section, or even Vogue for that matter."
Added Furlein, "It's scary, but I don't think people here even knew who we were."