It’s that time of year again, where we engage in charitable acts and donate what we can in order improve the lives of those living in poverty and most unfavourable conditions around the world: Comic relief. Of course, I’m not anti-charity, nonetheless, the superfluous displays raise many questions and issues in my mind which I feel compelled to address. There are many international charities and non-governmental organisations, Save The Children, Oxfam, etc, who have been raising money for a very long time, however, the situation of poverty in developing countries seems to be in stagnation, more so, it could be argued that it is getting worse. Nothing has changed.
Many charities often use the image of starving children, particularly African children, an image we are all too familiar with - for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99pQ0KJfdoE (and images below) - I find this problematic on many points.
Firstly, such images have been used so frequently that the average viewer has become desensitised to the sight of a starving young African child, which has a multiple effects: 1) it normalises this level of poverty in Africa, thus reinforcing the stereotype of Africa and poverty 2) it makes the average person feel powerless, for such repetitive imagery makes it seem as if there are no positives outcomes 3) it evokes an internal guilt to the viewer, making it seem as if they are somehow “responsible” for what is going on, and must act out of guilt, rather than out of love or human compassion.
I am not in any way negating the existence of extreme levels of poverty of countries in Africa and other “developing” nations in the world, nor am I arguing against the need of or attacking charities for the work that they do, however, I am more so arguing strongly for the case of fair and positive representation in charity adverts and in the mainstream media. I believe it to be a human right for a human being to be represented in a fair and dignified manner, and the above images do not do that.
The average African child, or child from any other developing area in the world, does not sit around looking defeated, with flies on their faces waiting for help. Many are like this…
(I received an overwhelmingly positive response with this above image on twitter, which led to this tweet trending in the UK)
Here are some more...
That is to say, many are positive and making the most out of the situation and challenges that they are presented with. However, many people will argue against these above pictures, saying that they are not truly representative of the whole of Africa, to those critics I ask, why are you more accepting of a negative portrayal of Africa, than a positive one?
This now brings us to another issue, mainly for those who would like alternative methods of supporting good causes, as the growing scepticism of charities continues. What can we do?
Well, there is never a simple step by step solution to resolving the problem of poverty in developing areas as there are many factors to consider, however, there are some essential courses of action we can follow that will take us in the right direction to achieving that goal.
Here are 4 suggestions:
- 1. Pressure: your governments, multinational companies and corporations to desist from the exploitation of natural resources, for instance Coltan in the Congo, or the enforcement of legislation, which only exacerbates poverty, such as IMF structural adjustment programs or conditional aid loans, or the militarisation of developing countries through arms deals and intervention/invasion. For the last few decades, the increase of poverty has been as a result of said actions.
If we show, that we are collectively conscience of human suffering and exercise our consumer and citizen power, there will be progress.
- 2. Grassroots: Find a grass roots organisation on the ground that is helping directly with a cause you are passionate about. Charities mainly only blow their own trumpets, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the best charity to support depending on the cause you are passionate about such as agriculture or education. Also, the kind of technology exists where you can communicate directly with people on the ground, and not have to go through middlemen.
- 3. Travel & Tourism: there are a lot of developing countries, with emerging economies, who would benefit from tourism of people from other parts of the world, so you wouldn’t have to be worried about sending money, you can go there and spend money. Trade is far more economically progressive than aid, and a much more viable solution to ending poverty. Trade provides self-sustenance and livelihoods the world over.
- 4. Time: is probably one of the most crucial aspects rarely considered. If you can, donate your time, whether it is here in the UK, or whichever western country, or in the country you are supporting, giving your time is essential. Volunteer for a cause, whether it’s raising awareness about an issue, or communicating with people around the world. Be creative with it.
The homogenisation of Africa is destructive to its development; there should be balanced representation and a multifaceted approach to ending poverty. I do not believe that poverty will be made history because of charities – though they play their part – more so, poverty will be ended because of the self-determination and empowerment, through education and livelihoods, of the people who are in those situations.
If you are interested, I highly recommend these readings on the matter of aid:
Jonathan Glennie – The Trouble With Aid In Africa: Why Less Could Mean More For Africa
Dambisa Moyo – Dead Aid : Why Aid Is Not Working And How There Is A Better Way For Africa
This goes out to you, true hearts, carry on with your faith wedged between your shoulders blades that we may one day fly. The world will be made better because of you.