I was innocently reading some news article online recently when this advertisement assaulted me from the sidebar:
It was just a single advertisement with the text at the top fading between the two. And no I do not have permission to reproduce it on my blog, but they wanted their message advertised to the world, so I’m just helping them share it with even more people.
Now I don’t know where Food For The Poor found Siyovle (whose name means “If They Want” by the way) or why anyone is still donating to a nonprofit called Food For The Poor in this day and age, but Siyovle doesn’t look too happy about getting his picture taken, probably by some white person in a floppy hat and an outfit with lots of pockets. Who are they to interrupt him while he’s playing with his tin cans in the dirt? And if the king of tin can world wants to rule his kingdom in the dirty nude, then so be it! Yet the marketing team at Food For The Poor definitely took the opportunity to make him look as pitiful as possible and make the need to donate look as urgent as possible. The urgency emphasized by putting the “Please Donate” in blood stopping red against the muted sad colors of the rest of the ad. Because, if you don’t donate, poor little Siyovle will surely die, at least that’s what his mother is afraid of. Why oh why must we be so dramatic?
Now I don’t have children of my own, but I don’t know many parents who don’t worry constantly about their children’s safety and well being. They walk across the street, you worry that they’re going to get hit. They get on the bus you worry that they’re not going to get in an accident. They eat some chicken nuggets and you worry that they’re not chewing thoroughly enough. Parents worry about their kids. I’m not saying Siyovle’s mother’s concerns for her children aren’t reasonable. Indeed they are very substantial because children in Haiti statistically do have a much lesser chance of living to adulthood than in most other countries in the world. I personally have seen far too many children in Haiti die much too young from causes that could have been prevented. It’s tragic and it’s heartbreaking and something definitely should be done to avoid it, however, the approach taken in these ads is not the way to raise funds for such life saving efforts. There are ways to garner support for such efforts without sacrificing the dignity of those who need the help and without misrepresenting the culture that they come from.
I’ve said it before, pity is the ultimate enemy of progress. Why do some continue to think that it’s the answer to raising money for “helping” people? Why are some so obsessed with creating categories of Others who are somehow considered lower? Guilty giving only cheapens the gift. Part of it has to do with design and marketing methods that don’t line up with modern humanitarian principles. The way we design things matters just the same way the way we dress ourselves in other cultures and the words we say matters. Without even knowing it these things can betray the best of intentions and leave scars that struggle to heal. But ultimately it’s all a larger issue of how we view one other that we share this planet with and we choose to interact with those we encounter on a day to day basis as well as in extraordinary circumstances. I choose to focus on promise, potential, and beauty. But they can continue to choose pity if they want. Si yo vle.