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Poverty Porn

I have been a volunteer to assist after several natural disasters, as well as traveled to 3rd world countries in my life and career. Went to help after the earthquake in Haiti. Left my big cameras home. There really is no need to document disaster, and unless you are a seriously twisted individual – you really don’t want to relive, or even remember the really bad shit you see.

Met a few photographers taking pics for the world media, mostly concentrated around the worst of the worst, some for the NGO’s pleas for money.

My second or third trip did involve bringing cameras to document the “why” of the damage done by the earthquake. So I have hundreds of  pics of structural failures in destroyed buildings and geographical features… And a few dozen of the de rigor pics with politicians and other players. Somewhere there are pics of me with a group of Mayors from a local newspaper. I’m not even sure I still have it. Two or three of the type of portraits I prefer taking of people, providing a still view of character, and perhaps their lives. I have none of post-Katrina.

Then there are the folks who come loaded with cameras to ghoulishly document the carnage… The following author defines that as “Poverty Porn”. I think that is an apt description.

The dangers of poverty porn

It’s the time of year when social media is inundated with posts about the importance of being thankful for family, friends and well-being because there are starving children in Africa who wish they had a quarter of your good fortune.

Cue the images of an emaciated child with flies buzzing around his face, protruding rib cage, runny nose, and extended hands toward the camera — also known as poverty porn.

Poverty porn is a tactic used by nonprofits and charity organizations to gain empathy and contributions from donors by showing exploitative imagery of people living in destitute conditions.

It leaves many of us feeling uncomfortable, disconnected and guilty — conflicted between turning a blind eye and reposting these pictures in hopes that sharing images of human suffering will enlighten others about poverty.

“There is a human tendency, by some more than others, to want to be helpful,” retired photographerChester Higgins Jr. said. “The ads make it easier. You call a phone number, donate and you’ve done a thing.”

How many of us have considered the possibility that rather than help others, poverty porn does considerable damage?

Higgins, a former New York Times photographer, said it’s time to change the visual conversation. He has been traveling to Africa since 1971. For the last 20 years, he’s taken trips along the Blue Nile, through Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to “make photos,” live and create relationships.

Oftentimes when he see pictures of African people, they are “theft pictures,” which means the pictures were made without the consent of the subjects.

“A photograph never lies about the photographer,” Higgins said.

A distinct mark of poverty porn advertisements and photographs made by non-African photographers is the lack of decency, dignity, virtuous character, or that it shows the subjects’ most vulnerable moment, he said.

He refers to photographers, charities and nongovernmental organizations that exploit the situations of people in dire need as “poverty pimps.”

Save the Children, one of the most-well known aid organizations, operating in more than 120 countries, has come under scrutiny for controversial advertisements some have deemed poverty porn.

A 2014 Save the Children commercial features a woman giving birth at a clinic in Liberia to an unresponsive baby. As the mother moans and shakes, a midwife cleans and rubs the blue newborn, Melvin, to kick-start his lungs. The graphic and distressing scene are followed by text: “For a million newborns every year, their first day is also their last.”

Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children UK, said in a statement that the organization has robust guidelines for the images and stories used, and their priority is safeguarding the children.

“Our image guidelines ensure all our communications reflect the truth, balancing the huge child suffering we witness with stories of hope and progress,” Forsyth said.

The idea that only impoverished Africans, South Americans, Asians and Middle Easterners need Western aid detracts from the impact poverty has in our own backyard, say some experts.

Mark Rank, professor of social welfare at Washington University in St. Louis, said poverty is an issue that touches the majority of Americans.

Compared to other Western industrialized countries, the United States has by far the highest rates of poverty, as well as the highest rates of income and wealth inequality, he said.

Approximately 60% of Americans will experience at least one year in poverty between the ages of 20 and 75, said Rank, who included this statistic in his book “One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All.”

Rank said poverty porn is a graphic way of portraying extreme economic distress, and we mimic this practice in the United States to some extent.

“We focus a lot of time on … inner-city, minority groups living in dilapidated housing as an image of poverty in this country,” he said. “But the majority of folks who experience poverty do not fit that image. In fact, they’re more likely to be the person down the block going through a spell of unemployment.”

In 2014, 17.4 million U.S. households didn’t have reliable access to food, according to the USDA Household Food Security in the United States report.

According to 2013 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 40.2% of SNAP food aid recipients are white, 25.7% are African-American, 10.3% are Hispanic, 2.1% are Asian and 1.2% are Native American.

Rates of infant and maternal mortality/morbidity in the United States, some of the highest among industrialized nations, are also concerning, said Dr. Wanda Barfield, director of the Division of Reproductive Health within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The successes of modern technology can only go so far. There is still high burden of premature birth,” Barfield said. “They’re not just small babies; their entire organ systems are immature (and) until they are full-term they run risks of complication.”

The risk factors for premature birth include being African-American, stress, multiple births, obesity and diabetes, Barfield said.

It’s not only mothers in Africa, like the one in the Save the Children ad, who are at risk of infant mortality, but that’s the prevailing narrative, that all Africans are in need of saving.

Twitter user Diana Salah helped jump-start the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShows to showcase the continent’s diversity on social media. Users post images of grand architecture, fashion, cuisine, culture, engineering, universities, diamond mines and female heads of state.

So, now that we’ve heard a few of the problems associated with poverty and poverty porn, what are some solutions?

Barfield said people can help support the health of infants and pregnant women in their communities by joining organizations like the March of Dimes, which has state chapters to help educate the public and community about risks of preterm births.

Communities can help support families and children by educating them about opportunities to get good nutrition, and making sure young girls grow up into healthy women.

Demanding transparency from NGOs and charities is crucial to differentiate legitimate causes from “poverty pimps,” Higgins said.

To avoid being duped, Higgins said potential donors should ask questions like:

  • How much of the money is transferred to local causes?
  • Can the charity/NGO provide an audit?
  • Are the locals given agency to handle their problems with the money raised?
  • Is the charity or NGO building local infrastructure?
  • Are skills being transferred to locals so they have the ability to use your money to do good?
  • Is the programming respectful of the cultural norms and local perspectives in the country it serves?

Don’t donate money to a charity or NGO based on emotions; instead ask for a measurement of what good they’re doing, because “good” is a variable word, he added.

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2015 in American Greed

 

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Medika Mamba – Saving Haiti’s Children From Starvation and Malnourishment

A Haitian child is given Nutributter, a supplementary food rich in nutrients.Working in Haiti is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever done… And rewarding. 19 Months and 19 trips to the country after the earthquake which devastated the country, a hell of a lot hasn’t changed – or is worse. A hell of a lot has changed for the better as well  – much due to the perspicacity of the Haitian people, the hard work of independent charities and churches from other countries, the blood sweat and tears of the relief agencies…

Which I guess defines the “bipolar frustration” felt by many Haitians and AID workers.

The failures in the country include 19 months later, little to no progress has been made in fixing any of the very basic infrastructure systems in the country.  It hits you in the face as soon as you land in the country – the airport is in shambles. The main terminal which suffered severe damage during the earthquake is exactly in the same condition as it was 15 months ago, the Air Traffic Control Tower which collapsed during the earthquake has been replaced by a “temporary tower” – a Winnebago parked in the middle of the airfield…

That is the only way in and out of the country for emergency relief supplies such as medicines and food.

There was supposed to be a major project to correct the basic problems with the airport – it hasn’t happened.

Cholera made it’s reappearance last year killing over 6,500 people. It’s back again this year, spreading into Port au Prince. The country does not have a sewer treatment system, so raw sewage is pumped into the ocean, or in some recently documented cases just dumped right on the ground. Don’t even think about the sanitary conditions in the tent cities where roughly 600,000 Haitians still live, or the rivers where raw sewage is dumped to flow out to the ocean, but which get clogged with millions of plastic bottles causing overflow into entire neighborhoods, despite the frantic efforts of local authorities to clear the debris.

There was supposed to be a new sewer treatment plant – it hasn’t happened.

And that is just the “short list”.

One of the victims of the situation appears to be trash collection. Someone donated dumpsters to collect local trash – but the company which emptied them stopped emptying them (I assume because they ran out of money). So residents now burn the trash in the dumpsters sitting along the streets adding to the already serious air pollution issues (One of the principal killers in Haiti is Tuberculosis, and the average lifespan is only 59).

These issues have to do with the billions of dollars in aid promised by various governmental and international financial agencies – which never got spent to fix the very basic problems in the country. Now – if anyone ever got around to writing a book about why that happened, and continues to happen, parts of it would come out like those international thrillers by a Coyle or Ludnum. The rest like a slow motion disaster movie. The fact of the matter is, both the domestic government under Preval, and the international agencies share the blame. Most people believe corruption is only on the part of the historically corrupt Haitian Government. That’s not entirely true – although the Preval administration was undeniably corrupt to the core – there has been plenty of corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and foot dragging at the international agencies, including by our own US governmental agencies as well. The result has been little progress.

If our conservative friends really gave a damn about government incompetence, malfeasance, corruption, waste, and inability to work together toward a common goal… This would be Herman Cain’s new “bookend” speech. But they don’t – so I expect little to change for the better, regardless of who takes office in 2013. Besides – it’s a black country, and we know damn well where those rank on the hierarchy of conservative concerns.

So I guess, it is uplifting when you hear about something that is working. Here is one, very important case of a treatment that I believe, was initially developed in Africa (Although George Washington Carver could have told them about this 100 years ago), having success in Haiti, and creating an industry.

Thanks for making my day, Meds and Food for Kids!

‘Peanut butter medicine’ giving hope to Haiti’s hungry

 With his ribs showing and his skin practically hanging off him, Pierre Wisny is painfully thin.

The 11-month-old Haitian weighs just 11 pounds, and it’s no surprise that he is severely malnourished.

The same applies for 3-year-old Alcincord Guerviscon, although it’s clear — even without measurements — to see that his growth has been stunted by the same condition. He weighs only 15 pounds.

In most of these cases, the children got this way because of poverty and a lack of access to good food. If they’re not given emergency treatment, they could die or suffer more effects of malnutrition, including reduced brain development.

For staff members at one clinic in northern Haiti, intervention comes in bright green packets: Medika Mamba, which means “peanut butter medicine” in Creole. It’s a ready-to-eat paste packed with nutritious ingredients that — over a period of weeks — gives a jolt to the system and puts children back on track. Made by a U.S.-based nonprofit called Meds and Food for Kids, it’s one of several brands of ready-to-use therapeutic foods.

“You can’t rehabilitate a child who has severe malnutrition with a plate of beans and rice. There’s just no way,” said Thomas Stehl, the nonprofit’s director of operations. “Their stomachs are too small and their nutritional requirements are too great to ever be satisfied in that way. So the quality and the density of food is really important. And that is why ready-to-use therapeutic food and Medika Mamba is such a great answer.” Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Haiti

 

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