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The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

http://www.the-girl-store.org/shop

One ordinary morning, as I sipped my warm coffee and drowsily listened to reports about all of the various international tragedies that were destroying our planet and people, I received an online message from a friend that directed me to the above website. My friend wanted to know what I thought about the program, as it had recently been touted in the media as a great success.

I opened the website, and was greeted by a video asking me to experience the sensation of buying a girl. No, my friend had not sent me a link to a child prostitution ring, but rather it was a non-profit organization that was in fact trying to ‘save’ these females from being sold into sex slavery. The video suggested that if I did not ‘buy’ these girls, someone else would. As my caffeine began to kick in, and I browsed the website, to be assaulted at every angle by gross generalizations, misinformation and the simplification of a vastly complex issue, I became extremely angry.

Usually these types of projects easily angered me. However, the months of January and February in Canada, are those of freezing temperatures, grey skies and a general feeling of sluggishness. The winter often stunts internal response to outside stimuli, and therefore my strong emotional response took me by surprise. Since no one was present to listen to my dismay, I decided to send a letter to The Girl Store. Both my letter and their (completely inadequate) response are posted below.

________________________________________________________

Dear the Girl Store,

I was recently directed to your website from a friend who had stumbled upon it through jezebel.com (http://jezebel.com/5745169/the-girl-store-wants-you-to-buy-a-girl-her-life-back). I understand your intentions are to improve the conditions of females in Indian, however I find the information on your website promotes ignorance and in the long term will be detrimental to these females. I have reviewed non-profit organizations’ representations of the developing world for my academic work, and have never encountered a website campaign with such a lack of information. Also, my mother’s side of the family came to Canada from Calcutta when she was 15 years old, and I therefore find this personally offensive.

‘”The Indian girl grows up in a society where sons are idolized and daughters are mourned. So if she even makes it out of the womb, 750,000 girls are aborted every year, she is destined to live a life as a lower class citizen. During childhood her brother will get new shoes, clothes and books to learn while she’ll get a broom. Her brother will go off to school, and she’ll stay at home and do chores. In her teenage years, her brother will be well fed and she’ll be left to fend for herself”’.

Referring to an ‘Indian girl’ like they are homogenous entity is dangerous. You are clearly aware of the vast diversity in Indian females, whether class, ethnicity or regional. North Americans do not have this same understanding. We understand India through ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ or World Vision commercials, where children run around in landfills. You are adhering to these stereotypes and presenting us with a utterly simplistic representation of an ‘Indian girl’.

The vast generalization that sons are idolized and daughters are mourned is unreasonable. Of course this happens in some households, as it does in MANY other societies. My grandmother and her brother, became orphans at a young age in Calcutta. My grandmother was able to stay in school, find a job and eventually bring her children to Canada. Her brother was not able to do the same and endured many hardships in a country that ‘idolizes him’. This may be a unique case, but your gross generalization would lead people to think my family’s situation is non-existent. You are disregarding families that work hard to educate both their daughters and sons, and treat them as equal members of society. Equating the issue of male idolization to an Indian problem that happens in every household is wrong and feeds on stereotypes that many North Americans will happily consume (which is probably why you are relying on it).

‘So if she even makes it out of the womb’…

I understand you are trying to be provocative in order to solicit donations from an ignorant population but you really need to rethink the use of this statistic. 750 000 abortions every year out of a population of more than 1 billion is not all that high. In 2008 in the United States, there were 1.2 million abortions, out of country with 307 million people. I am not arguing we should disregard the abortion of females. It is your suggested that this is an Indian problem, that is angering. Twisting these statistics to make your donors feel pity on these females will perpetuate an image of Indian society that is misconstrued and extremely simplistic.

I have mapped trends in non-profit organizations, and have noticed that many are trying to escape the ‘make westerners feel pity’ concept. Many non-profits have realized that this sort of marketing strategy results in westerners’ negative perceptions of specific parts of the world and people. In the end, when westerners do not have a well rounded idea about the country and people they are wanting to help, they turn to methods of development that are inadequate and hazardous.

North Americans’, and more generally westerners’, altruistic actions have often failed overseas. While a combination of factors contribute to these failures, a lack of understanding of the society if often one of them. When organizations trying to improve conditions for disadvantaged groups promote ignorance, it is no wonder we are so often unable to address systemic issues that may result in sustainable change.

Are you okay with your campaign saying:

• Females in Indian are worse off than males (do you not want to speak about class differences, regional differences, historical processes that contributed to this)

• Indians are not capable of addressing this issue (do you really need North Americans to do this? Are you relying on old ideas of development? What message is having your store in New York sending?)

• It is material items that will bring these girls back to life? (do prostitutes and abused females not need counselling and rehabilitation more than shoes?)

I am not contending that educating these females is not what should be done. My grandmother was able to be successful because as an orphan she was allowed to stay in school. However, it disgusts me that if she was in the same situation today she could have been placed on a website, in a demure tragic pose, and been brought back to life by the purchasing power of a North American. It is the way you are presenting and selling this issue that I find extremely problematic and offensive.

If you do genuinely want to help these females, you should allow their complexities to come through in your advertisements. Each female comes from a different family and background, and she has her own story. If you are attempting to help a specific class of females, please do not equate them to the entire Indian population. Many non-profit organizations do offer sections on their websites that provide donors with background information, links to educational websites and other resources that allow individuals to hopefully get a better understanding of the contextual issues.

While your campaign has been successful in garnering donations I urge you to rethink the simplistic story, ridden with dangerous stereotypes that you are selling to North Americans. You have turned these females into commodities for guilt ridden North Americans. Do not assume your ends justify your means, the males who picked up some of these females as prostitutes, probably too assumed at least the money would help them have a better life.

I sincerely urge you to rethink the ‘Buy a Girl her Life Back’ campaign.

_______________________________________________________

Dear Ms,

This is in response to your email to Nanhi Kali on support@nanhikali.org on the 1st February 2011, please find below a brief on the campaign www.the-girl-store.org as well Project Nanhi Kali.

-Why the Girl Store?

www.the-girl-store.org is an innovative website created by StrawberryFrog for Nanhi Kali. The core idea reiterated throughout the site is that the life of an underprivileged girl is not a condemned fait accompli. It is up to the viewers to change her destiny by ‘buying’ her life back – empowering her through education. The funds raised through online donations on the store will provide educational support to over 161 underprivileged girls in India. Our agency designed the site to be provocative to create an initial shock and awareness of the campaign and break through the wall of indifference. The website not only puts the issue of uneducated girls being most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking  up front, but also provides the viewer with a solution to join the fight against it by sponsoring the education of young girls.

Brief background of Project Nanhi Kali –

Nanhi Kali is a holistic sponsorship project which provides educational support to over 61,000 underprivileged girls from poor urban, remote rural, tribal and conflict afflicted communities across 8 states of India, while focusing on local, sustainable solutions involving community engagement and participation. Project Nanhi Kali is managed by 2 reputed not for profits, K C Mahindra Education Trust & Naandi Foundation both committed to positively impacting India’s development landscape through their work with women and children in marginalized communities. Since 2005, the two have been partnering along with various government agencies and corporate to provide 10 years of quality education to girls from economically disadvantaged families in India so that they can grow into self reliant women who in turn will educate their girls and thereby break the inter generational cycle of poverty and exploitation. Nanhi Kali provides the girls not only at academic support through 1-2 hour classes where concepts of language and maths are taught enabling them to achieve grade specific learning competency levels, but also material support in the form of uniforms, school bag, shoes socks etc. which allow the girl  to attend school with dignity. The teaching methodology includes the extensive use of innovative teaching tools and activities such as story telling, group games etc which make learning not only meaningful but also fun. Baseline and end line assessment tests are conducted to track learning levels of the girls. Nanhi Kalis are selected based on multiple criteria including family income, parents’ educational background and social background with most of them being first generation learners. Nanhi Kali is all about positive discrimination and works extensively with parents and communities to sensitize them on gender issues. The project has witnessed phenomenal success with girls even in conflict afflicted areas such as Chhattisgarh becoming district level toppers, creating positive ripple effects of reluctant village elders now becoming torch bearers for girls education in their communities.

Details of the actual interventions can be seen on websites www.nanhikali.org and www–naandi.org

If you would like any further information, please email me at this email id.

Regards,

Sheetal Mehta

Trustee & Executive Director

Project Nanhi Kali

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Perspectives of Poverty

I came across the following photography project, that attempts to address the issue of representation and poverty in rural Africa. Duncan McNicoll,the photographer and an Engineers Without Borders employee, uses two different photographs of the same individual to illustrate how the construction of images can so greatly alter the way people and places are represented. Whether two opposing images are able to adequately address the complexities of poverty and representation is debatable. However, it is great to see individuals working in the development field, attempting to draw attention to problems of representation. I especially like how Edward Kabzela’s ‘poor’ photograph, and the way his community members were able to articulate how to look poorer, points to the economy of images that have become so common place between non-profit organizations and the communities they work with.

Perspectives of Poverty We’ve all seen it: the photo of a teary-eyed African child, dressed in rags, smothered in flies, with a look of desperation that the caption all too readily points out.  Some organization has made a poster that tells you about the realities of poverty, what they are doing about it, and how your donation will change things. I reacted very strongly to these kinds of photos when I returned from Africa in 2008.  I compared these photos to m … Read More

via Water Wellness

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Most common search terms- Update

Here is an update about the most common search engine terms used to view my blog:

Search Views
naked african tribes 63
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tall african tribes 33
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naked african tribe 27
african tribal breasts 25
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african tribal women 18
african breasts 17

 

Definitely not what I was hoping for, all of these wonderful stereotypical ideas of Africans. If you are one of these people that came upon my blog using these terms I’d love for you to comment on something. I would also love the obsession with African nakedness to be explained. In fact if you used African and naked, or some variation of this, in your search engine terms and you do not post a comment explaining why, my computer will infect yours with a virus. So please prepare your explanation, thanks.

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And the award for the most offensive development ad goes to…

I recently had to search for non-profit advertisements to display at an event. Sifting through the various advertisements I came across the ‘crying hungry child’ vs. ‘beautiful smiling child’, that are often associated with non-profit advertisements.

However, it was not long before I spotted the pictures, hiding within the images of google search, it was the gem of non-profit advertising, which can only be described as the most ridiculous advertisement of all time.

The advertisement shown above was part of a Unicef Germany campaign raising funds for education in Africa. As if the pictures themselves are not offensive enough the text on the ads can be translated to:

First kid: “I’m waiting for my last day in school, the children in africa still for their first one.”

Second kid: “In africa, many kids would be glad to worry about school”

Third kid: “In africa, kids don’t come to school late, but not at all”

Fourth kid: “Some teachers suck. no teachers sucks even more.”

My initial reaction can be best described as:

1)     What the f*ck?????????????????

2)     Africa is not a f*cking country.

3)     Where in Africa are they talking about?

4)     Do they not think children in whatever part of Africa they are talking about go to school?

5)     Who at unicef okay’d these ads?????????

After getting over my initial disbelief I rapidly searched google for others as shocked as I was with these advertisements. I came across the following blog posting, that helped ease my sense of isolated anger:

Besides claiming that every single person in “Africa” isn’t educated, and doing so in an extremely patronising way, it is also disturbing that this organisation thinks blackfacing kids with mud (!) equals “relating to african children”. Also, the kids’ statements ignore the existence of millions of african academics and regular people and one again reduces a whole continent to a village of muddy uneducated uncivilized people who need to be educated (probably by any random westerner). This a really sad regression.

Bottom lines of this campaign are: Black = mud = African = uneducated. White = educated. We feel this campaign might do just as much harm as it does any good.

The above post by Mulatto Diaries perfectly summarized my sentiments.

Also found on this blog was a statement from Unicef:

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We agree — these advertisements are not appropriate and run against UNICEF’s mission. They have been dropped from the UNICEF German National Committee’s website and there are no plans to use them in the future. We apologize for any offence caused.

As a UNICEF supporter, you may be interested to know a little more about the German National Committee’s campaign to promote child-friendly schools in six African countries. Launched in late 2004, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the fact that nearly half of all children in Africa lack even primary education.

With funds from private donors, 350 schools have been repaired or newly constructed. In addition, several thousand teachers have been trained and school management improved. In total, around 100,000 children and young people have benefited from this campaign since 2004. The right to education for all children is a prerequisite to develop their full potential and a basis for social and economic development. Again, we apologize for any offense caused’.

While it is great Unicef responded to their critics by pulling the ads, let us keep in mind that  the communication/marketing team from Unicef Germany worked with their ad. agency to come up with the concept for this advertisement and then thought it was acceptable to launch alongside a campaign to raise funds for schools in ‘Africa’. It could be overlooked if it was only Unicef creating these highly offensive advertisements, or if these ads were acknowledged as the sad ‘regression’ Mulatto Diaries claims them as. Unfortunatly, what struck me while searching through online advertisements was the trend within the development community in their use of these sort of ‘creative advertisements’. In perhaps an attempt to move away from the sad child vs. happy child ad paradigm, many non-profits have been using advertising agencies to create ‘satirical type’ ads.

Here are a few more examples:

Ads by People in Need- You spend so much money on products why not buy some Africa hapiness?

Ad by War Child Canada- Send weapons to Uganda, no wait don’t, give War Child money to take away weapons from Uganda?

I have spent a great deal of time researching and articulating what I perceive as a continued discourse of development between the sad child,  happy child, and satirical ads. However, explaining my findings would be too lengthy. What I want to pose through this blog post is what ideas of the ‘developing world’ and ‘development’ these various advertisements project? Do the three different type of ads project various ideas? How are they similar? How are they different?

When viewing the advertisements and the campaigns they are attached to, how are the following questions answered?

Who must be helped?

Who must do the helping?

What does this help mean?

In my own opinion, while these advertisements may use different images, they all can be understood as answering these questions in the same way. As they are all connected to non-profit organizations that are involved in the business of development, it cannot come as a surprise. Ads are merely a quick glimpse into how confined and restricted our ideas and methods of ‘development’ are. It is not until our notions of development are changed, or until we finally discard development as a viable option that images linked to development discourses are likely to change. Advertisements such as the one by unicef germany, while extremely offensive, may be useful in illustrating just how problematic development practices currently are.

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The Giving Pledge

Recently much media attention has been given to 40 American billionaires, pledging to give away 50% of their fortune to ‘charity’. The program was the brain child of Bill and Melinda Gates. When I initially encountered this story my criticism was directed at the Billionaires I perceived as using empty pledges ( The Giving Pledge does not accept money but asks billionaires to make a moral commitment to give their fortunes to charity) to gain positive publicity. After doing more research, which led me to the Giving Pledge Website (http://givingpledge.org/), I realized my criticism should be directed not at these billionaires searching for meaning in their lives through monetary donations, but rather at the news articles lack of specifics.

The Giving Pledge website presents a profile for each individual donating their fortunes. In these profiles you can find letters written by the billionaires outlining which charity their money may be given to and why. While it seems many of the billionaires plan to give half of their future fortune to their own charities, or organizations they have personal interests in, surprise surprise, I applaud the website for offering specific details regarding these pledges. In contrast, the majority of news articles I have read seem to glorify these billionaires for giving away their money to ‘charity’, with no real details regarding where the money will go and how it will ‘help people’. Its seems the idea of providing monetary donations to ‘charity’, has become accepted as a wholly positive act, that journalists believe no explanation is needed. While this blog entry could turn into a tirade about the state of journalism, i’d rather it be a verbalization of the personal offense I take to the news coverage of the Giving Pledge and more generally how charitable donations are written about.

If ever a journalist views this blog post,  here are some specific issues I take with the coverage of the Giving Pledge/charitable donations :

  • Donating money to some charitable cause, in particularly large sums of money is not necessarily an automatically positive act (as case study please see African continent/’development’/AID money or NGOs in Haiti)
  • Details regarding where the money is going and how it will be spent, would be appreciated
  • These details do not include generalizations such as- money given to poverty, aids, the environment etc. as these details do not actually mean anything.
  • Also broad details about which organization the money will be going to, does not suffice as an explanation ie- money is going to red cross, world vision etc.

An example of details that would suffice as an explanation: Name of person, (a little bit of history about them, emphasis on bit as this should not occupy the majority of the content) is giving 15.6 million dollars to War Child. 30% of this money will be designated to administrative costs at the organization’s office in London, 50% will be used for infrastructure costs at the current program in Sierra Leonne (this will include buying raw materials to build four more onsite offices), the remaining 20% will be used to purchase technical equipment. I understand specific details may not be available for all donations, however I cannot accept that ‘some amount of money donated to some cause’ is the only information you can find, so please try harder.

I realize that these articles are merely reflective of the current state of  journalism, our educational systems,  historical understandings about charity/development etc. However, I do not think this should excuse individuals who claim it is their job to present society with information, from writing news stories that do not really mean anything.

My initial encounter with this story was through the Ottawa Citizen and I decided to write them an opinion piece, unfortunately it has not yet been published. Please find it below.

RE: Billionaires pledge fortunes to charity- At least 42 pledge to give at least half of fortune to charity

My name is Lisa and along with 42 of the richest people in the United States, I would also like to morally pledge half of my future fortune to ‘charity’. While I am may not be a billionaire yet per se, similarly to my friends Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, my pledge is being made in the future when my financial situation is bound to change. While some might say that making this pledge to ‘charity’ with no real specifics is a clever method of garnering positive publicity, they are wrong. Symbolically pledging these future funds is a means to show how much I care about the difficult issues we as a people face today. I have witnessed firsthand those less fortunate than myself, and feel a burning sensation in my heart to give these funds to some organization, to go to some cause, during sometime in the future. I do not find it necessary to identify any of these issues, as they are obvious. Being fortunate enough to address these issues with my money, I’m sure my lack of knowledge can be overlooked. Please inform Bill and Melinda that I hope to receive my membership to The Giving Pledge society and look forward to our annual meetings and dinners. Please also print a picture of my face in your newspaper with the title “ Future Billionaire to Give Away Future Fortune to a Good Cause’ (I think Good Cause has a better ring to it than Charity).  You can also quote me beside my picture saying, “ Making money is my passion, but when I am shrivelled up and can no longer enjoy it, I’d like it to go to some unfortunate people, somewhere, suffering from something so that I can make a difference’.

Thank you.

Lisa.

First Canadian to Pledge Future Fortune

Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/Billionaires+pledge+fortunes+charity/3360996/story.html#ixzz0wDk7IlLw

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Some of the terms used to view my blog…

Naked African Kids? African Tribes Naked? :S

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