By: Evan J. Anderson
December 14, 2010
December 14, 2010
Until recently, the only image of Ethiopia I had was similar to the one above. As a past participant in several of World Vision's "30 Hour Famines," an initiative by the non-profit to encourage students to forego eating for a weekend while raising funds for starving children across the globe, I was frequently exposed to their style of advertising. Everyone has seen an ad on TV for child sponsorship, and everyone knows the feeling they get when viewing one of these. One comment on the YouTube video above says it all, "This makes me feel very bad and sad." And while this sadness and guilt is a very effective marketing strategy in encouraging viewers to donate to organizations like World Vision, it has a lasting effect on the mental set of people in the Global North. Giving becomes a chore, and it is no longer done for the right reasons.
In 2008, my church decided to stop its partnership with World Vision, and create its own fundraiser, while maintaining the fasting element. As can be seen in the video below, the new initiative had an entirely new focus: hope instead of guilt.
The decision to switch to the new pilot program can be interpreted as a fundamental dissatisfaction with the entire system of charitable giving in this country. Instead of seeing the Global South as some distant place, doomed without that next donation, people need to be exposed to a more diverse set of images, especially those that convey positive messages. Now, some may argue that if Americans only hear positive stories from the Global South, donations might decrease, and those who were relying on that aid might die. But if the "flies-in-the-eyes" reporting is replaced with accurate, level-headed accounts of the gaping North-South gap, I believe Americans will generously respond.
My desire to fundamentally change the way Americans look at the developing world was a major factor that led to my involvement with EGI. Rather than knowing a country only by some video footage of children gathering water from a dirty well, I decided to get to know that country on a more personal level. I am highly satisfied with the work I have done with EGI so far and can not wait to see what the future brings!
Evan J. Anderson, an undergraduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., is majoring in International Studies with a concentration in International Development and serves as a Steering Committee Member of U.S. College Students for Ethiopia, an innovative project of the Ethiopian Global Initiative (EGI) that provides college students from the United States the opportunity to intern or volunteer with Ethiopian-led organizations headquartered in Ethiopia.