OVEREXPOSED – should images of children be used in charity fundraising?

Chance for Childhood is a relatively small charity with an income of just less the £1million. The first time I heard of the charity was when they recently launched their #OverExposed campaign which “seeks to reframe thinking and create better practices and policies around child-centred imagery and storytelling.” As part the campaign they have taken the decision to remove identifiable features of children from imagery and video footage, including removing children’s faces from all fundraising campaigns.

The campaign was launched at the House of Lords (I’m not sure how this was achieved?) and is also supported by David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham and Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.

David is no stranger to debates around charity imagery and accused Comic Relief of White Saviourism when they sent Strictly Come Dancing winner and journalist Stacey Dooley to Uganda to document some of their programming work. Like David, I applaud the decision by Chance for Childhood to remove images of children from their fundraising appeals, but can you solve ethical storytelling by simply removing children’s faces? I suppose it’s a start.

The narrator in the launch video, who is anonymised, asks 4 questions:

  1. What is a segmented, multi-channel donation campaign?
  2. Why is my picture on social media profiles that aren’t mine?
  3. Why is it ok for my image to be published all over the internet, when most parents would not allow it?
  4. Is that ok? Is that ethical? Is that fair?

I like the video, and a great deal of effort has been put into this campaign. The House of Lords launch, support from a prominent MP and the establishment of a resource hub which includes an introductory webinar and five videos:

  1. How do we centre children’s rights and well-being in our stories?
  2. What is informed consent and what are the challenges we face?
  3. Using positive strength-based language in our work
  4. Reducing the risks of telling stories online
  5. How does power impact the collection and usage of stories and images of children?

I confess I haven’t watched the five videos but I did watch the hour long webinar which is chaired by Chance for Childhood staff member Lucy who leads a discussion with Grace and Felicien from Rwanda, and Bokey from Kenya. It’s worth watching and I won’t go into too much detail here but I will just raise a few questions and comments. Firstly, Lucy says that they launched the campaign as “no one is having a public conversation”. This is a bit odd as the Resource Hub Introduction document references “three key guides” – the Dignified Storytelling Handbook, Putting the People in the Picture First: Ethical Guidelines for Collection and Use of Content and DOCHAS Code of Conduct on Images and Messages. Considering that the DOCHAS Code of Conduct was written in 2014, I would say this discussion has been going on some time! I don’t deny the #OverExposed campaign comes from a good place, but the focus seems very much like an overt piece of PR for Chance for Childhood.

For me, one of the strongest statements in the webinar is from Grace, who is a former refugee in Rwanda who says “they take pictures of our pain”. Another statement that resonated with me was from Bokey who is the founder of Glad’s House Kenya. Bokey says that there are two problems trying to stop organisations using images of children: locally people believe negative imagery gives them priority to funding to alleviate the situation and secondly, international donors want to see the situation to justify the needs to send funds. Bokey has also written a blog post “Real change only comes if INGO or International donors don’t ask for photos”. In the blog Bokey says:

The world is smaller now. You can easily lose control of the image you share, and it can be used somewhere else…That image will haunt them forever. Children will be defined for the rest of their lives by a moment in time.

On the whole I think this campaign (like the others before) is an important addition to the discussions around protecting the dignity of “distant others”. Removing children’s faces is a start, but more needs to be done to improve agency and ensuring that children know their rights when people ask to take their pictures. In the webinar Grace says

We no longer say giving a voice to the voiceless because we all know there are no voiceless, there are people who are given the support to speak up.

INGOs must think about how they will give that support for people to speak up!

One small last criticism of this campaign – if your policy is to remove identifiable features of children you really should go back and delete old photos from social media too – there are still lots there….

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Changing Charity Representations – new video from MSF Norway

MSF Norway have recently published a new video: Anti-racism: When you picture Doctors Without Borders, what do you see?

In 2018 I was the lead author of a study called Which Image Do you Prefer? The research was produced in conjunction with The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH) where we talked to 74 respondents in six African countries to get a sense of what people in aid-receiving countries think about selected pieces of aid communication. One of the main research findings was that respondents “highlighted the need
for more diversity by for example using images of people of all ages and
different races, and generally showing that people have something to offer.” NGOs were also encouraged to diversify their strategies. As well as children, participants in the focus groups wanted to see images of parents and grandparents, local development workers and doctors, for example. They highlighted the importance of maintaining the dignity of the individuals portrayed, especially when depicting children and called for more sharing of stories to give those presented in images identity and agency.

It is therefore interesting that the Norwegian branch of MSF has produced this campaign as they recognise that the images they have used in the past “propagate a single story and perpetuate racist stereotypes of so-called white saviors and powerless victims”. Narrated by Lindis Hurum, General Director, MSF Norway and Dr Chinonso Emmanuel Okorie, MSF Medical Doctor, the new campaign aims to raise awareness of colleagues working around the world for Doctors Without Borders. Facts are provided, such as “4 out of 5 of our colleagues are hired in the countries where we work”. The video briefly discusses issues such as colonialism, neo-colonialism, stereotypes and othering. MSF promises to change their culture and their way of communicating and advocating, but they also admit that this is not a simple process and their will be problems along their journey. The promise includes sharing different voices to tell “the whole story” and not just a single story using a range of voices from around the world including patients – all in the hope to “co-own the story”. As they say, this will be no easy task. The bravest aspect about this campaign is that they complete the video by saying

“So now it’s all up to you. Will you listen to them? We hope you do. Some say that fewer people will listen when the story isn’t told by someone like me (white western woman). They say that this kind of poster (picture of a black MSF doctor smiling – see below) won’t raise as much money. And that means we’ll save fewer lives. Will you join us in proving them wrong?”

I agree, it is up to the audience, but will they agree or be annoyed by this statement? So far the video has 298 likes and no dislikes – that’s a good start. I applaud Doctors Without Borders for their bold attempt to include more voices in their storytelling. This campaign attempts to rectify one of the main criticisms in the Which Image Do you Prefer? research and other research such as the People in the Pictures and Shifting the Lens on Ethical Communications in Global Development. I hope MSF existing donors will respond positively to this campaign, and that they also attract new audiences!

I strongly believe that charity and NGO storytelling is changing for the better. Here’s hoping that more charities will follow MSF’s bold lead. In the words of Confucius

“To see what is right and not do it is a lack of courage”

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Coronavirus public health warnings and PSA on social media

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had time to update this blog, but I thought it was important to collate and share some of the public health warnings and PSA about coronavirus (COVID-19) from both governments and celebrities, in the hope that people can learn from some of the excellent videos and infographics being shared on social media to combat this awful pandemic. Keep safe everyone.

Ohio Department of Health – USA
Bobby Wine – Coronavirus Alert – Uganda
Vietnamese Health Department
Indian Police Hand Washing Dance
Arnold Schwarzenegger – USA
Gloria Gaynor – I will Survive – USA
UK Coronavirus Public Information TV Advert
National Health Service (NHS) Stay at Home Advice UK
UNICEF Vietnam
Oxfam – How to Wash Your Hands
Tamil Nattu Pasanga
Jehovah Shalom Acapella – Uganda
Derbyshire Police Drone Shaming Video – UK
Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline Coronavirus Update
PSA – Egypt
A video mocking Canadian Celebrity Humanitarianism
Corona Awareness – Pakistan
Nickelodeon Coronavirus Film for Children – USA
Department for International Development – UK
HM Government – UK
Caramella Girls – Sweden
Cartoon Network – USA
Egypt’s Great Pyramid
WaterAid Nepal – Instagram
View this post on Instagram

😷 #corvid19

A post shared by Kampala Fashion Week (@kampalafashionweek) on

Uganda Advert for Tailors to Make Face Masks
UK Government
Uganda President Address to the Nation on Facebook
Matt Damon – Contagion PSA
Tik Tok Challenge – Vietnam Ministry of Health
Government of South Australia
EPD COVID-19 Coronavirus PSA – Don't Stand So Close To Me

COVID-19 has no respect for person, status, or affiliation. We have all been affected by this terrible illness. But there's hope. We can beat this if we maintain social distance. Let's not stand so close together for a little while. Huge thanks to Jakob Bilinski and Cinephreak Pictures!**We do not own the rights to this music**#togetherapart #socialdistance #allhandsondeck

Posted by Evansville Police Department on Tuesday, 31 March 2020
Don’t Stand So Close to Me – Evansville Police Department
The Refugee Response – Swahili
Mzee wa Bwax – Corona – Tanzania
Manual to make homemade masks – India
Multilingual PSA – Sudan
Global Handwash Song – Nepal
OSAD – Vietnam
Tom MacDOnald – Coronavirus – USA
Psychs – Spreadin’ – UK
Stay Safe, Don’t Panic – India
World Health Organisation – Seven steps to prevent the spread of the virus
World Health Organisation – Hand washing with the tippy tap
Social Distancing – University of California, Irvine
B’Flow – Tanzania
Zinash Tayachew – Ethiopia’s First Lady
Bobi Wine Ft African Leaders – Uganda
One World Together – Worldwide
Pata Pata Revived – South Africa
Uganda All Stars – Uganda
Spice Diana – Uganda
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Kibera Stories

Kibera Stories is a blog, Facebook page and Instagram account set up by Brian Otieno to document the everyday in Kibera, Nairobi. Brian is a freelance documentary and press photographer and grew up in Kibera. He is also part of the Everyday Africa network of photographers. I asked Brian a few questions about the fantastic Kibera Stories project.

When and why did you start the Kibera Stories project?

I started KiberaStories in 2013 just when I was about to start college. Every day I walked around my neighbourhood trying to discover new places and with me, I had my cellphone which I used always to capture casual moments of ordinary life during my daily encounters along the way. One day while I was sitting at a vantage point near the railway line that passes through Kibera, I started searching for images of Kibera on Google and I was frustrated by the images because they only depicted misery, and abject poverty, unlike the usual moments I was seeing every day. It was at the moment that I opened a Facebook page and started posting images of Kibera, according to the way I was seeingit. Images that were normal and ordinary and represented reality.

Tell us a bit about your background/education as a photographer

I am a freelance photographer, I studied journalism at Multimedia University of Kenya and in 2016 I was among the 12 selected visual storytellers for the World Press Photo East AfricaMasterclass which took place in Nairobi. It was at this masterclass that I started understanding the ways of being a professional photographer and met other artists from the global photography industry and this marked a new beginning in my photography career.

You say that the account helps to “understand the diversity, the dynamics and the disparity” of Kibera. Can you give us some examples…?

This is mostly to outside, the first images that people always have in mind when they come to Kibera are poverty, misery, hopeless, garbage. But this is not the case to a person born in Kibera. Despite poverty, there’s also prosperity, there is talent and potential, there are people trying to make their way out and through. There’s a side of the slum that is unseen, unknown that goes beyond the stereotypes of the slum as its always viewed. Through this project I try to show the many different faces of Kibera, I try to show the people and their positions in the community, and paint an honest picture of not just poverty and misery.

Please share your 4 favourite images and tell us a bit about each one

Elsie Ayoo, a ballet dancer, trains on a busy street of Kibera. The first time she tried on a pair of pointe shoes, she fell in love with ballet and now she dreams of becoming a professional dancer. While I’m hoping she’s on the right track to make it in life, the dreams of kids growing up in Kibera are just the same as anywhere else in the world.

Stephen Okoth, also is known as Ondivour, is a 25-year-old filmmaker, photographer and model known for his self-styled colourful and vintage fashion. He has made it his mission to stand out in bringing joy and happiness to the streets of his hometown. His signature bright clothes bought from the local second-hand markets have turned him into a local personality and a source of inspiration for the youths in the slum.

Men hang out the door of a commuter train that passes through Kibera daily, carrying passengers to and from Nairobi’s city centre. The railway line built in the 1900s which passes through Kibera is an important landmark in the community. Most people who use the train work in the industrial areas of Nairobi and the train provides a cheap alternative to transportation to and from their places of work.

Contestants at the annual Mr. and Miss Kibera fashion and beauty pageant. The event which started as a beauty pageant has grown to build dreams of the youthful population by promoting their talents and nurturing them to be responsible leaders in the community and beyond.

Kibera Stories has obviously benefited you, how has it benefited Kibera?

With KiberaStories, I have partnered with other organizations in Kibera, to offer photography training to the youths in Kibera, I have had exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles to fundraise for a school and an organization offering scholarships programs to students in Kibera. Recently I have also partnered with another organization to help bring books to a community library in Kibera. I think this is highly beneficial to the community and I am still aiming to do more than that.

What advice would you give to other African photojournalists wanting to document everyday life across the continent?

Follow your dream and your passion, without the passion I would have given up a long time ago. The best stories are right here at home. Keep shooting and shooting.

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Facebook Africa 2018

On 18th December Facebook Africa posted that “More than 139 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa come to Facebook every month, of which nearly 98% come back on mobile.” They published an infographic (see below) to highlight projects and publicise how they connected people, brands and organisations in Africa throughout 2018. These initiatives included rolling out Marketplace in South Africa, designed to ensure safe trading for users, and South Africa NGO Day  which brought together 100 NGOs who received training workshops designed to share social media best practice.

They also hosted a roundtable in Accra, Ghana which brought together people working on women’s safety.

You could read more about some of their initiatives in the infographic below


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