Save the Children – Syria Six Year Anniversary Photography Project

Award-winning photographer Nick Ballon and conceptual artist Alma Haser have partnered up to produce a series of conceptual, photographs and animations, visualising the mental health impact of conflict on Syrian children, to mark six years since the war began.

Commissioned by Save the Children, the artists worked with six refugee children now living in Turkey. The initiative coincides with a major research project by the charity, Invisible Wounds, which found widespread evidence of ‘toxic stress’ and mental health issues among children still living inside Syria.SAVE-THE-CHILDREN

In order to visualise the invisible, psychological pain these children suffer, Save the Children worked with the two artists to produce a powerful photography and animation project – the first collaboration of its kind. All of the images, photographed by Nick Ballon near the Turkey-Syria border where these children now live, have been physically manipulated and art-worked by Alma Haser using a variety of creative techniques, including ripping, folding, crumpling and origami – each one selected to suit the story the children told.

Alongside the images, Save the Children has also produced a series of short animations which combine video of the portraits being manipulated with audio testimonies from the children and their relatives. In contrast with the now familiar news imagery of Syria’s war, this project offers a different visual perspective, bringing to the fore the brutal psychological scars of war which usually remain out of sight.

For the Invisible Wounds report, Save the Children and its Syrian partners interviewed more than 450 children, adolescents and adults inside Syria in the largest study of its kind conducted during the course of the conflict. It found that children are living in an almost constant state of fear, terrified by shelling, airstrikes and ongoing violence, with devastating psychological consequences.


Save the Children – Still the Most Shocking Day Video

So, I did have insider information that a sequel was on it’s way, but I knew little more than that. Here it is, the follow up to Save’s The Most Shocking Day. I wasn’t quite sure what to think when I heard there was going to be a “sequel” and didn’t know what to expect. The new video is indeed quite shocking, sobering, depressing. It made me incredibly sad watching it – all the time thinking of my own two children who are a similar age to the child portrayed in the video.

A couple of questions spring to mind: Will it get as many views as the first video and Will it encourage people to donate? I’ll let you decide….

Save The Children Video Viewed 2 million times in one day

Another interesting video has been made to help the Syria appeal. It starts with a young girl blowing out candles (I think I counted 9) on her birthday, this is followed by clips of her doing normal every day things that a 9 year old in the UK might do: eating cake, trying on her mums lipstick, playing her recorder, playing in the park etc. Suddenly brief excerpts of the news are shown on TV and the front of newspapers and then we hear the sound of a helicopter and realise that civil war has hit Britain.

It’s a powerful and haunting video which get’s darker and darker, depicting the potentail scenes of conflict in the UK.

In a similar vein to the Norway SOS video, the film constructs the life of a distant other through the lens of someone more familiar to the UK audience. Again, by using a child that we recognise we feel more personal connection and sympathy and thus views of the film have rocketed.

The video has been produced by Save the Children to highlight the Syria crisis. It was launched in the run-up to the three-year anniversary of the conflict where 10,000 children have lost their lives and 2.3   million people have become refugees. Jack Lundie, Director of Brand and Communications at Save The Children says

“This powerful and cleverly-crafted short film engages the viewer with the idea of what daily life might be like for children here at home, if a conflict broke out in the UK.  It’s easy to forget that Syria was a middle income country, where children enjoyed the benefits of education, healthcare and the other basic rights our children take for granted – not to mention Facebook accounts, video games and youth culture. We hope the video will resonate with the public, particularly those who don’t know much about the situation in Syria, and offer a new perspective on the devastating impact this conflict is having on innocent Syrian children.  The message to the public is “just because it’s not happening here, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

Save the Children UK and Social Media

Last week I visited Save the Children UK headquarters in London’s Smithfields to find out more about their use of social media. I met with Rosie Childs, who is responsible for social media in the news and PR teams for a quick chat about some of the strategies they employ. Save the Children recently topped the 2013 Social Media Charity Index. We discussed a lot in an hour, but for this blog post I will focus on blogger outreach and abusive comments on Facebook.

Save the Children are very effective at blogger outreach. One of Rosie’s roles is to seek and nurture relationships with bloggers and vloggers due to their powerful voices and engaged audiences. Just yesterday she returned from a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq where she escorted @Lexcanroar, a young vlogger on a visit. The cost of organising a visit for a blogger is not very expensive but the potential social media reach and influence is massive.

In June this year two of YouTube’s biggest names Charlie McDonnell and his mum Lindsay traveled to Tanzania to see what can be done to end global hunger. Charlie and Lindsay have a combined following on Twitter of 645,000 and nearly 3 million YouTube subscribers. Vloggers have become the new celebrity ambassadors and they are very effective at reaching young audiences. They are possibly more influential than many celebrities as they are often deemed as more honest and reliable.

Before our meeting I looked at Save The Children’s latest Facebook posts. I was appalled to see racist comments on some of the their Typhoon Haiyan appeals. Here is an example


About two or three times a year my wife and I have mini debates about the prevalence of racism in Britain. We are both academics, so we live in an educated bubble for most of the time. I’m probably more aware of prejudice as I work closely with international students and get to hear their stories, but I was actually quite shocked at some of the comments above. I asked Rosie about the moderation of their social media channels. Like most large organisation they have policies that do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, disability or political beliefs. However, in my opinion a couple of the posts above do discriminate. I’ve managed large social media channels in the past and it is difficult to know when to intervene in the community. Rosie said that all the channels are carefully monitored by a number of staff. Most often abusive comments are dealt with by the other Facebook community members, but sometimes posts need to be factually corrected or removed. It’s such a shame there is still a high level of ignorance when it comes to aid and fundraising and indeed misguided narratives about the global south.

It reminded me of a campaign by Oxfam which I read about the other day in a book by Dogra (2012) Representations of Global Poverty. The campaign ran in July 2005 in an attempt to reduce generalised misconceptions. In each advert the space was divided vertically with the myth on the left and the counter-argument on the right e.g. Africa Myth #1 ‘I’m not giving my money to corrupt leaders is Africa’ – Neither are we.” and “Africa Myth #3 ‘African families have too many children’ – African families have to bury too many children.” Maybe other development organisations need to invest some high profile communications at busting myths?

Save The Children’s social media presence is impressive, hence the award. For example there were 15 tweets from their Twitter channel on Thursday 14th November. They ranged in type: fundraising, information, education and promotion as well as retweeting other content. I particularly like the tweet below which shows aid being delivered in the Philippines.


I’m often critical of organisations’ YouTube channels and Save the Children’s is no exception. They have some great videos, my particular favourite being the No Child Born to Die video from 2 years ago, but their channel seems to be a repository of videos with no structure or seeding strategy. Why oh why do organisations spend all this money on video production but fail to seed them properly? There is so much you can do with playlists and titles OR incorporate the use of Vimeo for certain videos.

A goal I’ve set myself for next year is to experience the filming of a celebrity advocacy video in the field. Maybe Save The Children will invite me to observe one and in return I’ll establish a seeding strategy for them.


Christmas Charity Videos

With the countdown to the festive season well under way I thought I would share a few Christmas campaign videos I have seen recently. It’s ludicrous how much money is spent at Christmas time and I think this has been epitomised by the latest Disneyfied, Lily Allen singing John Lewis Advert that cost £7 million. Sure, it’s a beautifully made animation, but spending £7 million to encourage us to buy more STUFF (see the Canadian Red Cross video below) when people in the Philippines are desperate for aid.

Please send me any more examples of Christmas Charity Videos that you think are worth adding. Ho ho ho.


Save the Children UK>

Rudolph vs Donkey

Save the Children – Christmas Sessions

Canadian Red Cross – The Spirit of the Holidays

H&M Sweden Christmas Charity Campaign

Save the Children – Jack Topping

WaterAid> – The Les Mis Ensemble

Nice and Serious – Kids Reinvent Santa’s Sleigh

Nice and Serious – 12 Days of Sustainable Xmas Song