Why I Don’t Print Kids

The following is a pitch I wrote for Engineers Without Borders Canada’s peer-to-peer fundraising campaign as the first Creative Director for that organization. It was written in November of 2011.

This Saturday when you turn on the T.V. what you’re likely to see is predictable. Probably some cartoons, cooking shows, and hopefully you can skip past the shopping channels and bad morning shows with ease.

I can guarantee, somewhere, you’ll come across an infomercial with an instrumental background track. There will be a white person (don’t worry, I can say that… I know a few) walking down a street in a developing community, but they’ll call it a slum. They’ll pan across shots of the community and say everyone in the country lives in equal squalor.They will tell you how your 80¢ a day will be divided between education, nutrition, and infrastructure, and they’ll urge you to provide a hand-out to the ‘hopeless’.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re effective. A crying child is a rallying call that opens the faucets for millions of dollars in donations that will invariably meander their way to people who need it most, but I have a different picture to paint.

I lived in Damongo, a fairly large community in northern Ghana for four months in 2006, and it was a transformative experience for not only how I perceive the world around me, but how I shape my role within it. What I saw during those four months was ingenuity, charisma, humility, aspirations, sarcasm… so many things you can’t get across in an infomercial when you’re trying to garner donations from pity.

I often begin to think about the opportunities lost as a result of these perceptions. Who would invest if there doesn’t seem to be opportunities for growth. Who would want to trade if they weren’t certain of a fair deal? An investor wants to see spirit & enterprise. A partner wants to see commitment and passion. A stakeholder wants to see action and progression. But these are not the traits of Africa that are shared.

When I see infomercials like this, the first thing that often comes to mind is Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Dignity stands out so strongly to me, and every time I see a portrayal of someone with their dignity removed, hollowed and forgotten, I can’t help but think that this is a betrayal of their basic human rights.

No where else is this more evident than with children. The international industry in which I’m employed — and trust me, it’s as industrious as any manufacturing or information entity — has referred to the exploitation of children in this manner as ‘poverty porn’; the garish and dignity-destroying portrayal of children to elicit an immediate emotional response. It provides what fundraisers call a ‘high response rate’. In me, it induces gagging.

So what does this have to do with me? What does this have to do with EWB?

From my perspective, we should be having a dignified, rational conversation about how to best accelerate Africa’s development and unlock the potential of its most vulnerable people. This starts with our supporters.

As a personal commitment, I’ve rarely used children in EWB’s publications, and in fact have never used a child as a centrepiece of any materials we’ve produced. This makes it difficult to tug at heartstrings, choosing instead a method which prefers logic as a reason for giving. A novel idea, and one that I hope you support.

I’ve been involved with EWB for seven years because I think it does amazing work. I believe its self-critical culture allows for dialogue and evaluations where others fall short. To support and grow our important work, I’d like to raise $3000 for Engineers Without Borders, in the form of 100 $30 donations from the people in my life who are important to me. I know not all of you agree with my field of work, or the industry of aid, but you likely support me, and allowing me to continue in this line of work is something I am truly passionate about, and I hope I can count on you to help.

Thank you for taking the time,

Kyle.

If you’d like to donate to Engineers Without Borders Canada, you can do so here.

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