Monday, 12 December 2011
What’s wrong with this picture?
>Today I got a postcard in the mail, thanking me for a small donation I made a few months ago to help an orphanage in Uganda buy some needed basics (like toothbrushes and shoes). It was a nice thought, but the photo side of the postcard featured a scene that keeps bugging me. I won’t include it here to protect the innocent (the people in the photo and the organization), but I’ll paint a picture:
There are three kids in mismatched, sometimes oversized clothing. They have medium- to dark skin. They’re each clutching a new backpack that’s wrapped in plastic. On the left side of the photo, there’s a young white adult male, squatting down, handing a backpack to one of the kids with a “Here. Isn’t this amazing?” look on his face. On the right of the photo, probably a part they could have edited out, is the bottom half of another white guy, wearing sneakers and holding an expensive camera.
I’m sure this organization does some pretty great stuff. I’m sure the dudes in the photograph were doing good work. It’s just the spirit of the photograph that really got to me. The white guy just looks so … satisfied with himself. The kids look so… poor. Their shoes are too small. Their clothes are mismatched and faded.
It just has such a “Westerners to the Rescue” vibe, do you know what I mean?
I blogged about poverty when I was in Uganda. I saw it with my eyes, I smelled it, I got dusty and sat down on dirt stoops to visit a very sick baby. I felt ashamed to be there, to wear what I was wearing. I was so obviously American, and this place was so obviously not. And then we drove away.
I just wonder what the kids we left behind thought of us. I wonder about the kids in this postcard photo, too. What did they think of this dude handing out backpacks? Did they get long-term education along with the bookbags? How about food? Clean water? Are they partnering with local resources for sustainable change?
Maybe they are getting those things. Maybe all they thought was “hey this cool guys’ giving us backpacks.” Maybe the kids in the Ugandan slum thought “well, at least those Americans were nice.” My friend went back tot he slum and took the baby to the doctor the next day, got him medicine. We did what we could, but the scene was absolutely overwhelming.
I wish I had better solutions. I just hope that for all our swooping in and helping, there are some long-term programs in place to help and sustan. And I hope we Westerners can open our hearts to the wealth these kids can give back to us, with their empty hands. So much that when we leave a place, we don’t feel self-satisfied; we feel humbled and convicted.
What about you? What do you think when you see a photo like that?