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Irish Famine Memorial

“NY- Irish Famine Memorial- Battery Park”, photo from The Weblicist of Manhattan

I haven’t posted anything related to the drought in Eastern Africa not because I’m not aware of it, but simply because I have mixed feelings about it. If you have some kind of connection with the countries of the region, by now you probably know everything about it anyway, and don’t need another reminder from me. I’m not against raising awareness of the humanitarian crisis, but I’m tired of that stereotype that links Ethiopia (or even the whole African continent) with hunger and sickness. I’m not avoiding the truth, since I have frequently talked about it and also about the long term actions that we need to take to revert that. But now I feel that the more I talk about it, the more I’m reinforcing the stereotype.
When I came back from my trip to Ethiopia, the only thing people wanted to talk about was orphans, hunger, HIV, tropical diseases, and of course how great I was for “saving” children from that reality.
It’s the same when I speak about Argentina, the only thing people associate that country with is political instability, military coups, economic crisis, crimes, and human rights violations (and on a more positive note soccer and tango). And to be honest and fair, if you live outside the US, you’ll probably link the country to high crime rates, guns, racism, drugs, and cruel imperialism.
All these ideas highlight only part of a huge reality and are stereotypes that are hard to shake off later, even after some of these realities have changed forever.
Then of course are the images… It is well said that an image is worth a thousand words. Once you see something, you’ll probably won’t be able to erase it from you memory. And what more powerful than the image of a starving child?
That is usually known as “hunger porn” and it’s the way in which many aid agencies raise money. In the end it’s all a game, in which people pull from our empathy strings to get some money from us.
I’m not saying that the money doesn’t reach their destiny, but I don’t like the game they play to get that money.
Apart from the reinforcing the stereotype thing, there is the matter that they are showing images of people in their more vulnerable moments, when they are sick, hungry, or even dying. Would you like someone taking your picture while you are terminally ill on a hospital bed and then share it on Facebook with your “friends”, or much worse, in the pages of The New York Times? I bet you don’t. But that probably won’t happen because unless you are a celebrity, nobody will be interested in seeing that image. Or the person taking the photo won’t risk being sued by your family.
But a starving African child? Who cares, just another brown body without name, almost considered by some as wildlife. Naked suffering bodies splashed on our screen. You only need to type “starving child” or “African hunger” in Google images to corroborate what I’m talking about.
Who are those children? Have they consented to have their pictures taken while lying helpless? Who’ll sue the media for taking their pictures if not? Did they survive after the money we donated reached them? Or are they long dead and forgotten?
There are better and more ethic ways to raise money to end hunger than with pictures of starving human beings.
No hunger games for me, please.

New York Times Reports on New Action Against Hunger Ad Campaign