We’ve all seen pictures of poor kids sifting through garbage dumps for scraps of food. These pictures are typically used to raise money for various charities or causes. As much as I hate it when charities use these pictures to promote their causes, I hate it even more that millions of children around the world actually live like this.
I am the communications director at a charity that works in some of the poorest places in Latin America. Something I struggle with almost every day is communicating this darkness in ways that compel others to get involved.
It would be easy to find a child that hasn’t bathed in a while, put some flies on his face, and tell stories of the depravity of poverty to gain supporters. Before I had lived in another country, I found this tactic of communication normal, maybe even clever. I mean, I’m not fabricating the circumstances these people find themselves in, I’m simply documenting their struggle. Some could argue I’m giving a voice to the voiceless. After all, if no one knows their story, how would they ever get help?
The problem arose when I moved to a third world country. The people I used to take pictures of became more than “impact stories” for my newsletter. They became my friends. I shared in their victories, I in shared their struggles, and I shared their community. Now, when I see a picture of a poor kid in a garbage dump, I picture the parents. Letting your children go hungry is an indignity that no parent should suffer. How can we display their shame for the world to see? The only thing worse than failing as a parent is knowing that the whole world knows it.
Part of the philosophy behind our mission is that we acknowledge everyone we work with as active participants, not passive recipients, of change and development. Our philosophy of communication lines up with how we operate in the field. We don’t use pictures of poor people looking poor because they are so much more than just poor. They are people made in God’s image. That means that they are stewards of resources, not victims of circumstance. We refuse to view, or depict, them as anything less.
The point in this post is not to give you a behind the scenes look at our communication policies. It’s to encourage you to create your own. Come up with some communication rules that are worth following. It will force you to intentionally communicate in the best interest of those you truly work for. As a bonus, your supporters will see you as much more consistent and trustworthy.
Do you have any communication rules that ensure the dignity of those you work with?
Any communication policies you recommend?
– Dustin Patrick, 1MISSION in Mexico, Nicaragua, & El Salvador
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