University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Anchell Scholarship for Documentary Photography
I'm Not Your Poverty Poster Child
They saw me every day in their neighbourhood for three months. Don’t tell me that they didn't notice me during those three months -- I was a visible minority in every possible way. I seldom took out my camera because I would be met by the residents with disgust, disappointment, and resentment.
They live in the formal settlement of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya.
They were my neighbours for three months in the summer of 2016, and they were wary of tourists taking photos of them. Tourists often took photos of the living situations in Kibera to capture how the locals are seemingly desolate and impoverished. The children and community are seen by tourists as helpless and in dire need of saving and sponsorship.
They do not need to be sponsored. They do not need to be saved by the global West. They live in poverty, yes, but they do not need international interference to eliminate their poverty.
A child in North America is often told to eat their food because “there are starving children in Africa.” With that one statement, a misleading narrative is created in which the vastly diverse continent of Africa suddenly becomes a culturally uniform landmass populated by starving African children with kwashiorkor bellies, covered in flies, living in measly mud huts because the area is so war-torn and desolate, and all they can do with their lives is stare forlornly into camera lenses, begging for sponsorship from Western countries so they can escape from their horrific lives – typical poverty poster children.
Extreme poverty and economic instability definitely exist in some areas of Africa. There is corruption and war, too, but it is absurd to define an entire continent by its worst qualities. Not only that, but each country/region within Africa varies so drastically that it is even more absurd to describe Africa as one united culture.
Here is a new narrative: Complex social issues exist within every nation. Poverty, instability, and starving children exist in Africa, as they exist in North America, Asia, and every other continent.
Resolving these complex issues demands a lot of resources. Is it sustainable or ethical for “developed” countries to provide those resources and involve themselves in “developing” countries’ affairs, such as through international volunteering or financial aid? On the other hand, is it ethical to snub those countries and tell them to fend for themselves? Unfortunately, there are no correct answers to either of these questions. However, we can continuously reflect and consider the effects of providing international assistance in attempts to resolve these complex issues. Making an impact in the world is a value that many people carry, but perhaps re-defining what “making an impact” looks like will help contribute to ethically resolving complex global issues.