“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist”. These were the words of Brazilian Bishop Helder Camara some three decades ago. This ongoing debate about hunger in a world of abundant plenty is, unfortunately, still with us as was illustrated by the article Saving The Children (May 14).
The news item attempts to remind readers of the inequity occurring around the world when children die of readily preventable causes. And it offers a simple solution, in this case individual charity donated to a Maltese charitable organisation working in Ethiopia. And, in doing so, it manages to avoid most of the important questions that need to be asked.
Once again, we are presented with images and a story designed to pull at heartstrings, one of heroic work by western aid workers saving the lives and dreams of African children in a cruel and savage country that, apparently, cares little or nothing for its disabled who are, we are led to believe, dumped on rubbish mounds.
We are informed that Ethiopian children are introduced to bread (the “stuff of life”) by a westerner for the first time even though it has never been part of the normal Ethiopian diet.
The only projects and carers presented are westerners. Surely this cannot be accurate?
Unfortunately, in trying to “do good”, the article instead does a great disservice to the issue of world hunger for a number of reasons, principally that it provides no context whatsoever through which to judge what is described.
It treats the issue as a matter of individual charity and giving rather than as one of justice and injustice.
Ethiopia is presented as a strange, cruel and savage place devoid of local people who care.
We are presented with a case study of one child without knowing, in any way, if it is representative.
The successes of the Ethiopian government and of many local Ethiopian organisations with regard to children’s health and well-being are studiously ignored. (Ethiopia’s infant mortality rate and its under five mortality rate have been very significantly reduced over the past three decades thanks to the work of Ethiopians.)
A very important world issue – the well-being of children – is used to promote the work of one organisation without question.
Once again, we are (wrongly) told that an Ethiopian child’s well-being can be had for €28 per month through sponsorship.
And, we are presented with discredited images of the white man as saviour, the black child as helpless victim and African society as cruel and heartless. This is hugely distorting and grossly inaccurate.
We welcome the fact that The Times highlights this pressing issue but we request that promotional material is not presented as reportage; that context and accuracy are included and that tired old western clichés and images are set aside.
This letter has been drafted by a group of 22 Maltese and foreign students who have had the privilege of studying at the University.
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