Why Save the Children Sucks

Haha – April Fools! Anyone who knows me knows I’d be the last person to say that Save the Children sucks. In fact, I didn’t have the heart to even fake trash talk them for April Fools’ Day. So, instead, I’d like to write about why I’m such a big believer in what Save the Children does.

Growing up, I never heard of Save the Children. Here in Canada it’s eclipsed by the much better known (but smaller) organization called Free the Children. In America, I’ve seen people confuse it for Feed the Children – an organization whose founder is accused of taking bribes and hoarding pornography.

Accused Founder of Feed the Children

I learned about Save the Children through Bangladeshis. What surprised me the most was how positively Save the Children was regarded. It’s surprising because Bangladesh is a country where there is a great deal of skepticism and even hatred for NGOs.

"Aid is an industry... and it's not the poor people who profit." - a common sentiment among many Bangladeshis of all income levels. Many villagers also have a saying that "NGOs taka kai fellay" or "Charities eat the cash"

I was able to see what people liked about Save the Children first hand in 2007. Just before Thanksgiving, Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh. The devastation was immense. I was able to volunteer with an international NGO and head to the disaster area to see what I could do to help and report.

What I saw when I got there will haunt me forever. I’m not just talking about the death and destruction. Rather, some of the most shocking things I saw were the questionable and sometimes unethical conduct of seemingly prestigious NGOs and charities.

Screenshot of a rough cellphone video I took. This NGO (which I will not name) was purifying water fast enough so there was never a line. But they stopped giving out water for several hours for a line to form so that a VIP could have a photo-op. More over, instead of normal procedure, disaster victims were forced to wedge themselves and squeeze between a small gap between two buildings (seen near top center) in order collect their water bottles. Why? Because the VIP didn't want to leave base camp.

I can’t mention names (without being sued to oblivion) but one award-winning international NGO decided to stop giving out clean water for several hours so that a line would form. They wanted a line to form because some VIP wanted to have a photo op handing clean water to cyclone victims.

At one point, I was able to temporarily get my hands on the DSLR of a UK-based NGO. I downloaded the photos and – to my shock – found photos taken at point blank range of crying children as they were getting surgery without anesthesia. Their pained faces, taken perhaps, to be used in future guilt ads.

Downloaded from a DSLR of a charity based out of the UK. This photo was taken by sticking a camera in a child's face as he was getting surgery and first aid without anesthesia. Now I know where this organization gets its images of crying children to use in its ads.

I also found an incredible amount of NGOs which were unwilling to share anything with other NGOs. Not even information. Many NGOs pressured me to be silent (and not blog or speak) about where and when relief line riots broke out. They feared they would look bad and wanted me to shut up.

"If I want something off the record - I simply won't let it come out of my mouth" - Nick Downie of the Save the Children Alliance

In the midst of this I discovered Save the Children. I got to spend but one day with them. In that one day, I learned this was an NGO I would want to support and endorse for the rest of my life. And it all started because I met one of their employees by the name of Nick Downie.

Nick had a simple policy: if it came out of his mouth – it was on the record. This was the first time I encountered such transparency in an NGO. Of course, Nick had rules on how long I could film children that were under the care of Save the Children (and how to do so respectfully) – but everything else was an open book.

If you’ve followed what I’ve been doing with Save the Children you know that, since then, I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of projects with them. I’ve teamed up with them to help in disaster relief, provide lasting clean water, rebuild a school, and support health workers.

Save the Children estimates that, by the end of 2011, thanks to you guys I will have helped over 14,000 children in Bangladesh in over 100 villages. That’s not even including work I’ve done with other organizations. And all I am is just some guy (not an employee) with a blog, a camera, a cellphone, and internet connection.

What I can tell you is that, in every village I have been to and every project I have done with Save the Children, my respect for the organization grows. And whether it’s April 1st or not, if you’re in the mood to donate to a charity, Save the Children should be on the top of of your list of charities to donate to.

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