Today I had one of my flashbacks of Cyclone Sidr. I don’t know if you’d call it PTSD or not but it’s certainly not fun to have those memories replaying in your head like some DVR. Instead of keeping it to myself, or writing it in my Moleskine, I thought I’d talk about it here.
It was 2007 and Cyclone Sidr had just hit a few days prior. I had teamed up with a Western INGO (that was not Save the Children) that was one of the first to respond. Bodies and corpses were showing up everywhere – burying the dead hadn’t even begun yet.
This INGO was helping provide clean water to what was the equivalent of a Save the Children Child Safe Centre – a place for children to stay safe, get help, have shelter, and be protected from human trafficking during this post-disaster period. One of the kids, if I remember correctly, lost her last surviving parent and had become an orphan.
I remember timidly interviewing her on camera – choosing my words and my tone ever so carefully. This was quickly disrupted by the INGO that I had come with. The lead aid worker barked at me to stop filming and to pack up. The reason? “Their needs trump mine” and they want this girl for themselves.
The girl was quickly whisked from a private corner with me and her current guardian and plopped in the middle of a group of children. Why? Because it looked better on camera. She was then strung and wired up with AV gear – stuff she’d never seen in her life. Why? Because the audio was better.
Then one of the INGO’s aid workers/videographers propped this giant camera bigger than this girl’s head inches from her face. There, surrounded by a dozen kids, strangers, expat aid workers, and on-lookers she was instructed to talk about her dead parent. The girl, who just a moment ago was calmly talking to me, started gasping and crying.
I don’t have a grandiose point to make with this post. It just… angers me. There are more aid, development & relief organizations out there now than there have been in the history of the world. And the technology to arm each of these organizations with the gear to record video or capture images has never been cheaper.
And, maybe because it is so easy to go “into the field” with this gear, we assume that we have a sense of entitlement. Whether it’s to “capture the truth” or to “tell a story” or to “raise awareness” or to “raise funds” or to “promote the good works of an organization”.
But the purpose of a camera in the field shouldn’t be for the benefit of the viewer, or the donor, or the organization. It should be about serving and empowering those in front of the lens. And just because it’s a video and can have slick editing, music, and graphics doesn’t make it entertainment.
I wish more people understood that. That’s all.