I’m Sorry.

An object lesson in blindspots.

In September, we launched the campaign GiveACrap to spark interest and action (giving) towards the reality of the state of latrines in the schools and communities we work in. Latrines, quite simply, are one of the best interventions we are a part of from a “moving the health needle” perspective. Our Ugandan leadership consistently advocates for them, and from a % of our program spend, it usually represents more than our clean water program. The way the Latrine program is funded is that Acts pays for 75% of the materials and labour, the parents pay for 15% – as well as work on the project – and the school pays 15%. We also do a full, extensive hygiene and sanitation program alongside this which is really the heart of the entireprogram. This involves hand washing training, teaching around open defecation and more. Our last project in Kisabo Village included 5 latrine blocks (25 stances total) for 600 kids – this was our largest ever!

However, funding latrines is without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever tried to raise money for. There is a reason there are zero clean toilet charities out there and far too many clean water charities around. No one wants to talk about it, much less give to them. It’s nuanced, it’s unappealing, and it just doesn’t resonate.

Hence the idea of GiveACrap. Make it funny, and turn the taboo into something we can talk about.  

Despite my best efforts to not show denigrating images, this campaign does indeed perpetuate a narrative that is too simplistic, reinforces racist biases and does harm more generally towards a vision of Uganda, and Africa as a whole, that I don’t want to promote. One of the tragic ironies is that I recently wrote about a topic similar to this on the use / mis use of photos (even happy ones) in fundraising and yet failed to see my own blindspot. 

To put it plainly, in some ways, I didn’t connect the dots between the ads and what I want to be a part of building here at Acts for Water. But when people took the time to thoughtfully articulate it to me, the harm that this type of approach can do (and did do) became really apparent. I am sorry. I can do better. Good intentions or good fundraising outcomes don’t excuse this and I’ll work to share my learnings and this experience with others.

We’ve pulled the posts and ads and the physical ones will be coming down too. 

Moving forward I can start by:

  • Work to better create the space for our Ugandan team to speak into our marketing. There’s a lot of potential here that I am really excited about. I’ve already sent emails off about training to see how we can continue to train our Ugandan staff to handle more of our media themselves so it is less about us running it here and more about them, from their voices. I’m excited for diversity of thought.
  • Work on myself  – to just gain more diversity of thought around me. I can grow a lot here.
  • Explore creating a counsel of African Canadians willing to volunteer and help lead in this area – either on our Board, or a Marketing Board or some way. Right now we don’t pay anyone for social media but should we have a budget that would be a key priority to ensure that role is appropriately represented. I think there are a few ways we could gain more diversity (volunteer or paid) of thought.

Those are a few areas I’ve thought of in the past 18 hours or so  that I can (and in some cases have already) act on now. There are definitely more. I don’t want to make excuses – funding latrines is close to impossible work and perhaps it just won’t ever be something we can do “en mass” in the 2 seconds we get to talk to someone.  

Fundraising, international development and charity is tough work, but engaging people in 2 seconds this way, won’t be the way we do it moving forward. However, to be honest, I am intimidated about how to best do things moving forward, particularly with ‘mass’ media. That’s for another post, on another time. Thanks to the people who were extremely generous with their time and willing to share their heart and feedback with me. I really regret that it had to come as a result of my own hurtful actions and I’m looking forward to continuing to build something better, together.

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