Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti, Charity and Twitter

Seven years ago, I was studying GCSE history. Many facts remain from that year, but only one terrible quote made it verbatim through the minefield of my scrambled memories since then. In 1938, Neville Chamberlain made a statement that will forever tarnish his memory. In reference to Nazi Germany invading Czechoslovakia, he claimed, "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing." And as horrific a concept as that was, isolationism was the way in those days. People were still scarred by memories of the Great War and reluctant to repeat such atrocities for a foreign country. Heck, modern historians cite the isolationist approach America took in those days (though of course now they are arguably the largest national provider of foreign aid, sending 6000 military troops to Haiti for instance).

Don't worry, I'm going somewhere with this. Nowadays, such an isolationist attitude can no longer reasonably exist. We have countries built partially on the backs of immigrants now, with telephones and computers and link them back to their homeland. We have international news stations and the internet blasting us with information (let's not get into an argument about media bias just right now) from around the world. It is increasingly impossible for a modern and informed inhabitant of Earth to not know about the major goings-on halfway around the world. The increasing success of charities like the Red Cross and Band/Live Aid can be attributed in no small part to the advertisements and TV shorts of suffering, starving and suffering children from Africa and other Third World or developing countries. Emotional blackmail, yes, but entirely understandable in a media culture where things must needs be sensationalist to be heard.

Images like these (Not for the easily distressed). It would take a heart of steel-reinforced stone to not be even slightly moved by the images we see on our screens. And so we reach the modern day. The 7.0 Richter disaster hit Haiti not 48 hours ago and awareness of this issue is already widespread. Definitely more so than if this had occurred even a year ago. And the most unlikely purveyor of the news? Twitter. The interwebz are indeed aflame with the tweets of thousands, which means an unprecedented number of people exposed to this news, pictures and the ways in which they can help. Say a thousand people tell our their friends, who twitter their friends, etc. Before you know it, a million people are made aware. Plug in the search term "Haiti" now and your results page will be filled with tweets on the news from the last half minute. The admittedly ADD viral nature of Twitter is nevertheless not to be underestimated.

And if everyone exposed to the news gives but a paltry sum, it'd be a massive help. Hannah wrote an hugely enlightening blog post HERE (thanks HK) about how Haiti was hugely underprivileged before the earthquake. Obviously now their need is greater than ever. There is a national scheme in America, where you can give $10 by texting HAITI to 90999. I encourage Brits and other non-Americans to check out similar schemes HERE. After all what is $10 (£6.50)? Two cups of Starbucks? Three beers in London? Lend your thoughts, prayers and currency to the cause people, it's enough to break your heart.

6 Response to Haiti, Charity and Twitter

14 January 2010 at 19:08

That video was heart wrenching. I wish I could do more than simply donate my money but I know that money is what they are in dire need of at the moment.

You are right, in this new global community that we have now thanks to ever increasing modes of communication, an isolationist attitude will not do. We are all in this world together, for better and for worse.

Thank you for highlighting the need and devastation present in Haiti.

14 January 2010 at 20:39

I think there's a chance we might become more isolationist again at least in terms of political matters. We sort of learned our lesson about interfering in conflicts in Somalia in the 90s, so we didn't do everything we could have with Rwanda, Darfur, or now the awful laws they've passed in Uganda. If we ever get out of the middle east I think we'll be loath to get involved again.

But with natural disasters I think we'll always be there. I think America feels it has a special responsibility with Haiti because it's so close to us yet it's the poorest country in this hemisphere. And all the social media definitely makes it easier for individuals to get involved, on top of what our gov't does.

14 January 2010 at 21:20

Watching the pictures of Haiti in the news has really put into perspective how easy we have it in this country (Britain). If the worst thing we have to deal with is a bit of snow, we should be grateful!

15 January 2010 at 13:41

Thank you for writing about this. Helping those in poverty is something close to my heart and I've tried to do all sorts of fundraising for things like World Vision - and people's indifference just kills me sometimes. I'm glad to see people taking action to help others in so much need and recognising how lucky we are to have the lives we do. I heard about the American texting thing, I'm looking for one I can do from Canada...

19 January 2010 at 06:24

Great post, Stephen! And thanks for your comment on my blog a while back: I have been meaning to take a look at your site since then, and now I'm extremely glad I have :)

Looking forward to more insights and photos soon.

20 January 2010 at 03:06

Alex - me too, but short of flying over there, all we can do is raise charity funds and raise awareness so that others can follow suit. The whole effect of the media is that the world is becoming a smaller place, the people being increasingly closer to complete strangers across the world. I just think we should acknowledge this phenomenon and act accordingly.

Kat - Always a danger, and crises such as those in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, not to mention after effects of 9/11, have created a massive ripple in the scope of world politics. It'll be interesting to see which way it goes going forward. I think you're right about natural disasters though, you cannot argue that anyone is 'at fault' there and as such it is much easier for our hearts and prayers to go out to them, and to raise awareness and sympathy.

Emma - Hmm, exactly. Yes the grass may be greener on the other side, but it is also MUCH worse in others. Either way I suppose the lesson is the make the best of the situation you are in.

EJ - Indifference and apathy are two things that offend and at times just plain confuses me. I am glad that people are generally sympathetic towards Haiti though, it means funds and help are sent a lot faster than it otherwise would be. I'm so glad you found the Canada texting scheme, making it easier for people to donate makes it harder for them to make excuses not to, right?

Shannon - you're too kind! Thanks for dropping by, you can be sure I'll follow suit soon :)