Our world is an incredible place, full of different cultures, ethnicities and people. But how well does the media represent that? The media is often guilty of ‘othering’ whole people groups as poor and in need. As Guvna B said, the news constantly broad-brush the widely diverse continent of Africa as a land of poverty. But that perspective is both untrue and dangerous. If we’re going to tackle injustice and poverty, we first need to check our own perspectives.

Today’s technology means we have constant access to worldwide news. But I’ve realised that the representation of different countries in the news isn’t as accurate as it should be. Growing up, I heard things like, ‘don’t waste your food, children in Africa are starving.’ Because the world was so used to seeing only young black minors in positions of poverty. But when travelling I walked paths with people from a variety of backgrounds who struggled to escape poverty. It became clear to me that the stereotypes of people living in poverty weren’t true.

Adjust your Ariel

If you’re a Disney fan, you would’ve heard that The Little Mermaid will be making its live action debut soon. You might have also heard that the actress  playing Ariel, has been receiving a lot of racial backlash. It’s strange that in a world with mythical mermaids and talking fish, people can’t imagine seeing a black Ariel. I believe this is because the world is not used to equal representation. People are more comfortable with BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnics) representation when it’s to do with poverty, war or injustice.

This is why the accurate and varied representation of different ethnicities and cultures is important. Stereotyping people groups into blanket statements of ‘in need’ means ignoring the specific contexts that poverty occurs in. And so instead of seeing our own role in reinforcing unjust power structures, there’s a vague desire to become a poverty saviour. But the reality is people living in poverty need the tools to develop their own growth, not saviours.

Helping or hurting?

When travelling abroad and volunteering, I’ve seen people offer their services without having a desire to understand a different culture. This results in empty conversations and exchanges with individuals, sometimes even passing judgement on others’ situations. The strong desire to ‘help’ ends up amounting to nothing. I’ve also seen when people volunteer abroad just to gather Instagram pictures with hefty ‘heartfelt’ captions about other race’s struggles.

The best question I’ve heard to prospective volunteers is: ‘If you couldn’t take a picture of all the ‘work’ you’ve done with these individuals, would you still go?’ I love this question, because it forces you to think about your motivations for ‘helping’. When trying to help, we should be equipping people, allowing them to have a voice as we partner alongside them. 

So if you want to avoid harmful stereotypes and partner with people living in poverty, try the following:

Start at home

Think about how your lifestyle choices could be negatively impacting people living in poverty. Reduce your plastic usage, shop ethically and use your skills to fundraise. You can also see what’s going on in your local community and find out ways to help.

Volunteer/Partner with charities

Volunteer with charities like Tearfund and other incredible organisations that are well known for empowering people living in poverty. My own Tearfund journey started over five years ago, when I volunteered at BCDO for the No Child Taken Campaign. One of the reasons I connected so much with Tearfund is because of the way they empower and equip people of all races and demographics.

Donate

Why not give to a charity that helps people who are within the poverty line. And it doesn’t have to just have to be the change at the bottom of your purse or wallet. You can even give food or toiletries to food banks and hostels.

Spread the word

Once you know about the injustices taking place around the world, talk about it. Tell a friend, a neighbour or a colleague. The more people know about ways to tackle poverty, the better!