Expressing Need While Maintaining Dignity

For the past few weeks, I have been watching Twitter to see where the phrase “sponsor a child” pops up.

Many tweets express a desire to sponsor a child. One person tweeted that she wanted a job — not so that she could buy anything for herself, but so she could sponsor another child.

Some tweeted about sponsoring a child through Compassion, while others chose different organizations.

I felt this tweet from @Katyyyy343 was particularly striking.

So…decided that I want to sponsor a child instead of getting bday presents even though my bday is 5 months away still.

In contrast, I saw another tweet that talked about sponsoring a child after graduation because the commercial she saw on TV hurt her heart. Regrettably, at least I think it’s regrettable, I saw many similar tweets.

During employee orientation, I had the opportunity to take our building tour. In our Global Ministry Center, pictures of children are everywhere — in the foyer, in hallways, in cubicles, pretty much everywhere you look.

As the tour progressed, the leader spoke about how we strongly believe in upholding the dignity of the children and families we serve. We will not depict poverty by using pictures of children that have large bellies due to malnutrition, or pictures of toddlers naked with flies on their face.

If a mom sees the picture we have taken of her child, we want her to feel proud — not ashamed.

woman holding young child

Seeing a child in such dire circumstances — uncared for — hurts my heart. I’m sure it affects many people so deeply that they take action; they pick up the phone or go online to sponsor a child. But at what cost?

So where’s the line? How should we express the urgent needs of the children in our programs while maintaining their dignity?

girl holding doll

9 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Kat January 3, 2012

    This is the thing that bothers me most about many child sponsorship programs. That’s why I love Compassion International! Compassion, not pity.

  2. grazioano April 25, 2011

    I think a short comment to the photo is very important to understand the meaning of the photo itself. As when you look at an artwork of an artist that you don’t know. The comment will makes you appreciate the art, as well as the photo will make you understand the words.

  3. Christin February 25, 2011

    I really like that policy! I hadn’t thought of something like that before, but I love that you want the mothers of the children to be proud of their picture.

  4. Debbie T February 21, 2011

    I love seeing the kids dressed up in the photos. I think most people know the real truth. Sometimes you can see in the backgrounds, etc., signs of the poverty or with many just looking at their shoes, etc., will show it. I certainly don’t enjoy the pictures of kids with flies all around them sitting naked looking like their is no hope. I want to believe there is hope now that the kids are in Compassion.

  5. Margo Mizell February 21, 2011

    Fabulous post! I think it goes along very well with Chris Giovagnoni’s fabulous photo essay from just a few days ago. He stated that “the presence of dignity doesn’t equal the absence of poverty”. So true. I think Compassion is doing an excellent job at maintaining the dignity of those they serve and realistically expressing the desperate need of these individuals at the same time. It’s not necessary to use humiliating photos to get the point across.

  6. Cheri Duchrow February 21, 2011

    Great post Shaina. This is what I apprecitate about Compassion. Which tells a real story. Sometimes there are pictures shared about the environment that our sponsored children live in that can convey the message along with the statistics. These photos can be more general in nature without identifying individuals. But when it comes to the photos of the people I feel their dignity is always maintained. That is what I love about Compassion. You go beyond by letting the sponsored individuals share their stories telling as much as they want. They tell us where they have been and what they are now doing. When they tell the stories they are filled with hope.
    If a person questions if this child really needs a sponsor because they are smiling in the picture and have on a nice outfit …well that is where us as sponsors and advocates come in. We are partnering with Compassion and these families. These individuals are part of our families and we speak out for them. You might indicate to the person that if they were going to sponsor someone and really partner with them and bring them into their lives as an extended family member. What type of photo of a family member would they want to see? They would want to see a photo that kept the dignity of the individual. There are many people in the US that need help as well and we try to maintain there dignity so why not other places!

  7. Shannon February 21, 2011

    Thank you for sharing this information. I had not stopped to think about the type of photos sponsors receive from Compassion. The one thing I have thought is that someone has taken great care in dressing our children because their shoes match their clothes! I respect Compassion even more, didn’t know I could, for the reason the photos are the way they are. Thank you! I have taken the photos to the store and had them copied and sent them to our children with instructions to keep one and give one to their parents. How could I have done that if they were naked with large bellies and flies all over them?? Thank you so much!

  8. Jason Schlosser February 21, 2011

    Compassion is doing a great job. You’ve always done well telling the cold hard truth about suffering, but we may need to go deeper to reach hearts that have been hardened by the media. As simple as sharing a statistic a day from a country where Compassion is working as well as a testimony of God’s work there. People need the truth. Our world is not more civilized, there is more brutality and child slavery today than ever before.

  9. Kees Boer February 21, 2011

    This is a great point Shaina. It’s one thing that I appreciate about Compassion. It’s that way throughout the organization. The children even in the project have their dignity. We take care of them and they know it. You can see the difference between Compassion children and non-Compassion children. I remember even telling some mothers during the registration of their children that it is a huge blessing to be a Compassion child for just alone the reason of CIV, which almost works as a big insurance policy.

    Somehow we also need to show the needs that there truly are. It’s a difficult and fine balance. I remember seeing horrific images right after the Haiti earthquake. I was thinking of sending them out, but I didn’t. It was too cruesome.

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