August 1, 2016, by Tim Barnes, Founder, www.facebook.com/MoreThanAid
Facebook has been an invaluable resource in helping people in Kande, Malawi. It is how I have been communicating and collaborating with people helping MoreThanAid, as well as the people we are helping in Malawi. Getting people in Malawi connected to the http://www.facebook.com/MoreThanAid was a significant milestone.
Things became interesting when some of my personal Facebook friends accepted Friend requests from my Malawi friend, which I was unaware of. There were chats initiated by both parties; most chats were social, however, some had my Malawi friend asking for “help” outside MoreThanAid.
The United Nations uses the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators, to rank countries in terms of human development. Based on the 2014 data, Canada ranked 9 and Malawi ranked 173; so out of 188 countries in the world, there is extreme poverty in Malawi.
It does not take long for someone in a country like Malawi to see the differences in lifestyle, environment and possessions when looking at a Facebook page from someone in a country like Canada.
Based on my research and experience, some, not all, people who live in extreme poverty can become skilled at telling stories to make their life seem worse than it might be. This is a technique to try and get people to give/send them money.
Some of my personal friends ended up in situations where they were being asked to: purchase art, send things they no longer need (cell phones) and help financially because of malaria or other issues. I know from personal experience how uncomfortable these types of requests can be. A range of emotions can come over you; everything from shock, guilt, and feeling sorry to being uncertain of what to do or how to respond.
Since becoming aware of this, I have been educating and coaching my Malawi friend on his approach, the importance of honesty and implications of this type of behavior. This coaching is critical because many of these behaviors, which are inappropriate, have actually helped people living in poverty survive another day.
Here are some thoughts and suggestions for people who may have become a Facebook friend with someone in a developing country like Malawi.
- Take some time to educate yourself about the drastically different societies; be very aware and responsible for what you say and commit to.
- If you are asked to help but don’t know what to do, these suggestions might help: be aware, be polite, be fair, and take responsibility for your actions. The worst thing you can do is give someone that is struggling, false hope. So don’t commit to anything you can’t follow through on.
- If you are unsure if all the stories you are hearing are truthful, do your homework and if you are still unsure, reach out to MoreThanAid, we can help.
- If you don’t intend to be a Friend but want to help, you can send a Facebook message to facebook.com/MoreThanAid or email MoreThanAid@outlook.com, we have some ideas.
In closing, the last five months have been educational, challenging and rewarding. Being an IT guy, it is extremely exciting to personally experience the power that social networking can play in connecting two very diverse societies.