In the year 2000, I and my wife were driving in downtown Ottawa, Canada, listening to the Christian radio. We heard an advertisement that began with the voice of a child saying:
"This is so-and-so from Brazil:
[a few more words in Spanish]
And the voice of a translator went on speaking as if he were the alledged child describing a grim situation, posing semi-innocent questions.
I and my wife looked at each other astonished. How could this charity feature a child from Brazil speaking Spanish, if in Brazil we don't speak Spanish but Portuguese?
I asked the radio station by email how could they feature such advertisement. The radio station took some time to find the ad, but withdrew the specific ad (at the time, read some more below). I asked Compassion Canada by email if the child was a true child, and explained why I thought that the ad was misleading and untrue.
First Compassion Canada said that they were not primarily responsible for the ads. That they outsourced their ads with an American marketing agency. I then emailed their agency, and this is what they said (I'm paraphrasing, since I lost these emails):
"Thank you for your question. We are still learning more every day about Latin America." Period.
I never got an answer if the brazilian child really existed. There was no phone call, no follow up, no explanation. I can speculate what happened: I think someone planned the ad with the text. Then they found some child from a Spanish-speaking country and recorded the audio. Then they put the ad together.
I also noticed that Compassion Canada was affiliated with some Ethics organization with a Canadian scope. I also emailed this organization with all the email communications. And I got no response from this organization. Zero. Today, years later, I visited Compassion Canada's "Accountability" section in their web site and found no Ethics organization with a specific Canadian scope, so I guess they are not related anymore to that organization.
Last month, in June 2009, I was listening to the same radio station in Ottawa and I heard another ad with the same "Querido Dios". (not that I like listening to Christian radio. I probably listen 99.9% of the time to other stations) This time, the country was indeed a Spanish-speaking country.
Here are my questions:
- Does the child from Brazil exist? Was she the one that recorded the audio?
- Why didn't Compassion Canada take accountability for their ads?
- Was the ad only for Compassion Canada or also for Compassion International (with the ad also featuring in radios in the United States, for instance?)
- What do we make of this whole model of 'supporting poor children'? Isn't giving money away decoupled from the true people that need it a way for Christians of washing their hands? If Christians are truly interested and truly care about the condition of the poor, shouldn't they get involved more directly? Shouldn't they meet and learn about how they live, and what are the economic forces and economic history that led these specific people to the situation they are at?