.
.
.
.

How ‘Humans of New York’ can save the U.N. humanitarian crisis

Perhaps commissioning storytellers as humanitarian ambassadors, and not just celebrities, can rectify the branding crisis

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

Humans of New York, a social media phenomenon pioneered by New York-based photographer Brandon Stanton has managed to reverse years of media injustice towards Pakistan and potentially save lives – all in the matter of two weeks.

Following the journey on the Facebook page was humbling; the photographer simply takes portraits of people and attaches a quote telling their story. The public engages through comments, but over the past two weeks, the public did something far greater than that; they engaged with the stories through crowd funding and raised over $2 million in 72 hours.

In the same week that Stanton managed to mobilize humanity to positively contribute towards a country that is plagued by negative connotations in the international press, the United Nations fell $12 billion short of its budget to provide basic humanitarian aid. By no means am I saying that Stanton, or the Humans of New York movement, can raise several billion dollars. But he can teach international organizations a few lessons on raising money in the world we live in today.

Reversing stereotypes to showcase humanity

I have come across people who don’t differentiate between Palestine and Pakistan – “they’re both at war with themselves,” they tell me. Yes, it is true that there are plenty of domestic issues that divide these countries internally, but even greater is the grief suffered by the entire population. The worst part is that this internal divide is blinding to the international community, and is a major hurdle in allowing the influx of aid to these countries.

Perhaps commissioning storytellers as humanitarian ambassadors, and not just celebrities, can rectify the branding crisis

Yara al-Wazir

Showcasing humanity is exactly what the crises in the Middle East need in order to achieve the budgets required for basic human survival. This comes in the form of appointing spokespeople who are able to radiate empathy and compassion, so that global audiences can listen. Advocating for human survival comes in the form of giving these refugees an outlet to tell their stories, rather than confining them to their tents and metal shelters.

The humanitarian crisis, specifically in Syria and Yemen has a branding problem, which has contributed to the $12 billion shortfall. International relief agencies need to work to change the image of refugees. Refugees are not mooching off neighbouring governments, and they are not over-demanding. Refugees are far simpler – they are human beings craving survival.

Refugees may be starving, but it’s not only for food. They are starving for opportunity and have created a perfect market for their host countries. An over-supply in services, skills, and labor means that there is nothing that the host country could be short of if the opportunities are utilized correctly.

Perhaps commissioning storytellers as humanitarian ambassadors, and not just celebrities, can rectify the branding crisis. Perhaps the crisis can also be solved by showcasing the millions of refugees that have benefited from the United Nations programs and gone on to independently make a life for themselves. These people do exist, the United Nations has succeeded for years, but for now, it needs to rehabilitate its methods and take inspiration from grass-roots activists like Brandon Stanton.


______________
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.