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Gema and Mag Criticized for Charity Work

Posted: Thu May 15, 2008 4:01 pm
by Timothy
In 1998, Road to Avonlea’s Mag Ruffman and Gema Zamprogna hosted a telethon for World Vision Canada. World Vision Canada is a Christian relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. In an infomercial that aired June 29, 1998, called ‘Say Yes to a Child, Canada’s Day to Care for the Children,’ Mag and Gema visited their sponsor children in Ethiopia and Guatemala.

That same year, Michelle Lowry submitted a thesis(1) submitted to the University of Toronto, arguing that these infomercials “deny voice and agency to the children, helping to construct a “needy” subject of Western imagination, an imagination still ripe with racist, sexist, and class-based ideologies and prejudices.” The author argues “these visits speak volumes about the racist discourses and ideologies at play in such charity projects.”

The first segment shows Ruffman visiting her seven year old daughter Aloma in Ethiopia. Lowry criticizes Ruffman and Aloma for playing a lackluster game of soccer with a “homemade” ball made from rags. Ruffman described the ball as a “brilliant African innovation.” Lowry says that Ruffman’s statement “implies that the most brilliant innovation to come out of Africa are hand-made toys for children.”

Another segment shows Gema visiting her sponsor child Bernivella in Guatemala. Gema is criticized for asking “inappropriate” and “ridiculous” questions to her foster child such as “Does it scare you a lot when you don’t have any food?”, “Do you feel sick,” and “You don’t have much energy?” Bernivella is quiet during the segment and Lowry questions whether Bernivella feels humiliated. “Zamprogna never interrogates the possibility that Bernivella could be humiliated by her lack of power and voice, and by her treatment at the hands of privileged Westerners.”

Lowry argues that the realities of racism and class oppression are not addressed in the infomercials and “Zamprogna is also not held accountable for what she says, or in this case what she does not say when she refuses to name racism and class oppression as causes of Bernivella's poverty.”

While one may question why the author is insistent that Gema engage in complex social, political and economic discourse with a child, Lowry questions the motives of the actresses charity work:
How self-satisfied and charitable must the hosts have felt as they gave gifts, built houses, bought food, and sought medical help for poor children? At one point Ruffman and Zamprogna tell the viewers how good it feels to give money to help a child and how giving to others makes one feel good. The tears of the two women may speak more to their own self-therapy, a working through of feelings of guilt and pity, rather than to a true understanding of the injustices of race and class discrimination in parts of the Third World.
Do you agree with the author that Mag and Gema participated in World Vision charity to work through “feelings of guilt and pity” rather than providing help and awareness for those in need?

Do you believe that Gema should be held accountable, as the author suggests, for not discussing racism and oppression in Guatemala? Do you think Mag and Gema denied these children a voice?

(1) Lowry, M. (1998). The Construction of “needy” subjects: An Analysis of the Representation of “Third World” Children in Charity Advertising. Master of Arts, University of Ontario.
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Posted: Sat Aug 09, 2008 5:35 pm
by wishingstar4ever
I remember seeing Gema and Mag that year. I thought it was great. I've seen other well known people as well: Megan Follows, Alex Trebek, Fred Penner, etc.

World Vision is an amazing organization. They do so much for children, families and whole communities.


What is there to criticize?

Posted: Sun Aug 10, 2008 9:24 pm
by vera
I think charity is charity. Mag and Gema did something that helped someone else. Even if they did it to make them feel good, they still did it. I don't think just because doing a good deed made them either feel good about themselves or acted as therapy, makes their actions any less charitable. Children in Africa really need our help and if the only way to get them that help is to convince viewers that it feels good to help others, I don't see any problem with that. Doing good deeds should feel good-I would be worried if Mag and Gema didn't feel good about themselves.

As for the comments that Gema and Mag were re-enforcing racist ideas, although it could be interpreted that way, I felt more that Gema and Mag were trying to make the viewers feel sorry for the children so that they would help. Raising awarness is important too and I agree that it would have been better if other issues had been addressed but I don't think the fact that they weren't makes Mag's or Gema's actions any less charitable.

Posted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 4:42 pm
by jeremiah2911
I would like to know how many children have been helped by the author of the thesis :x . World Vision is an awesome charity. Celebrities can only do so much and they lent their celebrity to help others. What is the problem. :cry:

Posted: Mon Aug 18, 2008 8:35 pm
by Gwendolene
Although I do not think badly of Gemma and Mag for their charity work, I do think that child sponsorship programs can sometimes take an exploitative approach to their advertising. I think a better way to go would be to show a child happily eating a meal or reading to adult/attending school thanks to the generosity of others rather than presenting them in a pathetic light. Just my $0.02.