Charity is so in this season! Celebs spread goodwill at Zaatari refugee camp
There’s a conga-line of celebrities parading through Syrian refugee camps - an incongruous mash-up of glamour with grit that has us debating the end results. Do celebrities trivialize good causes? Worse yet - do they jeopardize them? Or should we lighten up and see this as a brilliant way to keep critical causes in the public awareness?
The Syrian civil war may be the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time, with an estimated 9 million Syrians displaced from their homes since 2011. It’s logical that refugee settlements in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan attract high profile visitors such as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US Secretary of State John Kerry. Continue reading below »
But what to make of the virtual red carpets that have been luring in A-list entertainers and athletes?
Morally speaking, we shouldn’t need celebrity endorsement to back a decent cause; a love of humanity should suffice to get us to step up, but face it - it’s difficult to incite us to care for people we’ll likely never meet.
So tag a cause with an exciting spokesmodel - and WHAM! - it’s news. A serious issue becomes sexier, edgier, and well, more VIP, capturing headlines, air time, and social media buzz. It’s undeniable that star power draws public attention. We can’t say what motivates these celebs to get involved, but their presence does help people in dire need by keeping issues on the table.
Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children told Forbes magazine, “In my experience, the benefits of celebrity are not fabled but real. Without the campaigning energies of Bono and Bob Geldof, as example, I don’t believe 46 million more children would be in school today in the world’s poorest countries.”
But while support by an enthusiastic celebrity can help broadcast a cause to new audiences, the star-touch isn’t enough. Every charity needs a clear, convincing message about what it’s trying to achieve. Stars can turn the public’s head, but charities need to follow through with a tightly structured organization to translate that attention into muscular fundraising and political support.
And the “elephant in the living room” is the risk that the celebrity becomes bigger than the message.
For that we go back to Bono, who - according to urban legend - hushed a Scottish concert crowd and started clapping his hands, once every second. After 10 seconds he dramatically declared, "Every time I clap, a child dies in Africa." A thick scottish accent yelled back from the crowd "Then stop yer bloody clappin'."
Do you think it's appropriate for celebrities to visit refugee camps on behalf of charities? Does it attract more attention to the suffering of refugees or to the stars themselves? Share your comments below!
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