One status message, one comment, starts a movement for education in Layag Layag, Philippines.
The world’s most popular social networking site: Facebook launched a side-project called FacebookStories. This blog-style website encourages Facebook users to submit inspiring stories of people using their Facebook accounts for big things. Their most recent post is a heartwarming video about one’s user’s efforts to build a strong connection with impoverished children in my home country, the Philippines. Watch the story (and its surprisingly amazing cinematography) below.
The video came with the description: “When Jay Jaboneta heard that a group of children have to swim to school, he started a fundraiser on Facebook to buy them a boat—only to realize that the solution required a more local perspective.” – Story posted by: Peter Jordan
Not another advocacy
Jay Jaboneta’s story isn’t like most of the fundraising charity stories that I often see and share on my newsfeed. Seeing that it was a Facebook featured story, I was expecting it to be another case of social media charity. You know the type. It goes from a sob story to a happily ever after all thanks to the amazing power of online social networking and advocacy. These often come with a picture of a child and their new shoes/books/clothes/school/etc that were donated thanks to the supportive people who ‘liked’ the cause.
Yes, it started out typical with the efforts to buy a boat for the community, but it didn’t stop with that. I was very impressed with the video’s emphasis on the limits of this charitable act and the switch to thinking long-term and local. Instead of top-down charity, Jaboneta switched to a bottom-up perspective that switched his efforts towards fostering local education through college scholarships for highschool students.
However, given that it is only a 3 minute video, it left a lot of questions unanswered. Why did they focus only on the kids and not the rest of the community? What were the children doing in the middle of the video with the plants that they tied together? Was this child labor? Can these kids even make it though highschool to get the college scholarships? Why do those families live in that area in the first place and is the government doing anything about it?
Nevertheless, this video serves the same purpose as most other short videos in our current digital age. It gives us a small dose of interesting material to suit our attention span and then gives us the opportunity to search for more of the same topic on the internet.
The global perspective
So what does it mean that a social media empire like Facebook is associating itself with such a story about poverty in the Philippines? For one, it penetrates social awareness into the filter bubble of the typical social media junkie (see my previous post for more info on this). It gives the Philippines more global exposure and brings amazing projects such as this into the forefront of people’s everyday thoughts – or at least their news feeds. At the same time, it provides a model for other programs trying to achieve similar goals.
As someone who grew up in the Philippines, the first things I notice in these types of videos is how accurately the country is represented and in what light. Like I mentioned above, this video has what many international videos about the Philippine poverty lacks – emphasis on the capability and drive of Filipinos to address their own poverty situations. While this is great, I would have liked to hear a bit more from how people within the Layag Layag community see the situation, and how they have been affected by the program. But maybe that will be too much time and attention to ask from the busy socialmedialite.
Look who’s watching
This stories truthfulness and social message was so clear that I almost forgot it was an ad. Facebook is doing an innovative job of marketing not through traditional product advertising, but through sharing the Facebook experience in the manner that feels most natural to us nowadays – though social media and the internet’s participatory culture. But who is it advertising for?
The cause for Layag Layag’s children? – No. The page has no additional contact information for people to support the cause or to find out more. It took a little bit more research on my part to learn that the project is actually supported by the Acumen Fund – an investment group. According to Jaboneta’s article in the Manila Bulletin news page, this group graciously granted him a fellowship for this project.
The users of Facebook? – Maybe. These stories are indirectly supposed to inspire other users of the page to find their passion and their purpose like Jaboneta did. But, inspiration (albeit important) is a very abstract effect and difficult to measure. The odds are very slim that someone would come across this page (I only did because of a post on my twitter feed), much less do something about it beyond maybe sharing it on their own feed. However, I do have to mention that stories like these have done a lot to personally inspire me and others I know of to learn more about the issues surrounding these topics (hence, this blog you’re reading now)
The potential investors? – Yes. Facebook is a company like any other American business. Similarly to television, access to the media is free because of the funding provided by advertisers. Advertisers seek spaces where their target market provide their attention. If you were a company that builds its brand around support for a social issue such as global poverty, wouldn’t you like to advertise on a site that caters to people doing that type of work?
Maybe its all about business, but business has its ways of getting us to care about things we normally wouldn’t think about. And this long post is just testament to the fact that the Beyond the Yellow Boat video was definitely more thought-provoking, and socially relevant than a video about how Facebook is like chairs.