One of my very first interviews, ever, was a man that was living with HIV/AIDS. He had devoted his life to speaking out about the virus, using his personal experience. Many of the challenges he pointed out as we spoke were related to financial burden. HIV-positive individuals need to eat healthy, need to have clean water, need to go to the hospital every so often for check-ups. I genuinely empathised with his situation but at the end of the interview, he looked at me expectantly. This was the point that I was supposed to give him something.
Profiles are generally uneasy because I have to probe into someone’s personal life. They are metaphorically naked before me, and I have to then write their story describing that body as it was before me. It is serious responsibility. I am not a man, nor am I a breadwinner of a family. I am not HIV-positive and I have never felt such a loss of hope for life when sick. What then gave me the authority to write his story? And, will I be able to write it as he said it? All this almost always puts me on a track where I feel such guilt and a burden of prestige. So when he looked at me expectantly, when I knew he wanted some money, it was easy to hand it to him. In that interview, as he told his story, as I dealt with my own guilt, there was a subtle shift of agency to me. It is I that was to tell his story.
I have since faced similar situations, and I am wiser about them. I am not certain I did the right thing giving that gentleman money, but I also understand why I felt the need to. It was not right because it is very hard to distinguish a paper from a journalist in such instances. Even when one explains that they are doing this for personal reasons, their benefactor only knows them in their professional role and may expect money from all other journalists should they approach him for an interview too.
So to answer the question, VOF graduate Gifty Pearl’s ethical obligation is to help the girls by writing about them. She can, within her networks as a journalist, connect the girls to organisations that can help. When she writes the story, she is likely to get responses and Pearl can go the extra mile to follow-up for the girls, with these responding bodies so that aid does come to them. Many people often get touched by these stories and say they want to help. There are other smaller ways- like choosing to interview them in a restaurant and buying for them food so she knows they have eaten that day. She could also ask what they need the money for and if it is something like pads, Gifty could just open her bag and give them the supplies that she has for herself. In that instance, the girls know that Gifty is doing this on her own and not in representation of whichever agency she is representing.
One must appreciate though that it is hard not to help. It is hard for Gifty to talk to the girls, know their problems and fail to give them money when they ask, if she has it. It is not like in reporting stories, we become callous and stop relating to people. If anything, we know more about the problems in the world and how easily preventable many are.