Hassle-FREE Online Campaigns On Sweech
This week I have followed an interesting story of a young girl, Martha Payne, aged 9 who single handedly changed the quality of school dinners in the Argyll and Bute Council in Scotland by maintaining a blog called “Never Seconds” about her school dinners (which we call lunch in South Africa).
Her name in the blog is Veg. She takes daily pictures of the dinners and rates them. Her rating criteria from her blog includes: “1) Food-o-meter – Out of 10 a rank of how great my lunch was!; 2) Mouthfuls – How else can we judge portion size!; 3) Courses – Starter/main or main/dessert; 4) Health Rating – Out of 10, can healthy foods top the food-o-meter?; Price – Currently £2 I think; 5) Pieces of hair – It won’t happen, will it?”
Everyday since April 30 she would take her father’s camera to the canteen, except on those days when she would forget it in her bag or at home, to rate her dinners. At first the quality of the dinners was not that great and there was a shortage of salads and veggies. But as she continued her blog she started getting reactions from people around and the food in her school improved. From a simple act of rating her food she created an internet phenomenon that launched great debates about the quality of school lunches.
Veg thought she should channel this attention to good cause by starting a fund for kitchens that would serve school children in Malawi. She put in seed capital of £20 and started a JustGiving page that would support Mary’s Meals in Malawi with a target of raising £7 000. In the previous year Veg and her friends at school held a fundraiser where they made felt soaps and candleholders from which they raised £70, “enough to feed 7 children for a whole year”. So she was inspired to raise the money to create at least one kitchen which costs £7 000 to build.
Through the attention she was receiving online, the mainstream media started covering her story. This is when trouble started with the politicians in the Argyll and Bute Council. This is what happened on Thursday, June 14 according to her blog: “… I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.”
She plaintively noted: “I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.” Her dad called the council and they confirmed that they had instituted the ban. At the time of the ban she had raised nearly £2 000 and the blog has received two million hits.
The Streisand effect kicked in, which according to Wikipedia is a primarily online phenomenon in which an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicising the information more widely. It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence inadvertently generated further publicity. There were more than 212 news articles written about the ban and the blog around the world. There were many negative messages sent to the council, which retaliated by sending a defensive statement refuting “unwarranted attacks on the school catering”. This made the situation worse for the council leading to the withdrawal of its controversial statement as well as the ban in response to a request from Scotland’s education minister as well as media pressure.
As of June 22, close to £100 000 has been raised for the Mary’s Meals which can build 14 kitchens in Malawi for schoolchildren.
This shows the power of simplicity, transparency and clear purpose and is a great lesson that we can learn in SA of civilian activism from this 9-year-old that can change our country for the better without violence or shouting down people in undignified ways in the Youth Month of June.