Draped in dusty curry yellow with thick creases around her dark, liquid eyes and a deeply furrowed brow, she might have been anyone’s grandmother—except for the cause that became her own the day she was born into the Pakistani brick kilns that oppress, bend, but never break her.
Nine days ago, Syeda Ghulam Fatima was a name no one knew.
Today, the woman likened to a modern-day Harriet Tubman stands re-equipped to fight the “close cousin of slavery”—bonded labor.
“I’ve been attacked and threatened so many times that I no longer fear death.”
On August 16th, Fatima’s words began to color a composite most had never seen, one of life in the unbearable heat of Pakistan’s brick kilns.
During a trip to the Middle East this month, Humans of New York (HONY), a wildly successful project to capture the stories and people of New York City, spotlighted the systemic exploitation, abuse, and deplorable conditions for millions caught in a spider web of corruption, with Fatima at the center.
Asking the robust HONY community to join together in response, the campaign quickly eclipsed an already ambitious goal of $100,000 to see “40,000 people donate $1,000,0000 in fewer than 12 hours to help Fatima end bonded labor.”
With over $2.3 million raised and the collective support of an expansive network of 18 million on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, this human rights atrocity in the heart of Pakistan claimed center stage as HONY’s Brandon Stanton did what he always does: take pictures and tell of stories and of souls.
How did HONY unleash so much generosity?
In the first in the series of seven posts, HONY simply told of the brick kilns—and frightening conditions most assumed no longer existed in a modern world.
By setting the stage and issuing an alert, readers’ curiosity of the narrative grew and it was satisfied in the character of Fatima.
Fatima introduced the human element that made this a reality we could wrap our arms around. We learned that “Bricks are the primary unit of construction across Pakistan,” and that 4.5 million are forced to meet a 1,000 brick quota each day, an unsustainable demand. Fatima explained that “laws don’t reach the kilns, so the workers live in constant fear of violence and retribution” and that many of the oppressed are only children.
By taking the time to explain the facts, followers began to understand the depth and complexity of bonded labor.
Once we gathered the facts close, hearing Fatima and other workers testify of their pain—and resilience—reminded us that these were real people, wracked by real grief, and our dollars could really help them.
HONY, whether carefully cultivated or simply an outpouring of Brandon Stanton, is known for unfiltered authenticity and vulnerability. We believed what the pictures said, because why wouldn’t we?
By asking those whose stories he shares to testify in their own words, Brandon bonds us in humanity. The ask was present and we responded.
4) Communicate impact
Throughout the seven posts, HONY made the need, and potential impact, unmistakably clear.
This wasn’t just a story you could read and move on from…this required something of you.
Over 75,000 people felt the weight of responsibility and gave, knowing that a small sum of $100 could secure the freedom of those bonded. HONY made a seemingly insurmountable problem something we could empower Fatima to fix.
By communicating impact, HONY united a vastly disparate community to give towards a common goal.
5) Offer thanks
Characteristically humble, HONY consistently thanked those who followed and those who donated. One post even featured the gratitude of Fatima herself, a woman nearing her breaking point reinforced with the kindness and generosity of a world behind her.
While the work was far from over, by taking a moment to say thank you, those who donated and invested their hearts felt a greater sense of resolution.
What can churches learn from HONY?
Start by alerting your congregation to need, educate them, empower testimony, clearly communicate impact, and remember to offer sincere thanks. Brandon Stanton captured faces, words, and gifts--all online. That's the power of a well-formed message and leveraging technology to get you there.
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