The Failed Generation?

Text and photography: Pablo Alonso Caprile

I recently read a column in a newspaper that talked about our generation as a whole. The article was exposing our generation’s failures and mistakes, and called us “the failed generation”. Not only do I think that it is unfair to be referred to as a failed generation but I also think that there is a lot more to it than you may think at first. Check: The Alternative Urbanism of Favelas

Check: The Alternative Urbanism of Favelas

Media in general usually show our failures, our excesses and our disruptive behaviour. Take as examples the killings in schools, the increase in alcohol and drug consumption within teenagers, the meteoric rise in video games; to just mention a few. These are the sort of news flashes and reports that we see and hear daily on TV, on the internet and on the radio. But is this all there is? Is this everything that we have managed to achieve? Or is there another parallel world away from the media attention that captures a fraction of this supposedly failed generation?

There is. It might be small and vulnerable, and maybe even unheard of, but it is there. It is a small portion of young adults who have a will to make things better, to go forward, to help, to participate, to entertain and, to sum up, make the world a better place.

These young people are everywhere in the world, we just don’t know about them: teenagers giving up their summer holiday to help kids in Cambodia, students raising money to help fund a water program in Kenya, young workers helping out a school in Colombia, building houses in Argentina, a newlywed couple giving up their honeymoon to go help an organisation in the slumps of El Cairo, a group of high school graduates that went to Vietnam to help out in an orphanage, a teen spending every evening of her week helping at the local charity shop, and so many more. These are just the first that came to mind.

On the bigger scale, take people like Kimmie Weeks, a Liberian activist who travels around the world with gripping speeches to claim children’s rights and the need to end poverty (he has created the Youth Action International group). People such as Meisie Maargoyane, who speak about alternative models of community development and the value of direct connections between north and south countries. Groups such as the Young Activists Team who advocate programs to promote social integration.
These types of individuals get little or no international attention, and that is what causes the bias that I am referring to.

Seek First to Understand

Take as an example the students who go to Cambodia. They prepare during the whole year to go and spend their five or six weeks summer holiday to help children in Phnom Penh. I have been involved with this particular project for a few years now and year after year, I am still amazed by the passion and dedication with which they work. These students spend five weeks under deep heat and extreme humidity working over twelve hours per day to put a smile on a child’s face.
This work is extremely hard and demanding and is done under extreme conditions that most westerners would have trouble to get to terms with. They have to sleep on the floor, eat rice three times a day, sleep less than six hours a night and not have a proper shower for the whole time of their stay. But they all say it is worth it!
Over the past six years, I have seen about 250 young Europeans come and leave Cambodia and all with the same enthusiasm and energy to do something that can change the life of these children. But these students do not get any media attention. Why?

The immediate response would be to say that nowadays, media is generally more interested in finding people’s excesses and polemic behaviour. They want to look for the latest celebrity couple, or to catch someone doing something out of order, or to show youngsters’ latest act of excess. Media searches for this because the general public searches for this, simple supply and demand. If the public was more aware of what is happening around the world, it would see that there are so many people doing things to make the world a better place. If only we dared to listen.
So when you only refer to the mainstream media, you could categorize our generation as the “failed generation”, but you would be wrong.

The more subtle answer to the question of why the people giving their time and money to help others do not get attention is that these groups of people do not look for that attention. They just want to help other people, independent of the outside publicity that it can create. They do what they do because they love it, and not because it is cool or because it brings credit. They are genuine.

Let us go back to the Cambodian example. Over the past few years, we have had journalists and TV channels coming to visit the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). They wanted to know how we worked, how many children we took care of, how we organised ourselves… They also interviewed some of us last summer for a documentary of Spanish NGOs in Cambodia. So at the end of the day, these things do get some attention, but of what type? The attention and publicity these programs get from the media is usually focused towards big organisations that people cannot relate to. The media mainly focuses on governmental programs or international aid funds… never on the small things happening everywhere because of young people willing to make a change.

So when I read the comment about us being the failed generation, I was angered. I thought it was truly unfair that we were being placed into such a category just because the things that we actually do to make the world a better place, never get shown to the rest of the world, whatever the reasons.
You will probably never see the front cover of the Sun or the Daily Mail saying “how a group of students gave up their summer to help others”. You will probably see “how a group of students gave up their studies to help each other drink”. It seems unfair doesn’t it? The bad gets attention, the good stays in the shadow.

On the internet though, there are places where people can reach out to all these things that are being done. Places such as youtube.com and Facebook for example, eliminate the media as a bridge to the real world, and show a more real picture of what we do as a generation. The internet has become a way to connect groups of people in a way that shows the small, beautiful details of what we do. It has managed to make those things viewable to everyone and allowed them to be, little by little, more know to the general population. The internet in general has allowed for young minds to share experiences and knowledge and help create a multicultural and aware society.

At the end of the day, we all do what we think is right. So when you go to Cambodia for six weeks, or raise money for a project in South Africa, or organise a talk about a program in Nicaragua, you might think you are only doing a little bit to help. But remember, as Mother Teresa said, “You might think that what you do is only a little drop of water in the ocean, but remember, the ocean is made of little drops of water”.

Pablo Alonso Caprile is from Spain and studies Economics and Statistics at UCL in London, England. He has worked with the French NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For the Smile of a Child) in Cambodia for seven years.