Major Department

Engaged Social Innovation


College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Spring 2017

Honors Major Advisor

Andrew Tinkham

Thesis Mentor

Joseph Cilek


A number of global health initiatives, many well-meaning, elevate stereotypes of poverty in their use of media and marketing. Photographs that portray sadness and desperation in poor communities—often used to boost fundraising—have been dubbed “poverty porn” by experts. Many of these photos fail to accurately tell the complex story of poverty. Many fail to honor the work of native volunteers and social entrepreneurs, instead aggrandizing the volunteer efforts of white tourists passing through. This can create a perceived dependency on foreign aid, diminishing the potential of local change-makers. From mid-November 2016 through mid-January 2017 I returned to Pondicherry, India (my first visit was through the India Winterim program the previous winter). When I arrived, I met with a rural palliative care organization, Sanjeevan, that I partnered with one year prior as a student on the India Winterim program. The organization expressed a need for an updated digital multimedia presence, and this need aligned with the skills and equipment I’ve acquired as a journalism student, as well as my interest in creating accurate portrayals of global health care. During my two-month stay in Pondicherry, I re-designed Sanjeevan’s website and regularly updated its social media platforms. We created a promotional YouTube video featuring one volunteer’s inspirational journey to becoming a nurse and subtitled the film to be viewed in both Tamil (the regional language in Pondicherry) and English. I captured, printed, and delivered photos of patients to their families. With permission from the patients, I also displayed the photograph collection in a gallery at the Blank Honors Center in Iowa City, and I wrote a front page article about this service learning experience for The Daily Iowan.
A camera, especially in the hands of a Westerner visiting a so-called “developing” country, has the power to exploit the dignity of vulnerable individuals. It is not difficult to imagine examples of such images. With guidance from the director of Sanjeevan and permission from its patients, I worked to present digital imagery that might alter the way people perceive stigmatized topics such as poverty, “development,” and terminal illness.


india, palliative care, digital, media, health, abroad, nurse, photography

Total Pages

11 pages


Copyright © 2017 Helaina Thompson