The photograph was sold to The New York Times where it appeared for the first time, exactly eleven years ago on March 26, 1993. The picture, described as a ‘metaphor for Africa’s despair’, generated so many controversies concerning the fate of the girl. So much so that the newspaper had to run a special report saying the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture, but that her ultimate fate was unknown.
Overnight, Carter became a celebrity. Friends and colleagues complimented him on the picture and on April 12, 1994, when the New York Times phoned to tell him he had won the Pulitzer Prize for the photo, it appeared like he was having the time of his life.
Unfortunately two months after receiving his prize, the 33 year old Carter was found dead of carbon-monoxide poisoning in Johannesburg, in an apparent suicide. “I’m really, really sorry I didn’t pick the child up,” he was said to have confided in a friend.
I was reminded of this story a few Sundays ago.
There was a terrible accident on Third Mainland Bridge involving a Danfo bus. The driver was still trapped in the bus, strapped to his seat and was bleeding profusely from his nose and ears. I watched horrified as I noticed that the first set of people that had arrived at the scene parked their cars and were taking pictures and videos of the accident. The crowd were so excited, the scene so contagious that if not for the fact that I was driving, I probably would have reached out for my phone to join them. The next day, I learnt that after being in that state for hours, the man eventually succumbed to his injuries and died, still strapped to his seat. Who knows if he would have been saved if help had gotten to him earlier?
I have thought about that sad Sunday many times over and over and I am asking desperately, what is happening to us as humans? Has the need to gain popularity on social media, taken the place of being social in the real world? What has happened to our humanity? When we stand by and watch another person die just to be the first person to get that person’s picture on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, then it is time to take a real long hard look at ourselves.
How many times have you been in this same situation? How many times have you been in the position to help someone, but turned away? It is easy to blame our educational system for not teaching us basic First Aid, it is easy to blame law enforcement officers for their practice of holding the person seen at the scene of an accident accountable. It is easy to blame the government for not providing enough ambulances and emergency services. But if we do nothing and say nothing when we see somebody hurt and maybe even dying – are we not also guilty of murder… by negligence?
Whenever there is an emergency that has the potential to take a person’s life, please forget about how viral your video might go, forget about the picture that may make you an instant celebrity. Focus your attention on saving the person. Do not walk away from the scene of an accident without doing something , even if all you can do is just to make a phone call to help the victim or victims.
Even if you do not eventually save a person’s life, you will live with a better conscience knowing that you have answered a clarion call in the service of humanity. Compassion and empathy is what differentiates us from animals. Let us not allow social media replace the need to be a social being.
Ebi Akpeti is a Harvard trained Project Manager and is the author of three books’ amongst which include Growing Pains, Castrated and the controversial book which was turned into a screenplay “The Perfect Church” and acted by Ramsey Noah, Funke Akindele, Olu Jacobs, Ngozi Ezeonu, Nobert Young and a lot of others. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria and is currently working on her fourth book.