At CRP, we’re committed to protecting the dignity and privacy of our beneficiaries. When people are willing to tell their stories, but don’t want their photo taken, we find a photo of our neighborhood or sign to use instead. Or we work with people to take a photo from behind or with their face turned mostly away from the camera instead of a full shot.
Most of the refugees and needy Jordanians who come to CRP—whether for basic-needs assistance, psychosocial support, or both—are more than willing to share their stories with us—and with you! Indeed, sometimes when we interview them for a quick Facebook post, a whole harrowing backstory comes tumbling out.
But because of the lingering trauma they have, often because of what was done to them by very powerful groups in their home countries, and to protect their privacy, we change everyone’s names when we bring you their stories.
We have a list of nonsectarian names that we choose from, to further obscure their personal histories. We use nonsectarian names even when religion plays an important part in their story or we use a photo which obviously identifies the person as part of a religious group. Sometimes people ask us to use their real names, but because it is our policy, we always change names.
The only people whose names we don’t change are Jordanian employees and volunteers (who are not beneficiaries) and expat employees and volunteers. So, for example, our security guard Abu Abdullah keeps his name, as does Sara our art instructor, and Karam, who runs all of our education programming. And whether or not our beneficiaries give their real names to journalists is entirely up to them. (Though we may give journalists an alias when speaking about beneficiaries if they have not yet given such permission).
We find that teenagers are the ones who like their fake names the least. Last spring, we brought you the story of “Sami.” But after successfully lobbying for a name change, “Sami” became “Altair” over the summer. (Side note, “Altair” is not on our approved list of nonsectarian names. You video game enthusiasts may recognize its source). But even adults sometimes buck at their assigned names. After we posted a picture on Facebook this summer, one of our Iraqi volunteer staff members said, “Hekmet? Ugh” when he saw himself. So now we try to remember to let new volunteer staff members choose their own names. For example, when reporting on a grant (we ask donors and institutions to use changed names when sharing information about our beneficiaries as well), “Shahad” chose her name for herself.
Because interns and volunteers come and go at CRP, sometimes we lose consistency in aliases. Though we do try to keep names the same. Because by whatever name we call people, we want you to get to know them just as we do. And they want you to know them. They want to share their stories with you. They just want to do so in a dignified way, that alleviates, rather than creates stress for them.
The trickiest part is remembering changed names when we do a Facebook Live. On camera it is hard to remember what name we’ve used for people, and at least once, a real name has slipped out (we’re not going to tell you when!).
We have one exception to our rule. When someone gets resettled, we use their real name. But we wait until they are firmly on the ground in their new home—we don’t want to jinx anything!