The Sarahah app became a viral sensation overnight, but its usage appeared to be nothing more than a mix of silly compliments and mean trolling. In case you're not familiar with the app, it's a free online platform where anyone can leave comments about you - completely anonymously. It's stated goal is to collect "honest feedback", but more often than that, most of the comments we have seen end up being completely sophomoric.
Apps such as WhatsApp are being used creatively to actually help people, so why not Sarahah? Chennai-based NGO Aware has done just that, by making Sarahah a part of its campaign against child sexual abuse.
Aware’s campaign is called Save the Smiles and it has been asking child abuse survivors to share their experiences in a bid to help them heal. Aware has set up a profile on Sarahah at savethesmiles.sarahah.com, and on its Facebook page, Aware posts responses to the anonymous queries it receives, and offers practical advice.
Sandhiyan Thilagavathy, the founder of Aware, says the organisation had been conducting workshops on prevention of child sexual abuse, a topic that he says many people are ignorant about. “We could see that people are hesitant to learn about this," says Thilagavathy. "We see a lot of stigmatisation about this. People will come, observe the workshop and their interest was very less.”
The team recently started using Sarahah, and realised that the app could be a potent tool in Aware’s campaign against child abuse. Sarahah allows you to anonymously send messages, and this allows many people to ask questions without revealing their identity. The app then lets Aware share a screenshot of the question on other social media platforms, where it can be answered. This means that people could come forward to share their experiences with child sexual abuse and seek Aware’s help, without any shame or stigma.
“We started the Sarahah campaign on August 15. We promoted it on FB, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp, but published the answers published only on Facebook,” says Thilagavathy. “Before Sarahah, one of ten people were talking to us.” Once the team opened its Sarahah page, it was surprised by the response. In two weeks, Aware has already received over 60 messages via Sarahah.
From queries on how to educate children about sexual abuse to people sharing their traumatic experiences, Aware’s campaign on Sarahah has helped them reach a lot of people.
Aware posts detailed replies on its Facebook page, asking some people to speak to professional therapists or to attend workshops to seek help. “One girl was reaching out on behalf of a friend. She was undergoing sex trauma, and said she was sharing the story of a friend," says Thilagavathy. "After a few days she said she’d like to volunteer with us. Then she said it was herself who wanted to get rid of [emotional] baggage. She told us that she wishes to take this mission forward.”
Three volunteers have joined the organisation after its Sarahah campaign, he adds, saying: “We will hold this [page] open for as long as people prefer to learn [more about how to prevent and deal with child abuse].”