Dressed in a cute outfit, with neatly tied-back hair, six-year-old Anano wandered into a restaurant looking lost. Soon people around her checked if she needed help. But when she returned in different clothes, the public reaction was so shocking that little Anano left the restaurant in tears.
Anano is a six-year-old child actress from Georgia. Recently, she was involved in a project that proved itself to be a hard-hitting social experiment. The organization behind it was the charity that has always dedicated itself to keeping children safe globally – UNICEF.
In 2016 a bunch of filmmakers and Anano headed out onto the streets of Tbilisi, Georgia, to conduct an experiment on unsuspecting members of the public. The fundamental idea was to find out whether people would be caring enough to help a child in danger.
However, there was slightly more to it than just that. UNICEF wanted to test how the public would react to a well-dressed little girl compared to a child who looked homeless. And the end results were pretty shocking indeed.
To start with, the producers sent Anano out onto the street with brushed hair and wearing a smart coat and patent leather boots. To an outsider, she looked like a child from a well-off family, and it didn’t take long for passers-by to assume that she was lost.
What happened next was captured for posterity thanks to the installation of secret cameras. In the video, some members of the public are seen walking up to Anano and asking her if she is all right. Most crouch down to her level, and some even make phone calls to help her.
But then the filmmakers launched phase two of the experiment. They sent Anano onto the streets of Tbilisi a second time, except on this occasion she looked like a totally different child. The video shows Anano wearing filthy clothes with dirt all over her face.
This time, the UNICEF team wanted to see if anyone would stop to help the little girl now that she looked homeless. The difference in public attitude was stark. This time around, no one spoke to Anano – scores of people walked right by her, ignoring the fact that she was totally alone.
Next, the filmmakers decided to try the same experiment but in a different location. This time, they chose a restaurant as the setting. Again, they sent Anano in alone to see if she would attract any attention, and sure enough the same thing happened.
Dressed in a cute pink jacket and with her hair scraped back into a neat ballerina bun, little Anano was treated with remarkable kindness. People in the food court smiled at her, conversed with her and even tickled her cheek when she approached their tables.
But when Anano returned in her scruffy clothes and with a dirtied face, once more it was a totally different story. This time, people in the restaurant were far more wary of the six-year-old. Not only did they hold onto their belongings a little bit tighter, but they did worse than that too.
Some diners assumed that she was a thief and sent her away from their tables when she joined them. One man even called over a staff member and demanded that Anano be taken away from the restaurant. It proved to be a highly unpleasant experience for the actress herself.
In fact, after the anonymous man asked for Anano to be removed, the little girl became very upset. The final shot of the film shows her running away from the scene and bursting into tears – at which point the producers pulled the plug on the whole experiment.
The filmmakers wanted people to understand that having prejudice against homeless kids wasn’t fair on them and that the public needed to change its attitude. And once the video was uploaded to YouTube, it sparked an important conversation online.
The campaign slogan, “Change starts when you choose to care” was designed to make people think twice about they way they view homeless kids. And it seemed as though the message hit home for a lot of people who watched the social experiment video.
“I am so ashamed to be human sometimes,” commented one person, while another lamented our “ugly world,” before adding, “this makes me so so sad.” But not everyone was totally convinced by UNICEF’s social experiment.
Some people thought that the money spent on the video production could have been better used to actually help homeless children. “Filming a ‘social experiment’ with a hidden agenda of putting citizens in a negative light doesn’t fix the problem in the slightest,” they commented.
Someone else defended the actions of the people in the restaurant. “A lot of young children from poor families are sent off to steal from people in major cities,” they pointed out. So in their opinion it wasn’t an unfair move for diners to keep their belongings close.
Despite that, UNICEF Georgia said that due to violence and poor living conditions, homeless children are “among the most vulnerable groups in society.” That’s why the charity thought it so important to erase the stigma about them through the hard-hitting video and their wider #FightUnfair campaign.
UNICEF reported that more than 380 children have been helped thanks to the project. However, with 150 million kids still living on the streets worldwide, it’s clear that there is a lot more work to be done. Still, Anano’s social experiment successfully challenged some people’s preconceptions, and that’s a good place to start.