First use of virtual reality fundraising a hit with members of the public

Members of the public have been moved by startling images from Aleppo © Amnesty International
Increase in connection with issues and support following Syria barrel bombs street campaign
Photos of VR sets being used by the public available
Amnesty International plans to extend its innovative virtual reality street fundraising project after a strongly positive reaction to a pilot which uses images of devastating scenes of barrel bombing in Syria.
Earlier this month Amnesty launched its “virtual reality Aleppo” campaign designed to transport people from the streets of Britain to the devastated streets of war-torn Aleppo in Syria. After a week of street fundraisers using the VR viewers, Amnesty says there has been a strong and often emotional response from the public and a 16% increase in people signing up to direct debit donations toward Amnesty’s human rights work.
For its pilot, Amnesty trialled eight VR headsets in various locations in London and now intends to acquire more headsets and repeat the campaign in other locations including Manchester and Leeds.
Amnesty International UK Innovations Manager Reuben Steains said:
“We always thought seeing these immensely affecting images would have a genuinely transformative effect on the person on the street, but the early results have surpassed our expectations.
“We’ve had a really strong response - in a couple of cases people have been in tears and others have expressed shock and outrage at what they’re seeing in the viewers.
“Overwhelmingly, people said that they feel more informed and educated about Syria and barrel bombs.
Amnesty’s street fundraisers have also reported that they were talking to a lot more people than usual, with people stopping to take part in virtual reality experience. 
One street fundraiser, Nina Franklin, said:
“It’s been a real treat being the first team to use the VR headsets. It really reminds us why we’re out there in the first place. 
“The headsets are so immersive because you can’t help draw comparisons between the street you’re in and the street you see. 
“The VR sets anchor everything: statistics, emotions, stories. Suddenly everything ‘over there’ is so vivid and real. That’s the power of VR.”

Low-cost headsets

The highly cost-effective project uses inexpensive refurbished smartphones and low-tech virtual reality headsets (costing less than £15 each). The photographs have been taken by a group of Syrian citizen journalists known as Lamba Media Productions, who have been documenting the destruction caused by barrel bombing and other attacks on the besieged city of Aleppo. 
Highly destructive Syrian government barrel bombs (see below) have had an overwhelming impact on the people still living in Aleppo, and campaigners believe that a 360-degree imaging of the impact areas communicates the reality of their use like no other photograph or video can. The project is currently visuals-only, but future designs are likely to incorporate audio, text-rich annotations and film.

Fundraising to support Syrian activists 

The fundraising drive will be encouraging members of the public to follow their immersion in the Aleppo imagery with support for Amnesty International UK and its work on Syria, including specific projects to train and equip citizen journalists and other human rights activists in Syria. After engaging with street fundraisers, members of the public will be invited to sign up for a direct debit donation to Amnesty International UK. During the four years of the Syrian crisis Amnesty has been amassing evidence of widespread human rights violations - including war crimes and crimes against humanity - and the Aleppo images form part of the organisation’s ongoing efforts.  

Barrel bombing in Aleppo

Barrel bombs killed more than 3,000 civilians in the Aleppo region alone last year, and over 11,000 in Syria as a whole since 2012. Last month local activists recorded at least 85 barrel bomb attacks in Aleppo city, killing at least 110 civilians. The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied that his forces have used barrel bombs, despite mounting evidence to the contrary (for more on barrel bombing in Aleppo, go here). 
Barrel bombs are oil barrels, fuel tanks or gas cylinders packed with explosives, fuel and metal fragments designed to kill and maim in an indiscriminate fashion. The deadly munitions have been dropped by government force helicopters on schools, hospitals, mosques and crowded markets, and the besieged city of Aleppo has been particularly heavily hit. Many of Aleppo’s beleaguered residents have sought safety by moving into basements or underground bunkers.

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