Tag Archives: charity

Simon Says?

6 Jun

Part 5



Simon didn’t say much. He didn’t have the energy to. Simon (pronounced ‘Sih-mon’ in Afrikaans) is 10 years old but weighs much less than my own 6 year old boy. Who is hardly a big lad himself.

Simon is malnourished. Along with his sister, he is an orphan and sleeps wherever he can find a warm corner in someone else’s shack.

As a small person who has no-one to keep an eye out for him, Simon has several options in life. He could walk the long road to town in Gobabis (not much fun when you are nearly-starving) and there try and beg for a few pennies off people. Or rummage through the dustbins. Or he could stay in Epako during the day and hope that someone, somewhere might find a bit of maizemail (savoury cereal porrige) to eat and perhaps he might also find somewhere safe and not too dirty to huddle down for the night.

Or he could go to school. Simon likes school. He tries to go as much as he can and has been accepted to a school within walking distance from Epako. Unlike many of the children, school is a big attraction for Simon because (our friends in Epako tell us) its the one place where he can be assured of getting something to eat.

San Bushmen children are some of the most disadvantaged and discriminated in the world. This little girl could only dream of a few items of school uniform and a blanket.

San Bushmen children are some of the most disadvantaged and discriminated in the world. Apologies for the cliche, but this little lass could only dream of a few items of school uniform and a blanket.

But as mentioned in yesterday’s blog – if you don’t have the equipment to attend school – it is almost impossible to go. School uniform is not mandatory (no-one would kick you out of school for not having the clothes) but some of the schools frown upon a child who doesn’t have the uniform. And anyway, would you want to be the only child who doesn’t have the dress or the shirt? (Shoes you can manage without of course … but just to have the one item of school uniform! This is all these kids are asking …)

Schools in Namibia (and in most African countries) also charge a school fee. Again – this isn’t mandatory – but some schools can make it difficult for children to attend if their families don’t pay this fee. Our previous work in southern Africa, with the San Bushmen made it all too clear that the poorest families need advocates who can write a damned good letter for them and stand up for their rights for a fee to be waived.

But back to Simon. The first time that we saw him smile was when he got into the car with my partner. Simon liked the car journey to the shop! And when he got to the clothes store – he and 20 other kids trundled along behind my other half (“I feel like the flippin’ Pied Piper here!”) and then it was a matter of slow little smiles all round as the kids were measured for shoes and various bits and pieces of school uniform and realised what might be happening.

San bushmen women are tiny and my girl found it amusing to keep telling me "Mum! You're like a big clumsy giant in comparison!" (Cheers, love)

San bushmen women are tiny and my girl found it amusing to keep telling me “Mum! You’re like a big clumsy giant in comparison!” (Cheers, love)

Simon was lifted up and perched next to the cash register so he could watch all of the events unfolding around him. It must have been a strange sight for him. The children from Epako were all waiting patiently in line, some of them already clutching their carrier bags filled with their new clothes. They looked sort of shell-shocked. The shop assistants who had seemed so astonished to see them all when they first marched into the shop was grinning now and talking to Simon, asking him questions about himself.  The funny little white girl was rushing about, dragging baskets of clothes and shoes with her father. The crazy white woman seemed to keep losing track of where the little white boy was (“Oh don’t worry – he’s outside doing somersaults with the other kids.”)

But don’t worry folks, I found him! Sure enough, there was my son. Bonding with his new mates thanks to all things boys and yukky (see video clip ‘Bleeugh! Look at my used plaster!’) and whilst my enormous credit card purchase thankfully wasn’t declined by my marvellous credit card company, we took a few minutes to get our breath back and to capture some of the smiles of children with their new items.

One of our helpers got a little bit shy! More smiles from the children

One of our helpers got a little bit shy! More smiles from the children

Double and Triple Phew!








No Tantrums in the Townships

4 Jun

(Part 3)

I’ll admit that something I was rather stressed about when returning to Namibia was the way that my kids would behave in public. It doesn’t take a genius to notice that in general, African kids who live in the sub-Saharan countries are less … hyper … shall we say – than kids from the West tend to be.

And there are plenty of reasons for that, which I won’t go into right now.

So, watching our kids’ reactions to life in some of the poorer parts of the former township areas was very interesting. At first, as we entered the squatter camps, our son came out with “Hey – little houses made of old rubbish! Like metal and tyres and fings.  Can I have one like that? So coo-wul!” Then, as it dawned on him that this way of life wasn’t ‘play at tents in the garden’ and that he was face to face with kids who had no shoes, who had only one (dirty) set of clothes, who had no parents, who slept rough, who begged in the streets and who played in the rubbish dumps … he grew a lot quieter.

His sister was unnaturally quiet too. As we stood with friends from the less poor parts of town who were helping us to create a list of the neediest children, my daugher nudged me and asked “What on earth is that lady doing – stamping on that broken old chair?” I glanced over. “Ah – she’s made herself a sort of washing machine. She has to carry the water in and she’s stomping on the soggy blanket to get it clean and using the frame of the chair to help her to do it. Pretty clever eh?”

Nearby her baby was yarking for some more breast milk. The woman noticed us and came over to us, baby now hanging from boobie. She asked us to buy something warm for the child as their winter was approaching “He has just one thing to wear and it’s already cold in the night,” she said to us through a translator.

“What do we do?” I asked my daughter. “We were only supposed to be buying for the school aged children.” “Mum!” she murmured “I’ll buy him something myself. Look – he’s only got one sock!”

Both kids were still adjusting to what they were seeing.  In fact, I’d never seen either of them behave so meekly (without being told to.) Sure the day was a scorcher and the adults were talking about dull logistical and political stuff – but my two stood in a corner as they clasped each others hands and stared at the children in front of them.  Normally – in England for example – they would be sighing ‘Boooring!’ and ‘Where’s the Monster Munch? I’m ‘ungry!’ or  thumping each other. So this was all very unfamiliar behaviour from where I was standing…

It was all about staring.  (Not for too long … see my previous posts on ‘eye contact’!) And the brown and black children with holes in their pants and sores on their faces stared back at the funny white children who had such brightly coloured clothes and such pink and sweaty faces.

I think that it took about fifteen minutes for the reality to sink in for my wee english kids – the harsh way of life that these other children were leading.  I did experience a moment myself of ‘is this all a bit too traumatic for my two to cope with’? But I soon got over myself. And the kids got over themselves too.  But please note that this was not a deliberate ‘I’ll show my kids how flippin’ well grateful they should be’ experiment (ha, no – they’re still ungrateful little monkeys, if you ask me!) Rather, it was a lesson in 2 stages. Stage 1 being ‘Look. Observe. Show, Don’t Tell.’ And Stage 2 being ‘Right. What do we do now? Get your sleeves rolled up.’

For Stage 2, we were going to be People On A Mission! And despite their blood sugar slump and exposure to the midday sun and the shock of what they were seeing – my two didn’t even need to be asked. They sprang into action and began to engage with the children as their parents talked more logistics.  The 6 year old was well-impressed “Look – the kids make well coo-wul kites out of old bin liners! And they made a football out of old plastic bags!” Whereas the 9 year old was rather more indignant; “But this is awful! The tiny ones are playing around a rubbish dump? Why has no-one cleaned it up? Mum – you can’t ever moan about our bin-men at home again after this!'”DCIM100SPORT

Thanks to our fantastic friend who lives in Epako, we spent a good hour sorting out which were the neediest of the children that we could help. Many of them were orphans (but more on that tomorrow.) Returning to our friend’s home in a less poor part of the former township (but still very much ‘going without’ by our own standards) my son was bonding very well with the local lads and fully integrating himself into location society – wandering from home to home in the search for playmates. greg loves epako

One of the most ‘telling’ moments for me was when the children playing in the area wanted to ask him about his T shirt. I think that it was also a very revealing moment for my lad too. Sadly, he is a little chap who often feels very hard done to, because his evil Mum and Dad don’t buy him all of the stuff that he thinks that he should possess in terms of superheros, LEGO etc etc. This video clip says it all really. Check out the surprise on his face as he realises that his old T shirt – one of his many Marvel Superhero tops, and his Skylander hat – has utterly fascinated the boys. And that they don’t know who these superheroes are… And oh. How they would LOVE to wear something like that …

The dialogue on the clip here involves my boy trying to explain to them who the heroes are and what they do. His sister correcting him (of course!) And then the both of them attempting to tell jokes to the other kids (who clearly hadn’t a clue what they were on about – but they all laughed lots anyway.)

And that was the brilliant bit for us – bringing the kids had NOT been a mistake. Bringing the kids reminded us just what this was all about … Children just love each other’s company regardless. And they want to share their stuff and to have fun together …








Charity *did* begin at home …

2 Jun


Should we care about the way we talk to each other as adults – and to our children – when it comes to the subject of ‘charity’ and ‘giving’? When our schools send requests for a few quid so that our kid can dress up as a certain bear/sport a nose/wear pink/design a motif … should we simply dismiss the marketing money and power of these massive, national charities?

Or should we invest our donation pennies in the local charities down our streets? Those hospices, campaigns, the day care for elderly centres, the appeal for church spires and the struggling pre-schools … who may have fed, housed, saved, educated and employed people whom we actually know?

Or perhaps we might feel that the ‘on my doorstep’ connection is a little bit too obvious. That far more than enough people already give locally – and that the smaller, more imaginative charities in our country and overseas – desperately need our attention?

The purpose of this series of blogs over the next few days is NOT to make anyone feel bad about whether they do or do not ‘give.’ And if they do give – who and how and where – they should be donating to. Rather, these blogs – and the story that I will be telling  – aims to be a bit more educational. And with that in mind – a lot of the blogging will be from the perspective of the children involved (because otherwise – my daughter’s school teachers will be out to get me!)

Ingredients:  Tell a 6 and a 9 year old that they will be travelling to Namibia, southern Africa in order to try and help some of the most impoverished children in the world. Throw in the support of 2 wonderful west Yorkshire schools, parents and a few lovely friends and over the next few days you can see what the recipe produced…



Yes, our pesky kids might be far too obsessed with having fun and acting the fool, rather than focussing on the SERIOUS things in life. But when push comes to shove, the wee varmints have a lot to teach us … (PHOTO: TWO TIDDLERS IN THE FORMER TOWNSHIPS…)



For the ‘Chicks’…AND the Chaps

19 Aug

Women and Men in The West  – regardless of their upbringing or education or politics… or of how well-read they are often don’t realise how different the paradigm is for girls and women (and the men in their lives)  when it comes to equality and gender issues in the most developed and marganalised communities in the world.

So many development workers in the most “uneven” and “oppressed” communities in the developing world will tell you this; that even to talk of ‘Rights’ or ‘Female Equality’ will cause more harm than good when you’re out there in the field.

So what can you do in such scenarios? How can you start to erode the status quo – to provide a livelihood for women and to shore up a new set of rights for women and children as they seek to move from starvation to subsistence?

First of all you check out THE LORNA YOUNG FOUNDATION. You read about Lorna. And you get more than a bit inspired.  http://www.lyf.org.uk

And then you think about giving a few pennies, pounds, dollars or dimes.   And if you have an edgy attitude yourself – if you check up on us you will see how radically different we are to most charities.

Joanne Harris, the internationally famous award winning of ‘Chocolat’  said it all in our recent BBC Radio 4 Appeal. All of the things that you and I enjoy – or taste – “are so much more delicious” when we’ve helped the producers to receive a decent deal for their back-breaking work.


Nuff Said Pals.

Attitude! Young Oromo Ethiopian women who work the coffee farms and whom The LYF are helping...

Attitude! Young Oromo Ethiopian women who work the coffee farms and whom The LYF are helping…

Gnomes, Thongs and The Needy

13 May

People have always misused charitable concerns for their own ends. And sadly, some charities themselves have often not been the best adverts for an ethical and a sensible approach to raising money for causes.

But most recently, things seem to have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. Readers of this blog will know that I am closely involved with managing and volunteering at charitable organisations. They might well have heard the occasional rant from me about the gross amount of overheads, salaries and stupid marketing ploys that some of the larger NGOs and charities are guilty of (those Corporates of the Charidee World. Nothing wrong with being BIG per se. But lots wrong with not managing your affairs in the fairest way for all.  So when asked, I always say – go ask questions of the charity you might want to give to. Go ask questions…)

A reader recently got in touch, sharing similar concerns and informing me about the practice of ‘Gnoming’ (happening now on college campuses near you apparently.) Gnoming involves a student being targeted and various silly/hideous things being inflicted upon them. For example, tie the bugger to a tree, pour treacle all over them, film it and stick the video onto you tube. This is one of the more light-hearted examples of course. You can imagine what some people end up having done to them. And everyone watching or sponsoring, gets to contribute money to charity to see this particular individual ‘Gnomed.’  For about a fiver. No kidding.  A-sodding fiver! Yes, student RAG weeks have always attracted a certain level of irresponsibility but it seems that the nastier edge of this kind of practice is a-growing. Here is an example of your typical gnoming activity.


But you can’t complain though, can you? You can’t have a whine that some people will be targeted might well be vulnerable….that they may have some kind of mental or physical disability (people who have hidden impairments will be a bloody-gift for such practices.) You can’t have a gripe that there will be an element of bullying in some cases. Or fret that people will be filmed without their consent. Oh no. You can’t moan.

‘Cause it’s all in the Name of Charidee innit? Therefore tis okay. “Lighten up! Don’t be a misery-guts! We’re helping The Kiddies/Donkeys/Starving Africans…”

But this week has left yours truly Utterly Gobsmacked. For it seems that the latest activity For Charideez has dreamed up a new method which in my book, marks an all-time low. Using a ‘search charities service’,  a journalist from The Sun has targeted specific charities (i.e. those with a focus on women, on young people… Unbelievably) in order to ask the females who work for them to pose IN A THONG and to be photographed for well known not-so-quality UK tabloid newspaper ‘The Sun’. This is all in the name of Health and Self-Esteem of course. The women who volunteer will have to rate how they feel about their own bodies. And their bodies will also be judged by a panel of men.  And money raised (and PR of course!) will go to their charity. And they get to have their piccie printed in the ‘Health and Wellbeing Section’ of ‘The Sun.’

After cleaning up the froth generated from these delicate and oh-so-feminine lips of mine after hearing about this insanity,  I actually felt so stupified that I now feel that I cannot beyond the next sentence or two. Yes. Not like me.  And I certainly can’t put it any better than the blog which revealed this lower than low development All In The Name Of Charidee.  Gawd Bless ‘The Sun’ eh?  It’s like feminism never happened!  Go see: http://yourdaughterswillbenext.wordpress.comgnome