Tag Archives: Ethiopia

Do they need a Madonna? Or an Angelina?

7 Jun

… Part 6

Epako kids 3 girls in a row

If you ever doubted how long your clothing donations to Africa will last … just look at the pink ra-ra skirt. We saw many 80’s cast-offs. Have faith when you donate!

By now you might be thinking this; these street children, these vulnerable nippers in Epako (or in any former township in southern Africa) who helps them to survive? Why don’ t they have parents around?

There are many answers to the last question. Disease is the biggie. HIV/AIDS being the obvious one. Once the body’s immune system has become so weakened – thanks to the horror of the HIV – more often than not a person dies simply due to a common cold or a minor infection. They also may not even aware that they have HIV. They don’t take the test, or ask for help. Sometimes because of stigma. Sometimes they feel that life is hard enough without having yet more bad news. So preparations and plans are not made for the care of their children after their death. (Best not to think …) And of course, other diseases are massive killers. We lost many friends in Namibia due to TB and malaria.

Simon and Friends - some orphans, but all are vulnerable and in terrible need

Simon and Friends – some are orphans, but all are vulnerable and in terrible need

Some adults simply cannot cope with being a parent and simply disappear from their children’s lives. Others have far too many kids already to cope with. Some form new relationships and have more children with a new partner. Kids from previous relationships may often be neglected or spurned because of a jealous husband or wife. Poor mental health and suicide is a huge cause for concern in Namibia – and domestic abuse and the murder of women is sadly, on the increase.

epako kids bush in background

These women are the unsung heroes – doing their best to look out for the children of others

So for the little ones who have just one surviving parent, or who have none at all – where do they go? Who keeps an eye out for them? Usually the extended family try and help, but all too often when faced with poverty such as here, at the tail-end of Epako, they simply cannot cope with another mouth to feed. On the photos and videos on this blog over the last few days here, you will have seen several women. Most of them kind aunties or grandmas or simply warm-hearted neighbours who have been doing their best to look out for the ‘street children.’ Certainly none of them profit in any way through helping the kids. No, it’s the opposite. This is one more mouth to feed to them. But they do it still.

epako kids with blankets2 nit check

Bless him. He looks as miserable as my two kids do when I’m doing the old weekly nit-check with them … Good ol’ Auntie keeping a check on him, eh?

We returned to the poorest corners of Epako with children bearing their new school uniforms in bags and then my own kids did their best to distribute blankets and toiletries and the torches and gifts from the British children. At this point I was besieged with thoughts of simply scooping up just a couple of the children and taking them home with us.  (Not like me I know. Normally I’m trying to dump my own kids on someone else so that I can get a breather and visit the nearest nail-bar or beauty salon – yeah, right.)

I wondered how Madonna and Angelina managed to do it. In Namibia it is incredibly difficult – nigh on impossible – to be a foreigner and to adopt a child if you intend on leaving the country with them. Of course, if you are a filthy-rich celeb it always helps. (I still haven’t forgiven Angelina for the fact that she and Brad flew to Namibia for 6 weeks in order to have their child and were granted Namibian citizenship for baby Shiloh – whilst us lot – scummy charity workers just down the road who actually lived, worked and gave birth there – were not allowed such a privilege for our daughter, when we asked for Namibian citizenship for her! Outrageous!) I wondered if there was any way that we could take a child home with us and to give them … just basic food and schooling. To give them some love and a smidgen of much-needed attention (when I’m not blogging, of course.)

But – practicalities and silly day-dreaming aside – I wasn’t sure if this is the right thing to do. Or whether it is the wrong thing to do (pathetic sit-on-the-fencer that I am.)

I don’t think I would have had such a moral dilemma about this if I hadn’t had had such a fascinating conversation with a very intelligent and feisty female cocoa farmer from Ghana. This was a couple of years ago at a fair trade seminar I was attending overseas.  I was describing to her the sheer number of Ethiopian babies being adopted by North Americans and French families (the flights back from Addis Ababa to both France and N.America are notorious for dozens of shrieking babies because the newly adopted parents haven’t yet figured out how to quieten the infant down.)

Joy at receiving a scratchy woollen blanket!

Joy at receiving a scratchy woollen blanket!

The woman farmer from Ghana was horrified. She asked me to repeat this information several times before it clicked. She had honestly never heard of people coming from overseas and adopting African children (no – she hadn’t even heard of the Madonna or Angelina adoption cases. Poor woman had probably never had the joy of reading a copy of ‘Shallow’ – sorry – I mean ‘Hello’ either.) She said “But they are taking our African children! These are our children! Not theirs to take!” I put it to her that many people think that the poorest children would have a much better life abroad. With loving parents who desperately want a child and who could give so much more in terms of home, food, schooling etc. My pal was having none of this. “It is just stealing our children. We can look after them. If Africa is treated more fairly by the rest of the world with our trade – if we are given a fair deal. We can look after our own!”

She felt that allowing overseas adoption was simply a sticking plaster – a band-aid – to the problems faced by the poorest African children.

Small girl from England bearing blankets. Is this sticking-plaster/ band-aid help? Answers on a postcard/in a blog comment please ...

Small girl from England bearing blankets. Is this sticking-plaster/ band-aid help? Answers on a postcard/in a blog comment please …

Yet again it made me think more about ‘handouts’ and giving aid and donations and all of that. Was what we were doing during our time in Namibia – as a family and as a community sending help from the UK and Ireland – any different? My day job very much focusses on trying to create long-term livelihoods for poor families overseas. So I know how important sustainable help is where poverty predominates …

But when faced with those tiny little mites who have so little to look forward to in life – your heart tends to run away with you.

One of my favourite girls (not that we HAVE favourites ...)

One of my favourite girls (not that we HAVE favourites …)

Well, mine did anyway. So, sue me.

















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…

Like help, my face cream ran out. And then my lippy too! Life is sooo tough.

9 Mar

Women (and baby) who lug the sacks in the coffee fields all day in Ethiopia. Did they 'ever have it so good'? (Or was that Us?)..

This morning I realised that I had totally run out of face cream AND lipstick. And I was like ‘Arghh! That’s, like soooo EVIL!’  I mean, it was a real bummer. Kind of ruined my day. Something that men get away with, without getting all stressed about….

Life is hard being a woman…

Actually – it isn’t really. Is it? I mean. As women in the UK we have just SO damned much going for us…So much to be able to do, see, buy, experience.  BUT all of that ‘fluff stuff’ belies the truth of the matter for MANY women still in the UK.  As a woman,  the odds – still – are really stacked against you in many ways. Issues such as domestic abuse, unfair treatment at work, being taken for granted by the state as you carry out the sometimes (crushing) task of trying to be a ‘good mother’….All of these things can get you down at times. And even more reason (I would argue) to get your feminist thinking hat on and think long and hard about how far women HAVE come in this country. Indeed, yes.  All of the above achievements that we have made as women here are thanks to women long-gone and the many older women still VERY much around who fought so hard for our rights.  No sense of entitlement here. They had to be fought for.

Sadly though, I think that far too many of us women are caught up in silly and trivial concerns.  It’s as though we are blinded by the triviality and froth of Celeb Culture.   Come on – think about it.  The vast majority of women in the UK – have it pretty damned good actually.  I suppose I have been (fortunate?) in that I have lived and worked with women in desperately poor countries and seen just how hellish ‘being born a woman’ can be.  Welcome to a life of exploitation, beatings, no education, back-breaking work, enforced sex,  uncontrolled pregnancies, dangerous conditions for giving birth, disease (untreatable because of where you live or because men won’t let you leave the village in order to get treatment) and abandonment in your old age.

Just because you were born minus the male appendage.

I could provide you with a hundred websites that do incredible work to help women living in oppressive and horrendous conditions all across the world.  But the horrific condition of Fistula is a personal favourite cause of mine (and yes – Lorraine Kelly is patron. I’ve always liked Ms Kelly and now all the more reason to appreciate her.  www.freedomfromfistula.org.uk)

So I actually count myself as *fortunate* to have seen just how badly women can be marginalised in ph-so-many developing  communities. For example – out in the coffee fields its nearly always elderly women and/or their adult daughters (with toddlers in tow) who bring in the crippilingly heavy coffee sacks.  It is the men who are in charge of weighing, milling, selling and business decision processes. Often when we asked why women are kept out of the management structure and discussions – the men would tell us ‘Oh the women are not interested. And they don’t understand this kind of thing. Many of them are illiterate’.

And when the women were asked, they would say  ‘No. We would love to be involved. Especially we would like to be involved in looking after the money as the men don’t do this so well…..but we don’t want to make the men angry by forcing ourselves forward’.

And I don’t want to start painting ALL societies in developing countries as being misogynistic. There are quite a few out there who could teach us a thing or two about true partnership and equality.  But I do think that the trick is how you present the inequality of women to them all.  I mean no-one wants some mouthy Westerner trucking up and rubbishing the way that your community or culture works.  Its about having a LOT of respect and taking the gently-gently approach to providing information on how much better things can get for a group of people, if real equality is working in practice.

Right now, I am over the moon to hear that the two coffee co-operatives we are supporting,  have both increased their female membership by 50%!  And a lot of this is due to the approach of one of my (female) colleagues who is all too aware that arriving with a ‘Right you Blokes! Shift over and give your Board seats up for the Women!’ just does NOT work…

Hopefully there are some men out there too, who have bothered reading past the silly ‘face cream and lipstick’ opening that I began this blog post with.  As it is at this point I want to address your concerns. I know that a lot of (younger) men don’t really understand what ‘all this feminism’ is about. What’s the point? Women seem to have it pretty good to you these days. Aren’t all feminists a bunch of ugly, hairy, bloke-hating militants?… So if that is the way you are thinking, maybe just pause for a bit.  Ask yourself WHY the press have perhaps wanted to portray feminism as something deeply troublesome and unnattractive. Maybe it is in the vested interests of the press and media that women are pretty playthings who expose their breasts and go under the surgeons knife in order to win the hearts of men.  Sexy fluff sells doesn’t it?   And whilst women spend half of their lives fretting about how they look – our energies to change anything for the better in society are totally sapped…

Yes, I ackonowledge though –  there are many MEN out there who have having a rough time of it themselves.  And who are totally oppressed and marginalised themselves.

Certainly our society has let its younger men down. It seems that millions are being pigeon holed into having to lead a life of long-term unemployment. Many of them lack any positive male role model in their life. And they are surrounded by inane, gun-toting ‘Cool!’ images of macho men and bimboish, unnatainably beautiful women. Men cannot let their guard down still. They are still meant to be ‘the strong one. To be the breadwinner.  Lots of talk about it being ‘okay to feel your feelings’ but in practice – there seems to be nothing out there that will support men as fathers, as partners as responsible members of society. Where do you go – other than to the pub or onto the street corner? Where are the positive past-times that help you to excercise both your brains and your bodies?

The work that I am involved with believes that the only way to prevent the oppression of women is to also work with men in order to stop the alienation of them as a group.  And one way that we are bringing men and women to work together better, and to understand each other better is through tackling trade injustice – which always, ALWAYS exploits the poor. 

Happy International Womens’ Day everyone – let’s try and stop any abuse or oppression of people – whether it be due to their gender, age, race, beliefs or nationality…I hope that you like the photos that ‘my man’ took of the young women in Ethiopia – these are the lasses who lug the coffee sacks about all day long… See the baby on the back…