Tag Archives: poverty

Alan Sugar – Read It and Weep

5 Jun

(Part 4)

My kids started to hand out the apples we had brought and were astonished at the enormous grins that they received from the children. Fruit is an oh-so rare luxury here. My daughter was puzzled, however. “Mum – why do a lot of the kids sort of bow or curtsey when you give them something? I’ve seen grown-ups do it too here …” There wasn’t time to go into the whole spiel Empire and Slavery and Ownership Legacy at this point (and she probably would have resorted  to her pretend snoring like she usually does when I embark on a lecture), so I answered her with; “they’re just being polite. That’s all.”

And then we looked at our watches. It was already past midday. We had a car-boot full of items that needed to be bagged up for 50 kids. We had 20 kids that needed taking to the shops in order to buy them clothes for school. And we had to ensure that we were back on the road long before dusk fell due to the lack of lighting and the wildlife/driving dangers (have you ever seen a kudu? Do google this animal. You seriously do not want an antelope the size of a horse running headfirst into your car …)

We had to work fast, so we split into two groups. My other half and our friend from Epako rounded up the 20 neediest kids, flagged some taxis down at the edge of the location and headed for the shops (there were some *very* astonished customers and shop assistants on that day… the day when crazy white man turned up with 20 ragged street children – all still dizzy and grinning from their first ever ride in a CAR with a mad foreigner!)

Me and my own nippers were abandoned in Gobabis town and managed to flag down a friendly local. “Can we use your garden?” I rabbited. “We just need to fill 50 bags for 50 really needy kids. Can I borrow that table over there? Can we drink the water out of your garden tap? Can I use your loo?”

The friendly local looked rather confused, but he was very obliging and just let us get on with it (one of the things that I used to love about living in Gobabis… the attitude of ‘yeah … weird things happen…let’s live with it.’)

The day before, we had hit the shops big-time in Windhoek (Namibia’s capital) in order to buy the items that children need in order to attend school in this country. Many of the kids have to ‘board’ – that is, to stay over in school hostels – due to the distances. From the age of 6, children are often separated from their parents. This is traumatic enough for many, but imagine the ordeal of it all when you are too poor to be able to own even the most basic toiletries, a blanket or a pen and an exercise book. And school uniform and shoes? Well. Dream on, my friend.

And all of this means that the runaway and absenteeism is an enormous issue here for schools. Not to mention the bullying. Sadly, some kids will always want to pick on the dirtier, smellier and poorer children. But we knew exactly what to buy, thanks to our previous work with the San Bushmen children in southern Africa – some of the poorest and most oppressed kids in the world. So, we had bought the goodies and it was off to work!

This is what we had to do. In just over an hour, fill 50 bags, each with toothbrush, toothpaste, sunlight soap (for clothes and body), vaseline (black skin needs this!), pens, exercise books and the inevitable sweets and ‘glowing things’ (see yesterday’s blog.) My daughter – who detests all things to do with numeracy and formal education – came into her own at this point. Ticking me and her father off for fudging our mental arithmetic when it came to splitting up bulk bags of toiletries.

Whilst mother and daughter were giving Alan Sugar’s Apprentices a good thrashing (seriously – I would like to have seen that bunch of shysters doing all of this in such a short timescale…) child number 2 had found a new friend and was wandering in and out of people’s houses and sharing his sardine sandwiches with anyone who would give him the time of day . The kid was born in the wrong century and was definitely more at home in Namibia than in the UK where we all have to book play-dates several months in advance…

Bags finished, we put them back in the car and then headed off to see what chaos the others had inflicted on a humble clothes shop in the centre of Gobabis …

MORE TOMORROW …

 

 

 

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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 …

(MORE TOMORROW)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…