Tag Archives: USA

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.

















Death Penalty – a light-hearted distaction for Tory screw-ups…

6 Aug

I know that I shouldn’t be shocked.  But  I am. Apparently it’s the power of the public. The power of the petition. If enough people have enough strong views about something or other – our adorable Members of Parliament get to collectively debate it. With the potential of re-establishing the legal -snuffing out of human life, according to how you and I (i.e. a Jury) believe what the evil scummers have done.

Yep – the old Death Penalty chestnut finally wriggled its way out of the Tory coffers this week. I hope that readers are canny enough to see that the massive amounts of press and media coverage that surrounded this ‘new debate’ have very much heralded a convenient DISTRACTION for the disasters that we are now encountering as a result of this Tory-led coalition.

 So far, all that we have seen from this Government is a load of witless rhetoric from a bunch of public schoolboys who have the money and backing to pay for their own oratory tutorials and to purchase soundbite-awareness and the best PR/ Media  private company representation. These are a bunch of toffs , for whom it is clear that the only experience to encountering  the lives of anyone remotely working class has
been to purchase a kebab from ‘Jason’s Kebab Van’ in the middle of Oxford, round about 2 am during Trinity term and after a thoroughly smashing debate at The Union about whether more people  from those dodgy postcode areas (Academies! The New Comprehsensives! Eeek!!)should be allowed into Oxbridge….

It strikes me as highly amusing that this Government are obviously wetting their pants at the transparency of their links with a certain Mr Murdoch. Furthermore, it reeks of desperation now, that they are now going for the approach of ‘Well – if we are going to go by the strength of numbers via the general public signing petitions – Hell! Let’s drag the old death penalty one out!! An awful lot of people think that the death penalty will help our country out of all of these problems!  So surely, we have to listen to these people as an example of basic democracy! (Hoo…and those muslim-sorts are also pro-capital punishment aren’t they? We can even win back THEIR votes! Course, we wouldn’t want to go or the full beheading malarky. Bit messy that.  We would go with something nice and sanitised like the lethal injection.  Make a note – send fact-finding mission to Louisiana ASAP’…

As someone who has had a lot more to do with the subject of capital punishment during the last ten years.  Sadly, more so than the average member of the population in the UK. I am afraid that my feelings are obviously a wee-bit biased.  But my reaction is also just a little bit déjà-vouzed right now.  I feel incredulous that we are returning to this stupid debate, yet again.   As someone who lost one of their most wonderful friends – to a barbaric and ill-administered (i.e. tortuous) execution in Texas only a few years ago, I  feel utterly depressed at the prospect of any UK citizen who buys into this pathetic diatribe of ‘an open and public debate on capital punishment.’

Those of you who already know me, may remember than my own written words of a seven year friendship, even the  words of my (then) 3 year old daughter – were quoted in USA courts as an example of the sinister threats imposed by a poor, innocent black guy who was stitched up from the word go.  Anthony joked in a letter to my little girl, Ruby that he would like to teach her to fish (as she had requested earlier), using the prosecuting lawyer ‘as bait’.  He shared the same impish sense of humour as I still do. We spent many years getting to know each other, taking the P out of each other, sending tiny little tokens of care and love (so far as you can from Texas when you are not allowed to send anything out other than a drawing, or a letter…..so far as you can from the UK when you can’t even send anything other than a card or something printed off on a computer).

Little did we know that the crazy letters that we sent during the last year of his life – mine, my daughter’s, my mother’s, my husband’s, even my muslim brother and family ‘s (whom many people WRONGLY supposed would be pro-death penalty..) were confiscated before delivery to him.  Each one of us were just quietly, doing their best  to try and keep this guys head above the water. To keep him from taking his own life at the horror of life in virtual solitary confinement in Texas. But ever letter was  seized and used as evidence of ‘a violent and corrupted mind’ of our friend. Anthony had never, ever had a violent criminal record. His only crime was being brought up in the ghettoes of Dallas, to an absent father and a mother who couldnt cope. As the second eldest he had to look out for all of his younger siblings. Now you tell me. How the hell does a nine year old boy manage to look after his tiny siblings within the 1970’s- to feed and clothe them – without learning the ropes of ‘coping’ aka the wavy blue line of the law?

So just before Anthony was 16 – he nicked a car.  I am sure that he had been doing dodgy stuff now and then before this.  But he got caught.   And there happened to be a few dollars in the glove box. So he got a double rap. He told me that he hadn’t even been aware of this.  The daft bugger.  And he got out of prison when he was well into his 20s.  He then went on to work as a volunteer, advising ex-offenders who had just gotten out of prison.  He volunteered for the NAACP.

I won’t use this opportunity to tell you about the horrendous corruption that followed this in relation to a violent incident that Anthony and his nephew Claude were alleged to have carried out.  Anthony was hundreds of miles away from the robbery and murder (and had evidence to prove this – which got ‘lost’ by the police). There are MANY reasons as to why this case became a ‘stitch up’ and I won’t go into it here.   I am all too aware that Anthony’s nephew, Claude – is now on the 11th year of his life sentence in Texas. I am all too aware that the words I have muttered before – even light hearted banter between Anthony and a toddler – can nail a life in good ol’ Texas.

When Anthony realised that he only had a a couple of weeks to live, he asked me to witness his execution and to be there for him as his best friend. Even now, a few years later, I am still horrified when I think that the daft words exchanged between him and myself, and my tiny daugther were re-constructed as to become a death threat to a US lawyer.  I still can’t believe that every letter of the last week prior to his execution was  held back until after his execution. So he never received my family’s last words of love. (They were returned to all of us two weeks after his execution with a handwritten ‘Inmate Deceased’ written on them).

The issue of the death penalty is so much bigger than us so-called ‘bleeding heart liberals’. That caring, sharing, enlightened bunch who feel sorry for the poor inmates who never had much of a chance in life….There are  of course, the victims to consider.  And although I know that Anthony was not ‘your typical death row inmate’ and his case was somewhat unusual, in terms of the death penalty per se for ‘an eye for an eye’ for me, getting to know about organisations such as ‘Murder Victims for Reconciliation’ simply took my breath away. I got to meet  people like Bud Welch whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing and who himself became friends with Timothyy McVeigh’s father when he realised that execution would only make his situation and experience as the father of a murdered daughter much, much worse. I met the mothers of murdered children both in the UK and the USA who had somehow (God only knows how – I don’t know if I could do this) moved beyond baying for blood and who wanted some peace and form of reconciliation.

But as Bud Welch himself said to me, ‘no one would ever think that Tim Mcveigh’s dad is a victim. But he is as just as much a victim as my daughter’s family are. He loved his son, did not want to see him also killed.  He knew that his son had been misguided and messed up the most horrible degree. And now Tim’s dad – this poor guy has had to change his identity, name, state, livelihood – all because of something is son- not him – did.   He is in exile. As are the rest of Tim’s family.  This goes for everyone who is remotely related to someone who is executed.’

Remember this. We are not just executing people that we think are guilty. We are executing entire families – parents, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters and tiny little children- who have done nothing to deserve losing their loved ones. This is not something that you can share during a lunch break with a sympathetic colleague.  This is not something that you can chat about nonchalently to your next door neighbour.  You child screws up big time – or is stitched up big time – and you also have your own life, your own freedom – snuffed out.

And yes, despite what many of their loved ones have done – they are still utterly loved…. and so these relatives’ own lives become miserable and scarred – and many of them will tell you that they feel that they are not even worth living  – as a result.

So please, before you open your mouth with an opinion on the death penalty. Think beyond your own gut reaction. I know that if anyone hurt my own family or friends, I would want to see the perpetrator dead.  I would want to nail the bastard myself.  I know that this is only a natural reaction.  But I also know that – through my own experience – that ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world toothless and blind’… You may feel better for a few seconds, after crushing the one who hurt your dearest so badly. But to be a human is to be more than just blood-lust and knee-jerk reaction.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION – http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1090

For more on how/ why I got into all of this – see www.lifelines-uk.org

me and ant  (PHOTO)