Wednesday, 5 August 2015

知觉 | The other side of the world

Posted by: Dom Lowth

As lots of you may already know, I’ve just returned home after a three week trip to Zambia with a group of guys from my school. While we were out there, we spent the majority of our time getting to know the students from a couple of the schools connected with ours here in England, as well as working to try and improve some of the spaces that they live and learn in (their dorms, classrooms etc.) with a few fresh licks of paint.

In twenty one days, I learnt more about myself and others than I could have ever done in the seventeen years I’ve already been alive. Above all else, the extent to which I live in a small and protective bubble became painfully obvious. Sure, I strive to live as an individual at home, but I can’t really. And I don’t need to. Everything’s constantly handed to me on a plate. Food (literally), health, teaching… the list goes on and on.

What’s more, like almost everyone else in my position, my only contact with 'the real world', if you like, is through the TV and charity appeals. Of course, any opportunities for us to see what others in the world are going through are hugely important. They show us how fortunate we are, and how easy our lives are in comparison to those of the impoverished.

However, most of the time, the people in these countries are presented to us as little more than ‘the poor souls that need our help and charity’. We’re shown before-and-afters in programmes like Comic Relief, like we'd see in house makeover shows; one shot of some impoverished, helpless villagers, or students, or HIV sufferers. Then, in the next shot, with our help and money, they’re miraculously all big smiles and emotional thank yous. So aren’t we all inspiring people?

The tone of that paragraph sounds completely wrong, but I don’t know how to change it. Charity is so, so important. How can it be wrong for those who have more money than they need for living a comfortable life to give to those who struggle to live any sort of life at all – or simply live? No, I’m not meaning to criticise charity. I’m trying to explain the attitude that is all too easy for us to accept: that poverty is the world’s disease, and all us lovely rich people are the cure.

You could have easily read that and thought: ‘of course rich people (with money) are the solution to the problem of having loads of very poor people (without money) in the world…’

I guess that’s right on one level. No money + money = some money. And money is useful; you can buy food with it, and medicine, and better learning facilities. Of course money is essential for moving the world’s poorest places in the right direction. If you argued otherwise you’d be a plank.

But spending three weeks in Zambia - undeniably a third world country – made it clear that there’s a bit more to it than that. I think it is definitely fair to say that poor people need our help. But it’s a horribly unhealthy belief to have that they exist just as people rattling charity collection pots at our feet. No one would claim to have that mind set, but in truth that is how they’re displayed in the media, and therefore we’re taught that that’s who they are: the miserable faces that we can make happy. In fact, we’ll be happy ourselves then, if we donate some money, because we'll know - as a provable fact - that we’re really great people. We can tell our friends all about it. We could even sponsor a goat while we’re in the mood!

‘A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.’

The Zambians taught me that charity is not as simple as we think. It’s not just us giving away what we have to others. Literally, none of us are as ‘hungry’ as those who I met on the other side of the world, but we are ‘hungry’ for – we need – a way of thinking closer to that shared by the people of Zambia.

I have never met anyone as gracious as the friends I made out there. In their graciousness, they do everything they can to give back in some way. They don’t apologise for their lack of money. Instead they are truly, and consistently, welcoming - in a way that I have never experienced before. These people have almost nothing, but are more hospitable than the richest people I have known at home. They say ‘thank you’ not just in words, but in their actions towards and with us.

Two boys, Michelo and Gershom, waited to meet me every day outside the compound that we were staying in. They spent all their free time showing me around the school and introducing me to their peers. They wanted to know all about my home, my family, my school, my hobbies, my talents, my plans for the future. 

Through this, I gained their friendship and loyalty, and I hope they feel that they gained mine in return.

That’s charity too, surely?



Dom’s listening to: ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ by Stereophonics


Read my previous post here.

2 comments:

  1. Brilliant blogpost by Dom, really makes you think!!

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  2. Someone linked your blog to me on ask.fm, and this is absolutely delightful! Thank you for this.

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