Misrepresentation

Dear friends

Redbirds

Sorry for the radio silence – throat razored by some unknown (and antibiotic resistant) beastie, and unable to stay awake after about 9pm.

Still, it’s nothing really is it? I mean, when you think of all those starving kids in Africa…Hmmm!

I was brought up short recently, by a gentle, funny satire about the way we  use stereotyping to raise funds for our chosen causes.  Radi-Aid, with its story of collecting radiators in Africa so that the people in Norway won’t freeze, makes me wonder if I don’t owe Africa a huge apology.  The caption next to the Radi-Aid video asks, “Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway”-video, and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?” Do click on the link – it’s really well done.

Are your impressions of Africa that it’s a vast wilderness of drought and corruption, HIV and famine?  And have I helped to  shape those impressions?  Be assured,  they are not representative of this richly diverse and enormous continent.

Kenya with your tribal art and music, your truly breathtaking landscapes, your incomparable beaches, the almost indescribable Rift Valley, and Mount Kenya and your lakes.  The list never ends: your wildlife; the mind-boggling migration of wildebeest, and above all, your people; their languages; traditions and their history going back into prehistory – our hominid ancestors.

Ah! Kenya, beautiful Kenya!  Still when I emerge from your slums, my visions are of hopelessness and despair, illegal alcohol stills, hunger, cholera and discarded children.  I don’t see your beauty then.

I know these aren’t Kenyan problems – they’re world problems.  Cardboard cities; drugs in schools; children abused; the elderly ignored; the different feared and pushed to the side…Europe…America (North and South)…Asia…

We paint a partial picture, a close-up, a light in a shadowy corner, that’s all.  But the more I think about it, the more I realise that, as long as we don’t distort the truth – painting it worse than it really is – it isn’t wrong.

Even though it’s not representative, not even of the slums, it’s absolutely true of where we are working.  And it’s what charities do – publicising needs to raise aid.  It’s tourist boards who get to promote all the good things – lucky them!
And as long as they do their job as well as we do ours, we’ll get a better view of Kenya.  And everywhere else.

Other worlds: which ones are you in?

A damp autumn Saturday, horse chestnuts, improbably glossy, peep from spiny cases and the leaves on a thousand beech trees dress the verges in bronze, gold, russet and green. The house smells of apples, big, sour Bramleys, carefully wrapped, soon to become plump pies and crumbles  – our winter staples.

Cut to the lobby of a corporate building. Glass, marble and leather dominate whilst extravagant bowls of flowers soften the hard lines; efficiency with a heart. This is my home away from home, my other world.  It’s ten minutes from the beech trees and the apples, and it’s a million miles away.

Here, data centres jostle with discounted cash flows, project deadlines, media releases and HR issues, for brain space that was never big enough, even when life was simpler.

“Enough already”, I hear you cry. “Get to the point!”  I’m coming, I promise, but indulge me just once more.  Look carefully and you will see me sitting at a table with a dozen others.  We’re tired, it’s about  eleven pm and we’ve been talking since eight.  Welcome to our church council. Voices are strained – not raised – but people are quietly determined to be heard.

We’re talking about the Christian missions we want to support – all of them doing fantastic work, and desperate for financial backing, but our money is tight and the needs are limitless. Giraffe is just one of them. As ever, we need a miracle!

So let me join up the dots. On Wednesday my house was full, not only of apples, but also of dark wooden elephants and gazelles; belts made from cowrie shells; exquisite soapstone boxes and dishes; and jangly beadcraft earrings. On Thursday it was all spread out, adorning the marble lobby at work, bringing colour and style to the formal surroundings.

My wonderful team stood behind loaded tables and sold flat out as colleagues bought and bought and bought. Some called to say, “I can’t be there, but pick out some things for me”.  Others just dug deep and walked away touched by the moment.

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But what I find really fascinating is that during this week, my home, my work and my church were all solidly connected by a group of children from a slum, who know nothing of apple crumble and church councils. They’re not part of the connected world – no social media,  (actually no electricity and no running water) and yet, for a brief moment they were at the centre of all these different worlds.

And no doubt it happens to us too.  In a lawyer’s office, at a family gathering far away, or perhaps in a blog.  We will almost certainly never know which distant worlds we’re connecting at any point in time, and we may not even know those places exist.  But perhaps, because of some crazy set of circumstances, someone in a Nairobi slum is wondering about you right now.

It makes you think doesn’t it?

Thanks for reading

Ian

Poster Girl

Hi everyone – it’s Ian again.  Last week, I promised to introduce you to some of the people who have inspired us at Giraffe.  So meet C, having her photo taken outside her school.

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She smiles and gives a thumbs up, a little bundle of giggles and mischief. Out of shot, her teacher stands, a reassuring presence, but C doesn’t need any reassurance.  Her sense of fun and confidence come from an understanding that she is treasured and valued, and her five year old sense of security is unshakeable.  But that is about to change.

The slums are like any large city.  Many people don’t come from there, they arrive like leaves on the wind, drawn in by the lure of work, or driven in by drought or famine in rural areas.  Visits to families who have remained behind are rare but important occasions.

Soon after this photo was taken, Mum, C and her two older brothers visited family members at the coast, and by all accounts they had a merry time together.   But in their absence, C’s dad, overcome with shame because he could not provide for his family as he wanted, ended his own life.   The slums are dark places and in that moment the light of a little girl’s smile was extinguished.

Shortly after, C’s mum met someone who told her that there was work to be found in another country, and she simply went, leaving her children behind. The oldest looked after his siblings as best he could although he himself was very young – and to his credit, he somehow held this young family together.

C’s mum did eventually return and thankfully C is back in school.  Her confidence will never be unshakeable again, but she presses on, hoping one day to escape the grip of the slum on her young life.

For us, she’s a symbol of how easily things can turn – and a reminder of why the support we and many others offer is so important to these children.   And that’s also why C is the face of our donate button, and will be for some time to come.

Thanks for reading

Ian

visit us at http://www.giraffeproject.org

Despite everything

So here we go!  

Writing this blog, feeling a bit unsure, reminds me of our early days in Nairobi’s mega slums –  innocents abroad.

We’re an educational charity, and, in those faltering first moments, we rather reasonably assumed that we would be most use providing educational resources to local schools. Well, that did come, but not until some time later – after we realised that kids who haven’t eaten for days, or who had slept on a road needed much before they could begin to learn.

I remember being surprised at the strata of poverty in the slums.  You never see the poorest – they’ve already given up, trapped in an awful existence – shattered by abuse, disease or the thousand poisons of the deep slums.

Another lesson, then.  You can’t fix the world, but it doesn’t matter.  Whatever you can manage is enough.  And despite everything, we have managed to build a school in a slum, sponsor 700 children and embark on a really exciting venture that I’ll tell you about soon.

I want to share some fantastic stories that will make you sing with hope. I really want you to meet some of the friends we’ve met on our journey –  the ones who keep us sane when things get out of control and we question everything.

So that’s what this blog is for – telling the stories of youngsters walking tall, inspiring us and, hopefully, inspiring you.