Archive for the ‘Poverty’ Category

My People

Monday, July 14th, 2014

I was asked recently about what poverty levels are like in the UK. And after an initial failed start when asked what percentage of the population of the UK were below average (50%. Trivially. That’s what average means (well, depending on what you mean by average).), we got on to what percentage of the population live below the poverty line. I don’t know what it is in the UK (and I am aware about how unhelpful the concept of ‘poverty line’ can be anyway). I guessed 10-20%. So I was asked why it is I come to India to do voluntary work and why I don’t stay in the UK to help my people.

So I explained three things. Firstly, I do give to charity in the UK. Secondly, I don’t come to India just because I want to help poor people here. I come because I want to travel and see the world and experience different cultures, but I want to help people while I’m at it (also because I love the work that Johnson does and he is in India). And thirdly, and most importantly, I see no difference between people from the UK and people from India. The people in the UK are not ‘my people’; the people in India are not ‘other people’. I am a global citizen; nations are just lines in the sand for me. All people are ‘my people’ regardless of where they are.

Rubbish Disposal

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

The most striking aspect of the beach in Puthiyathura (and in Poothura too) is the rubbish. It’s a very dirty place. Or, as my friend Johny says “the beach is full of dirty”. And he’s absolutely right. This is not a misuse of English, this is a glorious use of English to describe a very inglorious situation. The beach is indeed full of dirty. 🙂

There are no needles (like you might be worried about finding on some beaches in the UK or Australia) but general rubbish. Plastic bottles. Wrappers. Glass. Old clothing. Shoes. Food scraps. Rubbish.

The nun who was with us was explaining that the church has tried to teach the people the importance of cleanliness but that it makes no difference.

I suspect that a large part of the problem is lack of infra-structure. There are no rubbish collections. There is no local landfill site (well, no official landfill site). So the choice is, dump the rubbish on the beach, dump the rubbish by the side of the road, dump the rubbish on an unused plot of land, burn the rubbish. If you live cheek by jowl in small huts just by the edge of the beach, then dumping your rubbish on the beach does seem like the best option.

While we were standing there chatting a woman came up with a bucket on her head. In it was general household rubbish. She walked straight past us and up to the water’s edge. She threw the rubbish into the sea. Two or three crows who had been following her then started picking at the rubbish. She turned around and walked back. The waves pulled some of the waste out to sea a short distance before the incoming waves crashed it straight back up onto the sand.

Elaine and I stood watching in exasperation. How can they do this to their beach? But, given their choices, what else can they do? Telling people not to throw rubbish on the beach is all well and good. But they need to have an alternative.

On another trip to the beach I was also saddened, though not shocked, to see people using the beach as a toilet. Men and boys crouching by the water’s edge and letting the waves wash the waste away (or straight back up on to the beach). Again, lots of people in this area don’t have an option. They don’t have a toilet in or near their homes.

A Poor Man

Friday, January 7th, 2011

I met a poor man on the bus. I knew he was a poor man, because he told me he was.

He said: “I am a poor man. I have five children. My daughter is doing O Levels and has no papers to help her. Can you help?”

It turns out I couldn’t. I don’t have enough money to give men I meet on buses. He said he didn’t want money, he wanted my help as an English teacher. I said I didn’t have any time. He said he didn’t want my time, he just needed past exam papers. I said I didn’t have any and didn’t know where to get them from. He seemed annoyed.

But it got me thinking. He has five children and counts himself a poor man. Now in my opinion, if you have 5 children, you’re rich. If you’re too poor to have 5 children, you’re stupid.

Now this may seem a little harsh. But having children is not compulsory. That’s like someone else saying: “I’m such a poor man, I’ve got 5 sports cars and gym membership, I can’t afford to buy medicines.” Now this person would get no sympathy, but apparently having children isn’t seen as a choice.

Attention people of the world: Children are caused by unprotected sex. If you can’t afford to have children, then you can’t afford to have unprotected sex. It really is that simple.

So here is a man who has five children and can’t afford to support them the way he wants to. Poor man.


Friday, January 7th, 2011

I’ve visited lots of people in Sri Lanka. And I love them all.

Some have good ‘facilities’. Others don’t.

People seem to think that I mind about the ‘facilities’.

To some extent I do: given a choice I want a hot shower in an indoor, tiled bathroom. If I don’t have a choice, it doesn’t matter.

I’ve been very, very happy in houses where I’ve had to bathe outside at a tank. I’ve been less comfortable in houses with a hot shower in an indoor, tiled bathroom. ‘Facilities’ aren’t that important. Especially not for a short visit.

But I do have a question. Why do people worry about what sort of ‘facilities’ they can offer me, when they are perfectly happy making their children, grandparents, sisters, brothers, spouses, etc use those facilities? Surely white people aren’t that fragile. And if you have ‘facilities’ that you are ashamed of letting your guests use, then surely you should be ashamed of letting your family use them too.

So I think my point is that you shouldn’t be ashamed of your ‘facilities’. Especially not on my account. 🙂

Goose Bumps

Friday, January 7th, 2011

I was in the hotel restaurant having lunch.

It was Christmas Eve.

The radio (Sri Lanka’s Official Christmas Station) was playing crappy Christmas music.

I was eating a cheese and tomato sandwich with fries. Not very nice but that’s beside the point.

Then the original “Feed the World” song came on the radio.

And I got goose bumps.

I am in Sri Lanka to try to help. I am volunteering teaching English to try to make a difference in a way that I am able.

But it’s not enough.

I need to do more. And when I get back to the UK I will be reassessing my life and working out how I can do more.

I urge all of you to do more too. It doesn’t have to be much more. But just a bit.

I know some of you do things already. You donate your time and/or your money to charity. And this is wonderful!

But I still think we can all do more. In fact, we all need to do more.

So instead of spending 20 quid on a Christmas present for a friend, spend 18 and buy a Big Issue with the other 2.

Or make a deal with some of your friends not to exchange gifts. Put half the money into your own savings account and donate the other half.

I don’t want you to feel guilty. I don’t want you to feel bad. I just want you know that a small difference is still a difference. And 2 quid might not be much for you, but it is a lot for someone who doesn’t have much.

We can make the world a better place. But just talking about it won’t help. We need to do something too.

And in my case, the something that I’m doing already isn’t enough, I need to do more.

Jack and Jill guy on the bus

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

I had an interesting experience on a bus at Ratnapura.

This is a stationary bus story, so you don’t have to worry too much.

The bus was waiting to fill up. They usually don’t run to a timetable so much as just wait till enough people have sardined their way onto the bus, then the bus leaves. So this one had been waiting for a while and would probably wait for another 10 or 15 minutes.

So people get on the bus trying to sell things. This is quite common at regional centres like Ratnapura. Chewing gum, lottery tickets, mango, pineapple, drinks, nuts, English books, Singhalese books, etc. Some people get on the bus to beg. Sometimes they have printed requests that they hand around. Sometimes they have obvious disabilities – blind, missing limbs etc. Sometimes they have children. Sometimes they sing. I think they sing the story of what happened to them. Then they walk through the bus and collect money. Often they seem pleased to see me, since the colour of my skin denotes me as a walking cash machine even more clearly than any VISA sign ever could.

Back to this particular bus at Ratnapura.

A guy got on the bus and was talking/singing in Sinhala to the bus. He was collecting money. He was walking down the bus, he saw me (sitting next to Nishy) towards the back. His eyes lit up. He loomed over me. I said no, shook my head and looked out the window. He was insistent. “One rupees?” “No.”” “Two rupees?” “No.” Now, what makes you think I’m going to give you two rupees if I’m not going to give you one? (I thought this, rather than saying it, I didn’t think his English was up to a high level discussion about economics.) “Five rupees?” “No.” Then he started to get really pissed off and to prove that he was worthy of my money (well, I think that’s why he did it), he started to sing every English song he knew. Badly. Fortunately, he only knows Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Jack and Jill. I did manage not to laugh at him. He eventually realised that his meliflous tones were not going to extract any cash from my wallet so he gave up in obvious disgust, not before announcing to the whole bus how disgusted he was (well I think that’s what he said) and he got off the bus.

Nishy burst out laughing as soon as he was off the bus and the two of us contined to murder both Jack and Jill for a while before the novelty of our atrocious singing wore off.

But there is a serious side to this. I made a few deals with myself in the UK before I left on this trip. One was not to give money to beggars. Begging is a profession in some parts of the world. The people who beg are not necessarily in the condition they appear and even if they are, they are not necessarily the people who get the money at the end of the day. Plus, giving to beggars encourages begging. Donating money to reputable charities is a much better option. So I decided that I would not give to beggars and I would donate to a charity instead. I also made a deal with myself that I would try to buy local things from small shops when I got the chance. This is a much more effective way of making sure that my money goes where I want it to go. I also made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t barter – unless the price I was charged was really, stupidly ridiculous. I really should barter because not bartering does set a bad precedent for other travellers. But given that things here are cheap (even at twice the price) the extra pound doesn’t really matter to me, the extra 170 rupees does make a big difference to them.

And on no condition should one ever give money to creepy men on buses who sing Jack and Jill at you!