In order to install a supply of clean water to a primary school in a landlocked Southern African country, the first thing to do is to create a trench. To start this trench, a pickaxe must be yielded above one’s head and slammed into the dusty and regrettably very hard ground. This creates a tiny hole that acts as the start to your supply of water. At first it seems futile and discouraging. The hole is very small and the pick axe is very heavy and the sun is very hot. But then, as you continue to wield the unruly pick axe and bring it down into the unrelentingly tough ground, a bell sounds. You put the pick axe to one side and look around at your co-workers who have similarly been pounding a huge tool into the dirt and you smile. Children begin to flood out of classrooms and you rush towards them as they rush towards you. Tiny hands grab onto your arms and smiles are so wide that the pickaxe is put to the very back of your mind.
It is very easy to sit on your sofa at home and give £100 to Comic Relief when Jonathon Ross says something amusing on television. It is of course valuable, but it’s really easy. It is also, I have noticed, very easy to sit back on your sofa and be cynical about people who go to the aforementioned primary school to install a water supply. I know it’s easy because I did it – I was cynical and I believed, in my comfortable way, that this was simply another way for middle class British kids to feel good about themselves. Looking back on my cynical and smirking self, I’d say that actually it isn’t always about us.
If we had just pitched up in a small South African village without knowing anything about the school and in a white saviour way were convinced that what these kids need is a new mural and better chairs, whereas what they actually needed was a clean drainage system, but just went and did it anyway then yes, there is very good reason to be cynical. But I think there is far more merit in appreciating a new culture, immersing yourself in an environment that is new but no less worthy of recognition than your own, and taking advantage of the horrific wage gap in our current global economy by doing what we can for a school that we’ve had connections to for a while.
I’m not trying to prove anything with this splurge of thought – just articulating something that I would have said to some of the responses I got when talking about this trip. And in regards to the title – don’t give to charity, be the charity.