Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Nigeria: Clouded by poverty

UN Abuja bomb blast: A police officer walks past the blast shattered United Nations building
Nigeria is a troubled land. Poverty hangs over it like a storm cloud, blotting out the light of hope, taking from the people the vision of a brighter future. Too many of its young people grow up without any prospect of improving things for themselves and their families. Jobs are scarce, pay minimal and the only people who seem to have anything at all are the ones who take it.

The military wield great power and their leaders live well. Armed groups kidnap foreign workers and find profit in ransom. Militia make their mark and gain from the fear they engender.

Last week, the UN building in the capital, Abuja, was targeted. A massive bomb destroyed much of one wing of the building and killed nearly two dozen people. Many more were horrifically injured. The wheel of violence turned again.

If the children of Nigeria are left to believe that violence and crime are the only ways to success and prosperity, then it is understandable those are the routes they will take. We cannot blame them for wanting to break free of poverty. Nor can we condemn their methods of gaining that freedom unless there is a viable alternative.

This viable alternative is what World In need is working to provide. Through our child sponsorship programme, we aim to give children a start in life that will enable them to make better, safer and more hopeful choices in the future.

Sponsored children are able to go to school, gaining the education to allow them to think for themselves, to access training and qualifications that lead to decent careers with worthwhile wages, and to develop the skills and tools their communities need to build better and brighter futures for all. Properly educated people are less likely to fall into the clutches of gangs, or to take part in criminal activities. They are more likely to be involved in building their country, rather than in blowing it apart.

Every child we sponsor takes us a step nearer to breaking through that cloud called poverty. Together, we can shine the light of hope on this blighted nation.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Two weeks ago, several of England’s cities were plagued by civil unrest on a scale seldom seen in this country. Shops were looted, cars and buses torched and buildings destroyed, wantonly, including several homes. The people whose homes burned lost everything they owned and treasured and faced the heart breaking task of rebuilding their lives from scratch.

Thankfully for them, they do not face this daunting task alone and unaided. The local authority has stepped in to provide temporary accommodation and there will be help as they rebuild their homes and replace lost possessions. The Government has indicated that it will compensate them for their losses. Thanks to these measures, their current circumstances, whilst distressing, should turn out to be temporary.

Across the world, not everyone can share this hope. In many places, those who lose their homes through unrest and conflict face an uphill struggle to simply survive. They are often left to fend for themselves, forced to sleep rough on the streets, huddled in corners and vulnerable to every threat that comes their way. Many are reduced to begging for food for their children. There will be no recompense, no help from the authorities, and precious little sympathy from anyone else. Through no fault of their own, they join an underclass of the dispossessed and despised, and this is where they are likely to stay.

In Kenya, for example, the disputed elections of December 2007 led to riots and violence in January 2008 that left many people with nothing. Their homes were destroyed, businesses looted, breadwinners killed. Afterwards, many felt unable even to return to their former neighbourhoods, and instead, found themselves in makeshift camps, sleeping in tiny tents or in Red Cross dwellings the size of an average garden shed – if they had any shelter at all. Years after the violence had ceased, these people are still displaced, their lives still in ruins and with no change in sight.

It is not just those who have lost their homes that suffer in these circumstances, but the entire society. When suffering is allowed to continue, healing cannot take place. Those who have lost everything cannot forgive and move on if they cannot rebuild their lives. Hope melts away and despair takes its place, and the blight goes on, infecting the newest generation and perpetuating the conflict.

World In Need works to help people who have nothing build lives filled with hope and promise. We enable children to go to school when they might otherwise be denied the education on which their future depends, and we encourage and support their parents in various ways, from helping them set up small businesses to providing training in vocational skills. Our sponsorship programmes give hope to children in the poorest families in the poorest places on earth.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

What could you not live without?

A question asked, lightheartedly, of friends in a pub or at a party, when the atmosphere is mellow and the appetites sated, laughter fills the air and the cares of every day life are far behind.

"If everything was to be taken from you except for one thing," the questioner asks, "what would you choose to keep?"

Take a moment and think about your answer.

What did you say? Your house? Your car? Your favourite shoes? Perhaps it was your computer, or your guitar, the watch your father left you, the family Bible that has been on the shelf since Great Grandfather's day? Your dog? Your spouse? Your child?

There are many things in our lives without which we would feel the poorer, many things we treasure and will do our utmost to keep. But finding something precious is not the same thing as being unable to live without it. If your house collapsed or your car was stolen, you'd live. The shoes, the computer, even Daddy's watch, can be replaced, albeit with some sadness. Even the heartbreak of losing a family member will not actually kill you, although it may feel like it has for a long time afterwards.

Perhaps you thought of food. Without food, our health will suffer, our bodies shut down, eyes go blind, muscles waste, our stomachs devour themselves and, eventually, we die, in agony. It can take weeks.

But without water, the end, though just as agonising, comes much quicker. Water deprivation kills in just a few days. And without water to grow crops and sustain livestock, there is no food. Rain is needed to fill the streams and rivers and irrigation channels. If the rain doesn't come, we are soon in trouble.

In April, the UK had a heatwave. For some weeks, the sun shone and no rain came. Children played, lawns were mowed, washing dried on outside lines. But soon the farmers complained. The crops suffered, food was not growing as it should. In a very short space of time, the blessing of sunshine had become a curse, and everyone was glad when it finally rained in May.

Imagine if it had not rained for two years or more. If the sun beat down and the earth cracked, and plants withered as reservoirs dried. If livestock died and the earth turned to dust. If your child was crying for want of a meal, every spare ounce of flesh gone from their bodies, the weakest, and youngest, giving up the fight for life.

This is exactly the predicament of the people in East Africa. For two years and more, the rains have failed to arrive and now, the situation has reached crisis point. In the worst places, it has been exacerbated by conflict and war, and ordinary people have, through no fault of their own, watched their lives crumble. There is, literally, nothing left for them.

In desperation, they leave behind the things they find they CAN do without: home and possessions. They gather their families and walk towards the faint promise of help. They walk for weeks, hungry, thirsty, sun baked. They hide in brush to escape warriors and guerrillas, and bandits who will even take the clothes from their backs, until they reach refugee camps which are overcrowded, filled to four times their capacity. Camps with resources that are so stretched, it can take ten days to get the first help.

And here they sit, patiently waiting in makeshift shelters or under trees, desert dust swirling about them. Some abandon their children at the entrance and melt away, hoping the aid workers can care for the little ones better than they can. The problem seems so big, insurmountable.

But the truth is, it isn't insurmountable. A very small amount of help can make a world of difference. The money a person in the UK spends on a king sized Mars Bar, to eat for a moment's pleasure, is all that is needed to feed EIGHT people all the food they need for a whole day. 68 pence. A US Dollar. Eight people.

Could you live without a Mars Bar, or a similarly priced indulgence every day for just one month? If you could, you'd have saved yourself £20. But if you were to give that money to our East Africa Drought Appeal, you'd save a great deal more. You'd save lives.

What can you not live without?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Football, life and death

"Football is not a matter of life and death; it's far more important than that." Bill Shankly.

Southern Nigeria has been in the news frequently over recent months because of a spate of kidnappings of foreigners, and demands for huge ransoms. The effect of these crimes has been to damage the region’s economy, causing high unemployment, little or no prospects and frustration for young people who live there. They see jobs becoming scarce to the point of extinction, while those engaged in criminal activities seem to have all they want, materially.

Small wonder then, that youths in the area see more future in joining criminal gangs than in completing education and training.

There is a gun and gang culture in the area that is hard to overcome, but World In Need, in partnership with the Universal Centre for Child Health and Youth Development (UCCCHYD), has developed a project which encourages youths to realise their dreams and ambitions, and their need for camaraderie using football training.

Through football, the young men are able to develop and improve skills and, at the same time, they learn positive competitiveness and discipline, and discover a way of being that doesn’t involve crime and guns.

World In Need were loaned a small piece of land, which the youngsters helped to prepare, uprooting bushes and flattening the ground to the best of their ability to turn it into a very basic football pitch. This teamwork gave them a sense of purpose and allowed them to become deeply invested in the project.

The fact that the coaches are local people rather than westerners is helpful, for two reasons. Firstly, local people are more aware of the nuances of local culture than even the most empathetic westerner – one reason World In Need uses indigenous staff for its projects whenever possible.

Secondly, local coaches are not at risk from kidnappers as westerners would be, thus keeping the young men safer and more likely to stay the course.

However, things are not perfect. Despite the best efforts of the team, the pitch is uneven and in rainy weather it becomes waterlogged and unusable, which is discouraging. We need to raise £4,700 to landscape the ground and prevent the waterlogging, and to provide a mower and steam roller to maintain the pitch. Only then can we be sure of the long term success of this project.

You can read about this in the online magazine Footy Matters at http://www.footymatters.com/community/world-in-need-combating-nigerias-militia-through-football-not-firearms/

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

When America sneezes...

dollar sign vectorOn Monday, the American Government voted through a deal to allow an increase on their country’s debt limit. On the plus side, it means the US can now pay its bills for a little longer, public servants will get their wages and the poor will still be able to access welfare.

It also means the debt increases to far more than the country can hope to repay, interest payments will rise to amounts most of us cannot even imagine, and there has been postponement of, rather than reprieve from, the final moment of reckoning.

Americans are waking up to the cold hard fact that they are broke. Their debt, as a percentage of GDP, is on a par with Italy’s, a country that was told to tackle its economic crisis as a matter of urgency. But America’s debt crisis has much further reaching consequences than does Italy’s. America’s problems affect us all.

America is a society of consumers. Many Americans live well, surrounded by the best products that money can buy, and that has been essential to the economies of the rest of the world, where those products are made. If Americans have no money, they stop buying, and if they stop buying, the rest of the world goes into decline. Germany has already experienced a 14.4% rate of decline, while in Japan the fall was 15.2%.

Developing countries suffer most harshly. Cambodia’s growth has declined, from 10% in 2007, to zero today, and Kenya’s rate of growth has halved.

These declines come from shrinking demand, drops in commodity prices and investments, plus the fact that migrant workers, stripped of their jobs, are unable to send so much money home. As growth stutters, unemployment rises, and with it, levels of malnutrition and other ills associated with poverty. Families struggling to eat and pay rents have nothing left to pay for things such as education, thus condemning the next generation to the same hardships.

Loss of income for the worker also means loss of tax revenue for the country, so they’re unable to fund schools, hospitals, infrastructure and other essentials.

Someone once said, “If America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold.” They were wrong. When America sneezes, it starts a plague.

Trauma and tragedy

Last weekend, Norway experienced its most devastating tragedy since World War 2. That such a dreadful event could happen in Norway, one of the safest and most peaceful places on earth, caused horror throughout the whole world.

As news cameras captured the scene, that horror, together with shock and fear, showed on every face. The trauma was especially stark on the faces of the young who had survived the shootings at Utoya Island.

Such trauma, such fear, is a daily reality for many children in other parts of the world. Places where conflict is the norm and where men of violence see the lives of others, especially children, as cheap and disposable. Places where lack of education and lack of opportunity make recruitment into the world of violence all too easy. Where manipulation of beliefs and understanding can cause untold misery for whole communities.

At World In Need we know the way to overcome these obstacles and free people from the fear and horror that traps them is to give them the tools to free themselves. By educating children we can ensure they achieve their fullest potentials, giving them access to better jobs and futures. If we teach adults skills we can ensure they are able to care for themselves and their families, earning money, building and investing in their futures. We can give the people the freedom to think and act for themselves, and through this, we can break the power of the men of violence.
World In Need has a child sponsorship programme through which we sponsor children in some of the poorest and most troubled places on earth. Sponsored children are able to go to school and gain skills and qualifications they might otherwise be denied. They eat regularly and have access to medical care and other essentials, and are given hope for the future.

We never forget that a lifetime is built on the foundations of childhood. World In Need is trying to ensure those foundations are built on solid ground.