Dying in a ditch
A woman died in the Kampala slums we went to yesterday. She died because she fell in the open sewers that were full to the brim from the previous night’s rains. She was just taking her little girl to school. Her daughter was rescued but for her it was too late. It didn’t make the news. We only found out because we met the local parish councillor. I don’t really know how I can explain what I feel about walking past that scene, even if it had happened much earlier that day.
It’s dry season at the moment and from one deluge alone, the sewers, the rubbish, the animal faeces, the toxic waste and whatever else is lying around gets amalgamated into a mega mix of I’m not too sure what. But this is the same mega mix of toxicity that runs through the local inhabitants’ homes, that young children play in and that people sometimes have to wash themselves in. But surely they don’t drink it? Perhaps not directly but with toilets placed “conveniently” at the tops of the hills and the water source (a natural spring) at the bottom of the hill, they might as well. What it’s like here when the tropical thunderstorms barge their way in doesn’t bear thinking about; neither does the number of children who become orphans in the process.
Out of desperation comes innovation (and admiration)
Being innovative – thinking outside the box? Making a new app? Finding the best way to air brush photographs, make boobs look bigger and abs look better? It certainly means different things in different places…
For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that I’ve been privileged enough to spend about 14 years of my life in the developing world. I’ve spent a lot of time in slums in Manila, been through the ‘internally displaced people’ camps in Timor-Leste, visited slums in Rio and a few other places; so the scenes of make-shift, ramshackle buildings and people living in the most abject poverty imaginable is not new to me. It’s easy to walk through and judge everyone by the western standards that we have come accustomed to. But I take my hat off to these people and I mean it whole-heartedly when I say that I admire them.
I wouldn’t in a million years have thought to save all the banana peelings from the local village, make them into charcoal briquettes and then sell them back to the same people who probably left them on the floor in the first place. Nor would I have thought to collect all the shoes in the area that might have been swept away by the storms and shine them up to sell to the locals. Or collect free water from a local spring (albeit contaminated) and charge the neighbourhood for the privilege of delivering it to them. I’m pretty sure ‘Only Fools and Horses’ made a mockery of this in the episode where Dell boy sells the water from “Peckham Springs” and set up a bottling plant in his home. However, these are stories that are unanimous all over the world - but I can honestly say that I feel humbled by each and every story that I have ever heard. Perhaps our ‘innovation’ workshops and courses in the UK should involve sending people to see some of these places - I know I have certainly learnt a thing or 2 in the process.
I couldn’t imagine my granddad walking to the end of the road; let alone walking 3km to collect what is essentially swamp water for his 5 children and 7 grandchildren. That’s what a 65 year old man named Willy was doing until three years ago…when he had a pre-paid water meter fitted outside his house…as a result of some of Water Aid’s work. Even amongst the squalor that was around him, the passion he had for this clean water is beyond words. Not surprising when it means that his children and grand children no longer get cholera and diarrhoea. And not surprising when it means that he can go to work and earn the living that he is so desperate for - only so that he can fulfil his dreams, just like everybody else.
I’m still not sure if yesterday’s tears were tears of sadness or tears of happiness – probably a mixture of both. What I do know is that it has only been 150 years since the UK’s “big stink” … and since an era when the UK’s inhabitants were all living in the same circumstances. You certainly wouldn’t think it walking through London and other big UK cities today. If we are able to send rockets to the moon, space shuttles on to comets, perform medical miracles in some of the most dire circumstances…why are we not able to provide more guidance and support to some of the world’s poorest people? So as I head back to the UK tonight, and board an air craft that is so out of reach to such a large percentage of the population here, and in so many other places – all I have left to say is that the disparity doesn’t have to be this big…