Ahhh, charridy. The universal by-word for ‘lovely’. The ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card which allows you to do the wackiest shite imaginable and receive widespread plaudits in return. To be seen, not as a partially inebriated TV weatherman in a bath of beans, but a selfless, warm-hearted, loving philanthropist. TV charity and celebrity-fronted charity tends to be televised marathons of unmitigated boredom, blending a bit-part character from Birds of a Feather singing James Blunt in drag with some TV chefs playing 5-a-side football; broken up by a blabbering runner up from X-Factor pissing around in sub-Saharan Africa with a mosquito net. I realise I may sound quite callus here, but when you extrapolate the key tenants from this form of fundraising, it comes across as nothing more than vanity projects for the majority of its key players.
Charity, after the armed forces and Winston Churchill, is like the final taboo of which no evil may be spoken. It doesn’t matter how bizarre the actions are, if it’s for charity then you go girl/guy! The famous saying goes that ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions’, and there seems to be so many oversights that come with this populist branch of charity, that the question remains over how much good is actually being done by it.
This week, a Norwegian group called Radi-Aid hit the headlines for their spoof music video, aimed at appealing to Africans to donate radiators to Norway to help during their harsh winter months. The video, and wider campaign, is a critique concerning the lazy and pseudo-Orientalist approach to the depiction of Africa in Western media.
If we say Africa, what do you think about? Hunger, poverty, crime or AIDS? No wonder, because in fundraising campaigns and media that’s mainly what you hear about.
The pictures we usually see in fundraisers are of poor African children. Hunger and poverty is ugly, and it calls for action. But while these images can engage people in the short term, we are concerned that many people simply give up because it seems like nothing is getting better.
We need to change the simplistic explanations of problems in Africa. We need to educate ourselves on the complex issues and get more focus on how western countries have a negative impact on Africa’s development.
Africa has become typified in our broadcast media by inequality and illness. As the exert says, the only images that the majority of Western audiences see of the second largest and second most populated continent on the planet is of sociological desolation. Africa has seven of the world’s fastest growing economies, with 70% of the population inhabiting countries with economic growth rates in excessive of 4%. The main challenges for African progression, according to the latest report from the Africa Progress Panel, are youth employment, job creation, sufficient living wage, making growth inclusive of the whole population and closing the inequality gap; the exact same problems that currently affect so called ‘superior’ Western economies. Yet, instead of these facts being adopted by Western approaches to charity, we set up schemes like ‘Knickers for Africa’; encouraging women to donate used pairs of underwear to Zimbabwe to help ‘protect women and girls from sexual abuse’.
The other day my mum told me about a scheme which helps protect women and girls from sexual abuse by donating underwear.
This scheme was set up by Zimbabwe ex-pat Morag Roy who, on a return trip there, was told by a friend that sexual abuse and rape of young girls was rife. A local priest explained however that having underwear could help prevent this. He said that underwear is expensive and owning these items gives a woman prestige and shows they have money. Women with underwear are considered to be more independent and assertive, so men are less likely to assault them.
Wow. And I do mean that. Hopefully once they’ve ticked this box they can help that Elephant with its trunk stuck up its anus. The last thing anyone wants to see is it explode in a shower of pulped yams.
Radi-Aid have 4 key aims which they hope their campaign will address.
- Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
- We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.
- Media: Show respect.
- Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.
It’s campaigning to help external audiences have a proper understanding of Africa as a continent, and the political and sociological problems affecting it; not just using Africa as a crass vehicle to allow washed up musicians to lobby for OBEs.
Again, as I need to re-iterate, I am not suggesting that everyone who donates to charity is an egotistical, myopic drone. Far from it. Though, what I am trying to convey is that if people want to actively help the lives of those in poor countries, then we need to move away from the model of narcissistic philanthropy espoused by TVathons, where we think we’re great people because we lobbed a fiver in a collection bin at a supermarket checkout.
Worker exploitation and political corruption are large problems in Africa. Case in point, the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has $24 trillion’s worth of raw materials within its borders; equivalent to the combined GDP of Europe and the United States. It has immense Cobalt reserves, which are required for every mobile phone battery. Your smartphone, which you’re possibly reading this on now, requires this Congolese mineral to function. Rather than the country becoming an economic powerhouse around it, Cobalt has arguably done more harm than good in the country. Mines have become conflict zones, with funds from the reserves fuelling civil wars. What’s more, the increase in demands for cobalt products has led to workers forced into lengthy shifts in deplorable conditions, as well as the recruitment of child labour. Western companies producing ‘essential’ gadgets are dependent on this resource, yet they seemingly do nothing about the abhorrent way in which they are cultivated. We don’t pressure companies to regulate how they resource, or cry for sanctions to be enforced on governments it supplies from. Instead, we download ‘Charity App’ and donate a pound to Sport Relief.
And even the people directly involved in charity still make glaring oversights. Take Robbie Williams. He co-founded Soccer Aid with professional hanger-on Jonathan Wilkes; a charity which has an annual football match featuring ‘celebs’ and ex pros, in order to raise money for Unicef. The website makes loud claims about the ‘record breaking’ sums their events have made for charity. Great stuff. Yet, for the rest of the year, Williams spends his days getting involved in schemes such as this:
…hawking the latest Samsung product to be thrust at the consumer; containing one of those batteries made from the ‘Jewel of the Congo’; Cobalt. Which raises the question over how much of shit this lot give about the charity which they try and epitomise themselves by. While I’m not suggesting that Williams is in any way supporting the virtual slavery-like conditions which occur in conflict mines, just that you’d think if he cared about charity and the development of 3rd world nations that much, he might do a bit of research concerning which product to slap his face on.
But it’s not just celebs. We’re all culpable. We’ll have no issue with cracking open a Coke during a Red Nose Day special on the issue of water access in the subcontinent, despite documented cases of Coca-Cola privatising water supplies in Asian countries (stopping civilisations having access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation), whilst simultaneously turning a blind-eye to Coca-Cola sourcing sugar cane from El Salvadorian farms with documented cases of child labour. Even within charity which affects us at home, we still seem to be spectacularly missing the point. We’ll watch reams and reams of film about the poor support and infrastructure in place to help the aged and disabled amongst us, then grab a quick soy-chai-Latte from Starbucks the next day; a company who, if they actually paid their tax bill, would be able to support these people a number of times over. I mean, people probably donated on their Vodafone mobile. Which I would say is ironic, if it wasn’t so fucking depressing.
It’s just tantamount to this bastardised, Regan-esq, capitalistic, ‘trickle-down’ economy which seems to permeate every area of society, professing itself as a working model despite its continued failure to result in anything except inequality and disorder. It’s as if we middle class Westerners are like the affluent, distant parent with no time to care for their child, so just lob some money at them in an attempt to keep them happy for a while; irrespective that it’s just exacerbating their problems. It’s either that we are unaware of the problems associated with populist charity, or we just don’t care. Either that we aren’t privy to the facts, or that we don’t want them to affect our cushy lives. Because if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. But if you teach a man to fish, you’ll have to pay more for you pretentious little mobile phone. And we don’t want that, do we.
The fact is that it won’t change anytime soon. We’re going to see charity singles relentlessly being pushed onto us. We’re still going to see soap-stars be held up as national heroes because they climbed a mountain. We’re still going to be forced to watch a bunch of newsreaders parade around in fancy dress, like a sort of Pudsey-inspired Ludavcio Technique. We’re still going to see the usual famous-for-being-famous types compel you to donate to charity, before compelling you to spend your disposable income on a scrupulous product from a shady global conglomerate. I’m not saying that giving the odd quid to charity is inherently bad. Far from it. But if you want to actively make the world a better place, maybe think a little bit first. Maybe put a bit more thought into your attempts at philanthropy. Maybe make some sacrifices in life which are a bit harder than texting ‘Quid’ to ‘23434’. Maybe don’t just donate to something because some celeb told you to. And maybe, just maybe, in the broadest sense, think a bit before you part with your cash.