My charity will start in Africa
The well spoken lady on the phone is trying hard to get a donation for the charity she works for. I tell her that as a company we’d rather focus on a single charity project instead of making single donations, especially if one considers the old adage “a shared sandwich feeds nobody”.
The problem is that charity organisations have always some element of cost involved so some of your donation is invariably going to get lost in the process of giving.
My own element of corporate social responsibility comes from the fact that I am lucky enough to know a couple of missionaries in Africa and give money directly to them once a year.
One of the projects in particular sounds nice and easy: to bring water to a village so that the local people can start farming, keep some poultry and achieve sustainability.
That is the theory, but this being Africa, even the most basic project can be enormously challenging.
It has to be said that history has not treated Africa well in the last few centuries. Whether as a supplier of slaves to provide free labour for the new world or its soil unscrupulously exploited by foreign states there has been problems a-plenty. This land grab saw the continent split by greedy European powers that took into account rivers, lakes and parallels but ignored the tribal boundaries and the ethnic frontiers thus leaving the door open to social unrest and in some cases bloodshed.
In the aftermath of last world war colonialism was ended abruptly and sometimes violently, but the situation for African people has not improved much save for a few virtuous exceptions. It is not uncommon to associate Africa to corruption, political instability and humanitarian catastrophes. And the missionaries are caught in the middle trying to pick up the pieces.
All the missionaries I have met are truly amazing people. They face an uphill battle against starvation, ignorance, corruption and violence, yet they carry on their task with dignity and obstinacy.
There is little room for self-consciousness down there. For those who believe in God they are proof of what a strong faith can do. For those who don’t they command unconditioned respect, to say the least.
It has to be said that strong faith does not always mean orthodoxy, however. You speak to them and they seldom share the Pope’s doctrine about birth control, in fact they maintain that the almighty may not favour the use of condoms as a preferred method of family planning, but is much more upset by children dying of starvation.
When speaking off the record they are advocates of radical control methods such as vasectomy, reasoning that perhaps the best way of avoiding the silent genocide of children is to make sure that less babies are born where there are no resources to feed them.
Indeed, responsible parenthood is one of those western concepts which can be a source of endless debates within our supposedly civilised culture.
Is it the case that encouraging developing countries to take radical steps to dampen their birth rate is an arbitrary intrusion of western ways of thinking into a different cultures? Or, on the contrary, is it a practical and long term solution to a dramatic problem?
You will not find the answer in this column as the problem is too complex, the space too short and the risk too high of sounding either naïve or patronising .
I can only trust the judgment of those people that fight their daily battle there and now, without bells and whistles, supported uniquely by their faith and the funds they can raise by discreet word of mouth.
Everything else raises my eyebrows, like that famous pop singer which – in the middle of a gig – started to clap his hands in painfully long intervals. After a few hand claps he exclaimed: “Every time I clap my hands a child in Africa dies,” to which a voice from the captivated audience retorted “effing stop it then!”