Saturday, March 05, 2011

Comic Relief 2011

I have tears running down my face, having watched part one of Famous, Rich and in the Slums with Lenny Henry, Angela Rippon, Samantha Womack and Reggie Yates, part of Comic Relief.  For those outside the UK, Comic Relief is a charity which raises money for projects at home and abroad, and which is very highly regarded in the UK, as all the money raised goes to the charity work, none of it to administration or publicity.  The charity raises money specifically for those things directly, in order for them to be able to say that every penny donated by the public will go to charitable work.

One of the places that they work is Kibera slum, the biggest slum in Africa.  It has to be seen to be believed, and even though one could vicariously understand the noise and smell from the reactions of the people involved, it was obvious that it was very difficult for a viewer in a comfortable home in the UK to really gain a sense of the poverty they were looking at.

The four volunteers were stripped of their belongings, including their clothing, and then sent to live alone for three days.  They were given a very small amount of money and told to make their living.  The culture shock must have been extreme... they were hurtled from cosseted lives in the UK to the worst living conditions imaginable... sewage running in open gutters in front of their doors, hole in the ground lavatories shared with hundreds of others, people whose only suggestion when work wasn't available was to go to a bar and sleep with a man for money.

I admired the people who did this.  I'm not sure I would have survived the first day.  I found festival conditions intolerable on a holiday  couple of years ago.  I'm not sure how I would have coped with open sewers and holes filled with human excrement.  On the other hand, what struck me was that I think my lack of adaption would make me organise improvements... one of the striking things about the programme was that the participants had stopped noticing many of the things which made such an impression at the beginning.  In this context I wonder whether survival by acceptance would be more useful than a refusal to accept the circumstances and insisting on change?  I expect I am kidding myself about the possibilities for change... but what distinguishes Kibera from the urban areas which border it except for organisation?

At the beginning of the film, they stated that as Kibera is classified by the Kenyan government as an illegal settlement, they are not obliged to provide health services etc for the people living there.  While I applaud the projects that Comic Relief are running in the slum, and the bravery of the four celebrities who went there, I hope that pressure is brought to bear on the Kenyans to put health workers and facilities in place, and not simply to bulldoze the camp which has been the response of some governments to clearing up similar places.  We have to change things.  We have to feel responsible for the people who are enduring that life.

If you wish to donate to Comic Relief, text "help" to 70005.