Last week I was invited to attend a blogger event with ActionAid, with special guest Fay Ripley of TV and cookery writing fame.
Well, let me tell you, even if it had been her former co-star (the very gorgeous James Nesbitt) stood in front of me butt naked with a rose between his cheeks, I don't think I could have sat up and taken more notice.
What Fay spoke of struck so many chords with me it was like listening to a Clapton guitar solo. I sat there like a demented nodding dog silently agreeing furiously. At one point nearly forgot I was in a room of real life people and not on social media, and almost did a double hand arrow gesture and shouted "<<THIS".
You see she was talking about how she got involved with ActionAid, and specifically how she came to sponsor a child. Living amongst the loveys of North London, she was horrified at the obscene excesses displayed at childrens birthday parties. The extortionate and frankly ridiculous amount of money spent on entertainers; venues; cakes, food and presents. After a discussion with her daughter, they decided to do something different for her party and instead of asking for gifts, they asked for a financial donation. The party was pared down, with no waste or excessive food and the end result meant that they were able to sponsor a child for a whole 18 months on her party donations alone.
As a family we've spoken about sponsoring before and all agreed it would be a good thing to do. The problem I have with Ruby, is not her generosity or kindness - she'd happily share with anyone - but it's helping her to understand how actions can help and why exactly it's needed.
I think campaigns like this are so much better at capturing people's interest. How many times have we chucked a quid in a bucket and then walked away not really knowing where that money is going to go? We make the donation and we wash our hands of the responsibility. What ActionAid want to encourage is ongoing relationships, both with donors and with the people they engage with like me. Rachel Beer, blogger, founder of #NFPTweetup and expert in social engagement between charities and activists hosted a discussion session about how best we could all work together.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who remembers sitting at the dinner table as a child, pushing food around the plate only to be told "you'd better eat that, there's kids in other countries starving who'd be very glad of it". Honestly, I didn't understand what that meant. I'd think, "well I don't want it, they're welcome to it - mail it to them." The concept was too far removed for me to comprehend. Granted, this was back in the day before Live Aid, before we started seeing shocking images on our TV screens, but still, I think it's difficult for young children to comprehend.
We are not by any means privileged, but we are comfortable. Never do I have to worry about whether there's enough food to feed the family. Never has Ruby wandered to the fridge or the cupboard and not found a snack to munch on before dinner. So living like this, how is she to empathise with those who don't get enough to eat, or don't have safe drinking water, or can't get an education because the closest school is too far away? Can any of us really comprehend that a child dies every 15 seconds from hunger?
ActionAid's ambassador from Kenya Joy Mghoi Mwakisambi spoke passionately to us and summed it up - when we get up in the morning we have to decide what we'll have for breakfast - will we have toast, or cereal, which of the 5 different varieties of cereal will we choose... For many many families in her community feeding their family is not about what it's about how and if there will be anything to give them.
Joy talked about the work she does in her community as a spokesperson, advising people on their rights and raising their plight to the international community. She spoke about the impact of industry and specifically bio fuels. How insane is it that people are displaced to make way for factories which burn food so the West can keep up with their environmental commitments and quotas? Foodstuff is actually burnt for energy, in the same place where people are going hungry. The land is leached of all nutrients meaning even if it is returned to it's people, it is worthless as arable land.
Listening to her speak was so moving and humbling. I felt tears pricking my eyes, not through pity or sorrow but out of respect and admiration for this formidable woman, who will not stop shouting about injustice. She was quite incredible and her rallying final plea was enough to make me ashamed - don't do it tomorrow, do it TODAY, NOW.
We've talked about sponsoring a child but simply not got round to it before now. Good intentions are great, but in reality if you don't follow through it simply becomes an empty promise. And you can't eat empty promises.
Just now, I have sat down with Ruby and looked at the website. It was too difficult to choose which country to help in, whether a project delivering education; safe drinking water or teaching farming and irrigation techniques was more worthy than another. We had a long discussion, read the information and looked at photos and maps. In the end, we opted for the 'wherever the need is greatest' option and now I've just had an email to say our sponsorship pack will be with us within the next 5 days. The pack will have a photo and details of the child we're supporting and we will start to receive progress reports and messages.
We're so excited about getting a letter to find out about their life and we'll be writing to them also. It's the start of a real long-term relationship between our family and another and I'm so happy we've finally done it.
If you've ever tossed around the idea of sponsorship then I'd ask you to please go an give it another look. Perhaps like us it was just something you didn't get around to. Seriously, it takes only a few minutes.
If you are not able to support ActionAid in this way, the please take a look at the If campaign, sign the petition and find another way to help.