Since my return from Africa a couple of months ago, I have been faced with a daily struggle against guilt. Nothing in my routine has changed from before I went away; I live in the same house, do the same job and go to the same bars. The difference is the way all of these things now measure up to my experience.
Before my trip, my experiences amounted to squabbling with my brother and sister, drinking with other middle class students at university and starting on the career path I’d always wanted through a mixture of hard work, blagging and networking.
But the world looks very different after the realisation that there are people out there right now – real people, not imaginary ones who only live in Oxfam adverts – who collect drinking water from puddles using a cup and a jerry can. Who pay their children’s school fees week by week, not knowing if next week their education will have to end. A man who when asked what he would with one wish responded, “I wish I could go in an airplane.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Nowhere. I just wish I could go one time in a plane.”
So in view of this, how do I justify the 10 taps in my house, the way I pulled sickies to avoid school, the way I diet because there’s too MUCH food on offer? It’s not an easy situation to remedy your feelings on.
The only solution I’ve found is this: you can’t chastise yourself for the culture you live in, based on the fact that there are other cultures which corruptly do not provide for their poorest and most vulnerable citizens. We can’t fix everything in one fell swoop. Personally, I’m running a half marathon tomorrow to raise money to build a well, and I continue to pay for the primary education of a number of children that I met. It has to be ok to have the things we want, the things we’ve worked for – to a point – so long as we are able and willing to share them. At the end of the day, what help would I be if I were to forego all material possessions – how would the children go to school then?
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This project is run by Robyn Forsythe, a film maker from the UK. You can check out her company here: http://unionpictures.tv