Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Charity Begins at Home: Where it Ends is Up to You

I just finished watching an episode of a television program (Cash in the Attic, BBC America, I believe), where a British couple sold a significant part of their household possessions at auction.

An Old Couple Sold Stuff: So What?

Between the auction and what a neighbor kicked in, they raised about £1,025, if my memory serves. I make that to be a little upwards of $1,600 USD.

Here in America, that'd get you maybe a week's lodging at a fancy hotel, a used van with upwards of 200,000 miles on it, or a pretty good computer.
Four Villages and a Wellhead
The British couple was raising the money to help upgrade a wellhead for four villages in Uganda. The folks there have serious, lethal, health problems that come from microbes in the water. Better, clean, equipment, which they can maintain themselves, won't solve all their problems: but it'll mean clean drinking water for generations.

Cliches are Cliches for a Reason

I suppose that 'sick kids in Africa' is a cliche by now. Maybe one you're tired of hearing.

I'll admit that I sometimes feel the shields going up when I see some of those fundraiser ads on television. It's not that I don't care. I do. But after dozens - hundreds - of tugs on the heartstrings, the appeals get wearisome.

Why is it Always Africa?

Actually, appeals for help aren't just for Africa. That tsunami a few years back was in the ocean off southeast Asia. My household recently pitched in a little to help the folks in Haiti recover from that earthquake.

But places in Africa to show up quite a bit in charity appeals.

I've run into a number of explanations for why Africa doesn't have more vibrant economies.

Earth's earliest civilizations got a boost from being able to float cargo up and down the rivers.

Africa's a bit short on large, navigable, rivers. Early civilizations flourished around the Tigris and Euphrates; the Indus and Ganges; the Yellow River, Yangtse, and West River; and the Nile. The last, of course, is in Africa. So is the Congo, for that matter. Maybe there are ruins of another ancient civilization, on a scale with the Babylonian Empire or Qin Shi Huang's China, still undiscovered under the grasses and trees of the Congo basin.

And yes: I'm aware that outfits like Great Zimbabwe and Aksum flourished in Africa. But somehow, they didn't leave the lasting impression of Rome or Qin Shi Huang's empire.

Another explanation is that there's a well-established trade connection between the Mesopotamian region in the west and China in the east. Remember: Marco Polo was able to walk from the north shores of the Mediterranean to China and back. When one of the 'big name' ancient civilizations declined, there was a very good chance that its neighbors would carry on - and occasionally take over the lagging lands. Africa was blessed - or cursed - by being rather hard to get to, except through Egypt.

Things Will Change

Africa won't always be a continent of needy people. It isn't now, in some places. In other places, like those villages, folks can use help.


Generations from now, I think people in Africa may be part of one of the most prosperous cultures on Earth. The continent is richer in natural resources than any other, except maybe North America.

But today, and for a few years - or decades - maybe centuries - to come, there will be people in Africa who desperately need clean drinking water. And who want to catch up.

Charity may begin at home: but it ends wherever you want it to.

Just a thought.


Brigid said...

Good for that old couple.

Oh, and a little typo you might want to clean up. "still undiscovered under that grasses and trees"

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Thanks! (Took me long enough, didn't it?) ;)

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