TEN years ago, when I wrote
my first column for the Church Times, it was Christian Aid
Week. At the time, I worked for Christian Aid. That job, and the
visits to some of the world's poorest communities that were
integral to it, changed my life. I do not work in international
development any more, but, as that week comes round again, I
realise how significant those experiences have been.
I wrote that first article
because I had just returned from the Dominican Republic. I visited
a school in a village where most of the houses had no electricity
or running water, and were flooded repeatedly. After a maths
lesson, I watched 129 children get their main meal of the day.
Their cook was called
Matola. I asked her how much it cost to provide lunch for the whole
school. She did some sums, and I worked out the exchange rate: £10
feeds them all rice pudding, and banana. I explained that £10 is
about the amount people think of giving when they see a charity
envelope. It would be satisfying for them to know that their
contribution would buy a day's food for a whole school. A grin
spread across her face. She did some more sums, and announced: "On
treat days, we give them bread with chocolate spread. That would
At the time, I felt that I
could not ask churchgoers to give extra money so that children
could have chocolate. Now, I wish I had. Why not give children in a
poor country a treat? It is what I do all the time for my
Since that trip, I have
thanked God for my food before every single meal. Ten years; no
exceptions. I do not do it because I have become religious. I do it
because I have become grateful.
Poverty, however, is about
more than hunger. In Mozambique, I met the widow of a man who had
been killed by an electrical mishap at a sugar plantation. It was
an entirely preventable accident. I had expected to interview her,
but I could not write because she held my wrist tightly be- tween
her hands. We sat in silence.
Her husband had not died for
lack of food, or medicine, but for lack of a risk assessment.
Poverty drives people to accept jobs under those circumstances. But
it is difficult to ask people to give money to address needs of
that kind. Nearly everyone will readily give money to put bread in
the hands of hungry children; it is harder to ask people to fund
health-and-safety officials, trade unions, and human-rights
associations. But those are the systems that make communities
strong in the face of natural or man-made assaults.
We need organisations such
as Christian Aid so that decisions about funding are not made
sentimentally, but to facilitate the long-term strengthening of
I wish God's blessing on
everyone who has knocked on doors this week, asking people to give.
It is the most worthwhile thing you will do this month. When you
live in comfort, your understanding of what has true worth gets
fuddled; in poor communities, life is stripped bare, and you see
issues clearly. The value of life becomes plain when you live close
We need aid from the world's
poorest communities, in order to understand what matters, and what
is godly. We need Christian aid from the world's poorest
Peter Graystone develops pioneer mission projects for Church