Perhaps it’s seasonal but, particularly at the moment, the news seems to be purpose made to make you blue. Europe is a disaster and America seems to be systematically discrediting democracy by parading a series of gibbering, barely sane lunatics in power suits designed to make people give up and become anarchists. The population boom largely centred in Asia has unleashed a whole new cycle of doomsayers. The Horn of Africa crisis is an ongoing humanitarian disaster of enormous proportions, exacerbated by regional war, while, to the North, the Arab Spring, sadly, threatens to come unsprung. It’s all a bit glum.
Being of a do-gooding bent, these kind of bad-news stories make me want to help in some way but, often, it can all seem like far too much to do. So, you do something immediate, something relatively small – like sponsoring a child for a couple of quid a month – that will make some difference. But then you’re told all sorts of negative stories about such acts: it isn’t sustainable, it’s paternalistic, it ignores the voices and opinions of the victims and, as a result of all of those things, it’s insignificant. That’s a bummer, man.
In recent weeks I have become more and more interested in what people can do that isn’t just shelling out money before forgetting about the issue. As I’ve written about before, people are terrifically generous with their cash. Culturally, however, that is where that ends: things like time, energy, attention, conversation, these are things that the development industry need to get more of a hold on. At this point in the post, finally, the gloom starts to lift.
FOUR WAYS TO GET INVOLVED
- Lobby your MP – while giving money directly(ish) to victims of disasters is laudable it’s unlikely to do much to defend against such disasters from recurring: there are international or regional economic and political factors that make the poverty of, say, small-hold farmers in the developing world virtually inevitable. So why not give your MP a kick up the ass to try and get those things changed? MPs want to have good stories about them responding to local complaints – normally to do with proposed McDonald’s sites – which could very easily be yours. You give them a ring, a letter, an email, a tweet and they are more likely to ask their party leader to be interested in the issue. Plus, it isn’t hard to do and it doesn’t cost you anything. If you don’t have a particular issue you’re interested in, try this.
- GOOD Maker – a platform for local people who have ideas that can alleviate local problems. You pitch your solution, the community votes and you get a grant to enact it. Failing that, have a look at what people have submitted and support the one you like best. Truly, a wonderful experiment that combines the worlds of crowd-sourcing and sustainable, local development.
- Protect those who stand up for you – yesterday was the International Day to End Impunity, a day dedicated to fighting for justice for those murdered journalists and whistleblowers who have been killed for standing up to those who abuse power. Click the link, sign the petition – a sickening amount of journalists have died in the last 10 years (I have posted in more depth on the subject before) and deserve, at the very least, for their deaths to be investigated.
- Volunteer locally – this one is much more effort but, equally, much more engaging (you’ll feel pretty amazing). I often get people asking me why I want to work in East Africa rather than closer to home (the weather, silly!). I have done some of this – my University found a good local program for me to get involved with – and it is rather wonderful as well as being a nice little touch for the CV of a struggling unemployed young Brit…
Go on, give one of these a go. You can sit back and bask in the smug self-satisfaction after. If you do two of them, you can switch channels from one of those horribly miserable TV charity ads without feeling guilty.