I watched Red Nose Day on Friday night with two of my children. Some of the footage about the awful suffering that children in the UK and overseas have to go through, for reasons that are entirely preventable, left us unable to get to sleep that night.
One video told the story of a small boy called Richard who contracted tetanus after he cut his foot during a football game. I didn't catch the name of the country he lived in - I think it was Uganda. As he hadn't been vaccinated, he developed tetanus very quickly which left his little body spasming in agony. His spasms were so severe that his jaw locked and he bit through his tongue, which then had to be removed. His poor mother was unable to touch him or comfort him as it might set off another attack. It was heartbreaking to watch. The film didn't say if Richard survived, but the doctor in the footage said it was unlikely.
I can't imagine the pain of watching your child dying, in agony. Comic Relief ended up raising £75 million on Friday night - a good proportion of this will go towards a vaccination programme for children like Richard.
It frustrates me when I hear people saying that there's no point donating to causes like Comic Relief, as nothing seems to change, and there are people still starving in Africa. I used to hear this a lot when I worked as a fundraiser for an aid organisation. Of course there are people who are still starving! To expect otherwise is to completely underestimate the sheer scale of the problem. It's both unreasonable and naive to expect complex problems like world poverty to be solved in a couple of decades through foreign aid alone. To solve world poverty, aid is never going to be enough. The unfair systems and structures that make and keep people poor must be challenged. And changed.
Systems such as taxation, which allow companies to plunder poor countries of their resources then cook the books so they don't pay the tax they owe - tax that could pay for education, healthcare, sanitation and vaccinations. Take a look here for more info on how you can campaign against this injustice.
Or laws that allow companies such as Wyeth and Nestle to aggressively market their formula milk products in poor countries and practically eradicate breastfeeding, thereby costing the lives of thousands of babies who would have flourished on breast milk but die from gastric problems caused by bottle feeding with dirty water and unsanitary equipment. Speak out against this here.
In the meantime, it's so important we keep giving to causes like Comic Relief.
Aid does make a difference. Just look at the figures for the number of children under five who die every year. Back in 1960 it was over 20 million, now it's just over 8 million, despite the fact that the global population has exploded over the past fifty years. Vaccination programmes mean that polio has practically been eradicated, and measles is close behind. Here's a great article explaining how aid has changed the face of Ethiopia. There is still a long way to go, but people must not lose heart because they don't see immediate results.
We are all global citizens, and just because the poorest people in the world don't share a language with us, or look like us, we still owe them a moral debt. We're happy to consume the products that are manufactured by the world's poorest countries, and visit them sometimes as tourists. We don't live like them, only by a fortunate accident of birth. We are no better than them, just luckier. Here's the link - you can still give - it will make a huge difference. Your donation won't solve poverty overnight, but it might save one child like Richard from dying in agony - and the importance of that can't be put into words.