A couple of days ago, I was chatting to someone about her work in South Africa. I cannot name her or describe her work in detail because my comment could potentially jeopardise (albeit highly unlikely) the relations she needs to maintain to do the great work she is doing.
Anyway, she described how difficult it would be to organise accommodation amongst the people in S. Africa living in severe deprivation that she works with, so she tends to stay with wealthy people while she is there. This of course sits uncomfortably with her because she is in effect receiving the privileges those she works with could never attain. She described the extreme contrast in the two existences (where she stays and those she works with) and a story of how much resentment is felt when tribal leaders lay legitimate land claims that in effect mean that the wealthy folk have to give up some of their vast land ownership to the people huddled closely together in appalling living conditions.
It set me off thinking.....
Inequality is everywhere, always has been, almost definitely always will be. The ideals of communism didn't prevent the elite from existing. (Of course we have inequality in Britain, it's just the 'have nots' are not usually starving, can attain health care, receive an education and have sanitation). It did made me wonder and I appreciate I am totally tainted by my cultural stance, how people can live in blatant luxury so closely alongside such obvious debilitating deprivation. My point being, what mindset can maintain a luxurious lifestyle without feeling terrible guilt? And I guess its a mindset that believes those living in deprivation simply do not deserve the same rights or equal opportunities or how else could a person live with themself? And of course the converse, that for some reason they are unquestionably worthy of a better life - as after all they have 'earned' it. It's just a suspicion, I have no proof. So on the one hand, laws have changed, people are seen to say the right things etc but on the other, the blatant inequality thrives.
And then, it reminded me of an activity I have put in one of my books for kids (Headlines Poverty) about global inequality. It feels a bit like Blue Peteragain because here's one I made earlier.
Imagine a room about the size of a classroom with 30 people in it (about the number of people in a class). One quarter of the room has plenty of furniture (including a plush sofa), a carpet, toys, books, games, a computer and a television. This quarter is very comfortable, warm, nicely decorated with pictures on the wall. The rest of the room, however, is shabby and draughty and has nothing in it except a few bowls and cups.
In the comfortable corner there are four people sitting at a table eating a huge roast dinner. They are drinking water with their meal. They got the water from a tap in the kitchen area of their corner of the room. They have a pudding too and all agree it’s probably too much to eat. In fact, they don’t manage to eat it all and end up scraping a fair amount into the bin. Everyone at the table looks healthy and happy and they are sitting chatting about what they are going to watch on television, which books they like reading and which games they might play.
Everyone else in the room is watching them from the shabby part of the room. They have not eaten since yesterday and will be lucky if they find some food at all today. They are drinking water, however, but they could not use the tap in the room. They had to bring their water from a well about half a mile away using a heavy container. The water is cloudy. Everyone looks extremely thin and several of the children look really ill. People look as if they are suffering.
In the book, I use questions to guide the children's thinking in exploring this metaphor. Would those in the affluent corner automatically help the others? Might it not depend entirely on how they viewed them? Might those in the deprived corner - because of their situation and having so few needs met - behave in a way that caused the 'wealthy' to feel some fear? or perhaps there would be fear just because these people seemed so different. Might those eating well, be too greedy to hand anything over? And is simply handing food over continuously the answer....no, it's ultimately about helping people to help themselves but before that can happen, there has to be the political will to help in the first place. I suspect that can only start to happen when attitudes towards those that are in effect oppressed by circumstance, are changed and all people are genuinely seen as having equal rights. There I go again, skipping through hippy cloud cuckoo land!