New Internationalist

$25 Sandman

Issue 111

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$25 sandman
A small donation to Sleeping Children Around the World buys a 'slumber kit' for a Third World child - from pyjamas to mosquito net. Wayne Ellwood reports on one man's highly individualistic approach to poverty.

Murray Dryden’s one-man campaign to become a ‘sandman’ for Third World children has a formula guaranteed to prise open the pocket-book of the most flint-hearted.

Together with his wife Margaret, Murray runs an organization called Sleeping Children Around the World. Now aged 70, he’s been hard at it for the last ten years. The idea is simple. Your $25 donation buys one ‘slumber kit’, some Third World child’s ticket to a good night’s sleep. There is some variation depending on climate, but most of the kits contain every Western parent’s dream of what makes a kid comfortable: one mattress, one rubber sheet, two pairs of cotton sheets, two blankets, one pillow, two pillow cases, two pairs of pyjamas, and (sometimes) a mosquito net.

In return each donor receives a colour photograph (processing and film provided free by various corporate donors) of ‘his’ child, all cozzied up in his ‘PJs’ ready to snuggle into his new bed. Mr Dryden takes all the photos himself and claims the photograph is ‘the key to the whole programme’ because that’s the only way you can ‘see your donation in action’.

Each child is clearly labelled (‘6,000 labels a year. All hand-made by my wife’) with the donor’s name and address and the name of the child’s country.

‘For the first four or five years,’ Murray Dryden says, ‘we went mostly to hostels and orphanages. But now we’ve gradually been able to work our way into private homes’. In a family of six or eight children only one will receive his own slumber kit. ‘We can’t afford to give the whole family kits,’ Mr Dryden explains. ‘But sometimes we try and provide a family-size mosquito net.’

Murray Dryden talks with some pride of providing his kits for children in 17 developing countries, from Haiti to Nepal to Indonesia and he has a certain gusto for recounting his adventures. In 1981, for example, he hired 37 porters to lug ten tons of bedding into four isolated villages in the Nepalese Himalayas.

It’s that kind of salesman-like enthusiasm that makes people wonder why Murray Dryden is so keen on providing bedding for a relative handful of poor kids in the Third World.

Partly it’s because he is captivated by ‘the beauty and tranquillity’ of sleeping children. Before starting his organization he visited various European countries on holidays. Instead of snaps of Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the canals of Venice he brought back pictures of sleeping children. That set the ball rolling.

But he says, his own early years as a hard-up door-to-door salesman in Canada during the Great Depression were equally important. Riding the rails and walking from one isolated community to another, he often slept rough — on a park bench curled up in a doorway on the cold ground covered in newspapers. ‘If you have always had a bed you never think about it’ he says, a smile flickering briefly across his face. ‘But when you’ve been without one, as I have, you know just what a luxury it is.’

Sleeping Children Around the World is a highly individualistic operation. Some say the real benefit goes to the donor who can prop his child’s colour photograph on the mantle and feel the warm glow of charity. No further obligations, just $25 a year. That may be true, but it’s a secondary concern to Murray Dryden. ‘Those kiddies need beds,’ he counters, ‘and someone has to do it.'


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