Help the racists
Having read in the June issue about organisations working to improve conditions for the elderly, I would like to refer readers to an article in Community Action (No. 55, September-October 1981) where Help the Aged's role in South Africa is exposed as racist.
Jim Bradford and Colin Lyons investigated Help the Aged's activities in South Africa during 1978 on behalf of the Councils for Voluntary Service and Community Relations Councils in Manchester and Reading. They revealed that out of a total of R27 9,560 raised, R208,160 was given to agencies that mainly served and benefited white people. Of this, R34,O0O went to a Durban association for the aged which undertook to spend only 10% on work with non-whites, while R174,160 went towards establishing chairs in geriatric medicine in predominantly white universities in Cape Town and Witwatesrand.
The initial reaction of Help the Aged was to deny these claims. An investigation by the Charity Commissioners subsequently confirmed the complaints. A complete copy of the correspondence containing the evidence of Help the Aged's involvement in apartheid is available from the Help the Aged File, 3 Manchester Road, Charlton, Manchester 21. Send £2 to cover photocopying and postage.
Elders but not betters
What a nasty old woman MmaShoro seemed to be (NI No. 112) — carping and sneering at her granddaughter Dikeledi for wanting to live a different sort of life from that of her elders.
Third World children, especially girls like Dikeledi, have so little time to play and are constantly burdened with responsibility: tending animals, grinding sorghum, looking after younger siblings.
I'm not surprised she wanted to get away and work for a white woman in Gaborone. Her reception on returning to her village must have convinced Dikeledi that she had indeed made the right decision in moving away from the conservative attitudes of her grandmother. For she was shown little love and support and there was virtually no interest in her new life. Rather, she was belittled and sneered at by her grandmother and other old people — hardly the way to earn respect.
The example Dikeledi had of old age in her village is one of bitter, reactionary old men and women who are worn to a frazzle and are damned if anyone else is going to have an easier life than they did.
If I was Dikeledi, I’d skip the month of initiation rites and get on the next bus back to Gaberone.
Reading your issue 'The Rise of the over-60s', I felt I must tell you about a neighbour of mine who died recently aged 85. This man had the ambition all his adult life to be an author, but could never get anything published until he was 83. His first novel appeared in 1980 and he followed that with another, the first edition of which was in his hands one month before he died.
His widow is missing him badly, but is cheered to think of how his old age was crowned with this achievement. It seems to me that the message for all of us is that we should never give up on our ambitions, because we might just see them realised when we are in our 80s.
Work vs. paid work
‘The housewife who has never worked’ (Jill Man-thorpe, p. 28, June 1982)?
Peter Werbenek says that child sponsorship schemes do no harm to the recipient (letters. NI 113). In some cases he is right. But it is important to draw a clear distinction between those agencies which just use the child sponsorship image as a convenient way to raise funds but finance community based projects, and those agencies which actually sponsor a particular child who is made aware of the origins of the funds.
By obliging a child to write thank you letters to his or her individual donor, the agency inevitably reinforces the idea in the child that success in personal development is dependent upon the continuing largesse of a foreigner in a rich country: it is no longer something which can be found and developed within the community. And how is it explained to the child when the donor decides that s/he has had enough and no longer wishes to contribute to ‘their’ child's development?
First, the cost of running a sponsorship. A glance at Action Aid’s accounts shows that our expense ratio compares very favourably with other charities.
Secondly, you make a point about the divisive nature of sponsorship. On the contrary, we believe that our programmes treat the child as an individual. Many of your criticisms concern institutionalised children who represent only a small percentage of the children Action Aid sponsors. Your article particularly criticised sponsorship schemes for the sending of letters and gifts. You do not explain that Action Aid operates a centralised fund for those who wish to give extra gifts ensuring that all children benefit equally and appropriately. Letters also do not have to be 'thank-you letters'. Action Aid encourages brief picture postcards and advises sponsors sensibly as to content. We are also studying ways of putting correspondence to constructive use in the school curriculum where English is taught. We are not preaching to the converted. Instead, having attracted many people who often have no other involvement in development, we have the opportunity over several years to inform and perhaps influence our supporters to a greater understanding of the real needs of the people we are helping. Their commitment to do something positive is the first step. While continuing the personal sponsorship linking scheme, we have also developed - 'Village Neighbour' - a scheme whereby individuals in this country can link with a village development programme, and 'Community Link' - a community twinning arrangement.
Ken Burnett (Director of Commonwealth Action Aid)
Thank you for your excellent issue on child sponsorship. I have had the sobering experience of sponsoring a Bangladeshi lad through the Australian group, For Those Who Have Less.
A week apart I received two very different reports of the boy’s decision to leave the orphanage. A friend who used to work in the orphanage reported: ‘He left to help support his family with any work he could find, such as labouring. I thought that was a very responsible decision for him to make rather than just enjoy the benefits of the orphanage and not worry about his ageing mother and sister.’
The sponsoring agency wrote: ‘We tried to talk the lad into reconsidering his decision as we fear he may not rise above the poverty level. It is most disappointing to lose a lad under such circumstances, but we will endeavour to find a suitable school for his sister and send his mother a new sari if our Poor Fund is flush.’
A visit I made to this very isolated orphanage in 1978 was cut short abruptly by an armed seizure of some of its land by some hired local toughs. The orphanage was an island in a sea of poverty and it incited strong resentment in the nearby town.
A sight I witnessed in a village close to the orphanage will remain with me forever. Under one of the tea stalls was a ragged, filthy demented girl asleep with a group of scrawny dogs. Not one of the Australian dollars being spent down the road would ever help her.
It was quite hard to then fave an assembly of the boys in Australian souvenir t-shirts especially organised for my visit.
Your exposure of the baby-milk scandal (NI 110) is necessary and right. But there are two further points that require emphasis:
1. Why, in this country, is there not more pressure to change public attitudes towards mothers breastfeeding their infants at work? Sheila Kitzinger is right (p. 15): it's simply a change in disposition that's needed.
2. Your arguments to do what is best for the child are overlaid by tilting at the giant corporations and making it a matter of economics and politics. Yet moral attitudes to children are the most persuasive. Babies don't ask their parents to conceive them, they come into this world not of their own volition, without rights, and totally helpless and defenceless. They cannot protest, organise demonstrations or throw bricks in embassy windows. Who is going to plead their cause? If we wish to have a family, the very least we can do as parents is to give the infant the best start in life. It's time we spoke up for responsible parenthood.
The status of motherhood
In her letter responding to the New Internationalist issue on babymilk. Margaret King objects to the promotion of breastfeeding in areas where it is not essential, on the grounds that the 'tie' of breastfeeding negates the rights of women to greater access to higher education of career training'.
I, too, believe that all women have a right to develop their potential. I also believe that babies have rights to the best nourishment available (mother's milk), to their mother's daily love and attention and to the security and intimacy of the breastfeeding relationship.
I do not believe these rights to be mutually exclusive: many mothers pursue further education without sacrificing the needs of their small children. The lack of acceptance often experienced by women when starting or reentering careers is due not to the breastfeeding bond, but to the low status which our society places on motherhood.