I recently watching an absolutely heartbreaking Comic Relief documentary on BBC television about the Kibera Slums in Kenya. It left me feeling like the most selfish, superficial, useless human being on the planet. The residents of this hideously overpopulated slum work a full day for less than the price of a can of Coke. Shovelling shit, spending ten solid hours hand-washing the clothes of the affluent, doing all manner of hard labour just to scrape enough cash together to feed their kids a tiny meal. If there is no work, the women have little option but prostitution. There are open sewers running through the streets. The communal toilets are each shared by 1000 people and then emptied into the river. AIDS is rife. One in five children won’t make it to their fifth birthday.
While people are battling impossible adversity in such a hand-to-mouth way, here I am, flying around the world, writing my self-important music reviews, grumbling about things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. God, why haven’t my VIP tickets to *any music festival* been confirmed yet? Man, why can't I download Skype to my computer? A good day for me constitutes listening to an album I have been given, watching a movie on the giant projector screen in my lovely home, checking out pictures from the latest Lily Cole (or whoever) fronted fashion campaign on my high speed internet and then gulping free booze at a moderately pompous art exhibition. A good day in the slums constitutes your youngest child not dying even though they are suffering from the same nasty cough that your previous child had before they passed away.
Last year, in Mumbai, I saw first-hand the abject poverty in which people live. I saw a family of four living on a street corner, amputees laying lifeless in the middle of the pavement, people hustling just to make enough money to eat. In 2009 I visited Soweto (above), areas of which rank amongst the poorest in Johannesburg. As with Mumbai, I was amazed by how upbeat the people there were. They were warm, friendly, welcoming and happy to share what little they had. They'd give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. From watching the Kibera documentary, I'm pretty sure people there would do the same.
The people in Kibera don't want sympathy, they just want to live as good a life as they can. They deserve that chance. Next Friday (a week tomorrow) is Comic Relief's Red Nose Day in England, the time when the country comes together to donate millions of pounds for all manner of good causes in Africa and the UK. The money raised goes to setting up infrastructure that will help people in areas like these slums not just today or tomorrow, but for years to come. So, if you think that everyone should have access to clean water, to medicine and to be able to put enough food in their children's mouths to prevent them from dying, then why not stick your hand in your pocket and give a little to help people much worse off than you. DONATE DONATE DONATE. You can give GBP or Aussie dollars. If you don't have any spare cash, then you've got a week to plan to do something for Red Nose Day for which you can be sponsored. Shave your eyebrows, do a sponsored silence, get people to pay you to try and sit through a whole episode of Mrs Brown's Boys without putting your fist through the TV screen. Anything... just raise some dosh.
Part Two of the Kibera documentary is on BBC1 at 9pm tonight. It is essential viewing. Meanwhile, Red Nose Day is on BBC television throughout next Friday evening.
Words by Rob Townsend.