Scottish Daily Mail

Hope, faith and char­ity round my kitchen table

- Society · Switzerland · Beijing

RISHI Su­nak’s halo slipped a lit­tle this week when he an­nounced a cut in our for­eign aid bud­get. Hardly sur­pris­ing. It’s a hugely con­tro­ver­sial sub­ject.

I got in­volved in the con­tro­versy my­self when I wrote an es­say for this pa­per 15 years ago af­ter a trip to sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. I had seen — not for the first time — heart-rend­ing poverty. Yet I was mak­ing the case that we needed to take an­other look at this coun­try’s pol­icy on aid.

Many might say we don’t need ‘an­other look’. Just in­crease our aid and do it now. Chil­dren are dy­ing. And that’s a mighty pow­er­ful ar­gu­ment.

When you have seen real suf­fer­ing, as I have and as my old friend Michael Buerk so mem­o­rably did in 1984, no one with a shred of hu­man­ity could deny that some­thing must be done. But the re­ac­tion from read­ers of this news­pa­per to what I wrote was ex­traor­di­nary.

I had made the fa­mil­iar case that far too much in­ter­na­tional aid dis­ap­pears be­fore it reaches those who need it. Much of it ends up in the Swiss bank ac­counts of cor­rupt lead­ers. Some of it goes to coun­tries such as China with vastly big­ger economies than our own.

As for the rep­utable in­ter­na­tional char­i­ties, great sums are spent on staff salaries, bu­reau­cracy and ad­min­is­tra­tion.

My case was that the most ef­fec­tive way to help the poor was to find a way of giv­ing aid to them di­rectly.

But how? You can’t just fill a fleet of lor­ries with cash and trun­dle from vil­lage to vil­lage hurl­ing out bun­dles of notes.

But what you can do is iden­tify small-scale projects that make a real dif­fer­ence on the ground, where it mat­ters, and fund them. A vil­lage where there’s no school. A clinic that has no elec­tric­ity and no trained mid­wife. A hos­pi­tal that needs a sur­geon trained in cataract re­moval. A farm­ing co-op­er­a­tive that needs a de­cent wa­ter sup­ply.

A lit­tle fac­tory pro­duc­ing ba­sic wheel­chairs for chil­dren born so dis­abled they can­not go to school and their moth­ers must carry them on their backs ev­ery­where. So much need. So lit­tle cash. That was on a Satur­day. By Mon­day, a hand­ful of let­ters ar­rived from read­ers. Within days it was a flood. Ev­ery one said they loved the idea of char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions go­ing di­rectly to the peo­ple who could do some­thing good with them, and ev­ery other en­ve­lope con­tained cash.

There was one prob­lem. The char­ity did not ex­ist. So I set it up. I called it the Kitchen Table Char­i­ties Trust (KTCT) and by this week­end we will have helped fund 400 dif­fer­ent projects.

I have no doubt that the best way to end poverty is through ed­u­ca­tion. Teach a child to read and write and you give that child hope. So that’s where most of the money goes.

I called it the Kitchen Table be­cause we have no of­fices and those who make it all hap­pen meet once a year around my kitchen table. Their re­ward is a bowl of my home-made leek and po­tato soup.

If Rishi wants to join us he’d be wel­come. Es­pe­cially if he brings his cheque book.

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