Scottish Daily Mail
Hope, faith and charity round my kitchen table
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.