Herd of Donkeysbyoggbashan©
Copyright Oggbashan November 2010
On the refrigerator in our kitchen is a collection of magnets. Most represent places we have visited but there are a few donkeys.
Each one represents a present given to us by our extended family. They also have magnets of donkeys in their houses. Each one represents a donation to a charity that works in the poorer parts of the world and is an acknowledgement of a sum of money equivalent to a donkey.
To a poor family in a rural area a donkey is a capital investment that produces income. The donkey can help with the ploughing and farm work, can carry produce to market and essential purchases back to the owner's home, can carry the baby, the grandparent, anything reasonable.
There are also some magnets for hand tools, spades, hoes, rakes etc. In my garden shed I have a collection of such tools that would be incredible riches in some parts of the world. They couldn't use the power tools in my garage because they have no electricity but the various hand saws and drills, the hammers, the wrenches, perhaps the screwdrivers and certainly the plastic sheeting would be very useful.
We take for granted so many things that others might envy. We have ready access to clean water, to sanitation that prevents disease, to food, shelter, fuel for cooking and heating -- we've got all of these and so much more. We have hot and cold water just by turning one of several taps in the house. If we want heat we just switch on the heating. If we want to cook, there is the oven, the hob, the microwave, the lean grill, the slo-cooker, the pots and pans, plates, cutlery, jugs, bowls, bottles and even the wine cellar.
On the first Christmas there was no room at the inn but the family were given shelter in the stable. What hotelkeeper would do that now? If you can't afford a bed or if the hotel is full, you will be turned away. You might get directions to another hotel but without money would you get any shelter?
Our donkey magnets are a constant reminder that there are many people far worse off than the poorest people in our country. At Christmas we spend money on presents for friends and relations. Sometimes we spend too much money, more than we should or more than our bank manager thinks reasonable, and perhaps buy presents that will be neglected after Christmas Day. Yet the family's donkeys will last far longer than the latest toy or gadget. They won't last forever but they might last long enough to start one family on the way from desperation to self sufficiency and even a small surplus.
I don't know or care whether the family that gets one of our donkeys is Christian, Muslim, of any religion or none. I don't know or care what language they speak, what country they live in, what their politics are if they are allowed democracy, and certainly not what colour their skin is. I just hope that a donkey will help them.
I also know that our donkey might be a metaphorical donkey. It maybe that the charity decides that tools, or a well for clean water, or a school, a road, a clinic, a nurse is a better way for the particular community of spending the money we've given to buy a donkey. I don't care. The charity has a good record of getting money to where it is needed, with low administration costs, and of letting the local people decide how the money should best be spent to help as many people as possible.
One of my friends has a much more direct way of helping poor people, in his case in a particular region of Africa. From September to June he is available to be the quizmaster of Wine and Wisdom evenings. He charges a small fee for each evening and that money is banked for his next visit to Africa. The Wine and Wisdom evenings raise money for charities, a whole range of charities, but they pay him his small fee as part of the expenses. Sometimes he makes an appeal for his own African community. His fees might make a few hundred pounds in a year. His friends, his acquaintances and his appeals make that few hundred pounds into tens of thousands of pounds.
He works through the local Bishop in Africa, not because he is a practising Christian, but because the Bishop is an honest man who will see that the money isn't misused. My friend's first project was to build a Church. The Church is a school during the day, a health clinic in the evenings, and the schoolgirls' dormitory at night. It isn't an architectural masterpiece. In our country we'd pass it by thinking it was a small factory or storeroom but it is the centre of a large community in Africa.
Outside the Church is a temporary shelter with a leaf roof and woven plant stalk half-walls. It is the school's dining kitchen and dining room and the schoolboys' dormitory at night. Beyond the shelter is the water pump that produces all the drinking water for the school children and the local village. The villages for a ten-mile radius around the church also have water pumps paid for by my friend's fund-raising. He wanted to install more water pumps but although he can raise the money those locals who have the skills to sink a well are always busy.
Last year he persuaded some of his friends to drive to this remote part of Africa in an old Land Rover equipped with a drill. In three weeks his friends built ten wells. They trained some of the locals on the use of the Land Rover before flying back home.
We take water for granted. We wouldn't want a donkey. Yet a donkey can represent far more than an expensive present that might not be appreciated.
This Christmas our herd of donkeys will be slightly larger. Will yours?