Wednesday, 31 March 2010

"She thought she'd like to do some aid work -

that it might be good fun to spend a year in a place that needs a bit of help. I said I'd ask you what she should do about it."
The mother in front of me is someone I do not know well. I know one of her neighbours, an older woman with a great deal more sense. I rather suspect that it is Dorothy who has suggested they talk to me. Dorothy is a very practical person, a widow of many years. Dorothy is rarely home in her small unit. When she stopped paid employment she went over to Meals on Wheels, the women's group at her church, her local charity shop, a book group at the library, and any number of other things. Dorothy does not talk about these things. She just does them. "I like to be busy and it's good to be useful" will be written into the trees Dorothy wants planted when she dies.
Dorothy knows as well as I do that starry-eyed 18 yr old girls with no skills to speak of and who come from comfortable middle-class homes do not make good aid workers. Most people do not make good aid workers, even those who stay the required length of time. If you want to do aid work you have to be able to put in far more than you take out.
"What sort of aid work?" I ask.
"I don't know...helping in a refugee camp or something?"
I think of my friend Claire in Zambia and wonder if this 18yr old would last a day with her. I doubt it. It is not an option anyway. Claire's organisation only takes local workers. It is simply too dangerous for anyone else.
"Or maybe she could do some teaching?"
Er, no. You do actually need to be trained for that. I say this as kindly as I can. She does not look convinced.
Then I say, "You know aid work is not fun. It is often very dangerous. It is very, very hard work. Living conditions are likely to be lousy. The food is likely to be appalling. "
"Oh, it's not all like that! You can go to places like the Pacific. We went to Fiji for a holiday. It was perfectly safe."
I want to point out that a tourist resort in Fiji is not like Samoa after a hurricane. Instead I say,
"Well, ask Katie to contact me and we will have a talk about it."
I wonder if Katie will.

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