By Ken Powell (originally published in the Egremont 2Day newspaper)
I WROTE last time about the security issues travelling around Bangladesh on my trip last February. These aren’t imagined dangers and they’re not just aimed at foreigners either. While we were out in the villages enjoying the best home-made curry in the world, we were brought up to speed with the lives of people we’ve missed for two years. Often this came from the horse’s mouth as people heard we were visiting and came to see us (you’re never alone for long in Bangladesh!)
Last year some friends had their village attacked by a band of marauding bandits. Their homes were destroyed, their belongings stolen. When the bandits tried to rape one of the girls the villagers finally took desperate courage and started to fight back. In the scuffle two attackers were killed. The result? Two men from the village are now in prison for murder – nothing has been done against the attackers themselves. One year on and those friends still have no village, no homes, no possessions – and two have no husbands for the foreseeable future. They survive on the help and hospitality of others who also have so little to give.
I find that kind of generosity staggering. Last month I wrote of the walls we build externally but the biggest wall is the one within our minds. We tend to find excuses why we can’t spare any more change to give to charity when we already ‘do our bit’ but sit back comfortably to watch our giant flat-screen TVs.
I heard recently that plans to allow Syrian refugees in Cumbria have been ‘put back’ because of the recent floods. I don’t know if it’s true or not but it is typical of the excuses we put forward for not helping our fellow humans like those currently pitching tents in flooded fields in France. We’re good at throwing money at problems – just as long as they don’t hop over to our garden.
I’m not stupid (honestly) – I know there are issues. I know we can’t just ‘open the gates’ and welcome everyone in. I know there are security concerns. I know we don’t have unlimited resources. But I also know we Brits are geniuses at excuses. All these concerns are surmountable if we care enough to help our brothers and sisters who have suffered more than enough – more than you or I are ever likely to experience ourselves. I’ve also heard said “let’s help our homeless ex-military men before helping strangers”. I say “let’s help both! It shouldn’t have to be an either/or situation”. Which is why Rachel Holliday who runs Egremont’s Calderwood House is such a hero of mine. Rachel and her team are seeing people in need and holding out a hand to help. She builds bridges not walls.
I’ve said it before and will say it again – I don’t believe in ‘us’ and ‘them’. There should just be ‘us’.