Freakishly Lucky

InequalityDo you ever think how freakishly lucky you are ?

We often tell ourselves that most of what we’ve achieved in life is down to our hard work and good choices, and while up to a point that’s obviously true (work hard at school kids), there’s also no getting away from the fact that stupid random luck is even more significant.

Now I obviously don’t know how educated, wealthy, safe or healthy you are . . . but if you’re able to read this, are doing so on some kind of computer connected to the internet, have time to think about these things rather than safeguarding your family or scraping enough money together to eat tomorrow, and aren’t distracted by the problems that come from lack of healthcare or clean water, then it’s safe to say you’re doing better than most people on the planet.

There are seven billion of us going about our daily lives today.

Around 0.8 billion of us are chronically undernourished (that means hungry)

Around 1 billion of us have insufficient access to clean drinking water

Around 1.5 billion of us don’t have access to electricity

Around 2.5 billion of us lack access to basic sanitation (that means toilets)

Around 3 billion of us survive on less than $2.50 a day

Around 5.2 billion of us survive on less than $10.00 a day (net income of $3,650/y)

If you’re lucky enough to be earning the UK average national wage (£26,500) you’re earning more than 99.3% of the people on the planet. Welcome to the global elite !

If things had turned out differently. If you’d been born into circumstances without clean water, toilets, immunisation, doctors, sufficient food, electricity, education, safety and security, how different would your life have been ? How different would your attitudes be as a result ?

I saw the film Elysium a couple of weeks ago.

In many respects it’s a fairly entertaining science fiction romp with spaceships, robots and futeristic firepower, with a hero saving the day, defeating the evil villain against all the odds.

But there’s something else going on.

It’s set between an overpopulated and polluted Earth, where everyone lives in grinding poverty, with little healthcare, education or prospects – and the gleaming hi-tech orbiting space colony home of the world’s super-rich, who exploit the labour of the billions of desperate poor, and will do anything in order to protect themselves, and their belongings, from them.

Queue existential angst as we wonder whether we identify more with the poor hero, or the rich villains!


The film’s South African director Neill Blomkamp is quoted as saying: “People ask me if this is my prediction for the future. I say no, this isn’t science fiction, this is now, this is today. It’s about the third world trying to get into the first world”.

The fact that the dystopian setting for much of the film was shot on one of the world’s largest landfill sites in Mexico City, where thousands of real people spent their working lives, scavenging the waste for recyclables to sell, until it’s recent closure, makes it hard to dismiss his view.

It seems as if the lives of the rich and poor have never been so starkly different. We’ve certainly never been so acutely aware of it.

Barack Obama has described inequality as the defining issue of our time.

It’s not wrong to be lucky.

But is it wrong to be lucky, but do nothing to help our less lucky neighbours around the world ?

“The main reason many are so poor, is that a few of us are so rich”

Something to ponder as you watch the inequality videos below.

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in my ebook The Year I Saved the World]

Photo by May S Young (creative commons), via Flickr

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Free A Slave Today

The aim of this post is to get you to take action.

There are more slaves in the world today than there have been at any point in human history.

This comes as a surprise to most people and it can be hard to believe.

We tend to think of slavery as something from the past, associating it either with Rome or the ancient world, or with the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade.

Modern slavery is both illegal and invisible, but the are over 27 million slaves in the world; that’s more slaves than Australians !

Across the world millions of destitute, powerless, scared and tired men, women and children are being exploited right now by ruthless and greedy people. Two hundred years ago slaves were expensive, worth around £30,000 each. Today, if you’ve got more than £60 or so in your purse or wallet you could buy a slave. Slaves, it seems, are cheaper than ever !

Slaves today exist in brick kilns and quarries, coffee and chocolate plantations, working in fishing, textiles, manufacturing, waste processing and in forced prostitution. Whole families are enslaved into debt bondage, with debts passed from one generation to the next, with no realistic hope of freedom, andwhile most slavery occurs in Africa and Asia, we shouldn’t think it doesn’t also exist closer to home.

It’s also likely that a number of our possessions have been produced using some slave labour – gold, gemstones, cotton and clothing, minerals and materials used in electronic devices, rugs and carpets, coffee and chocolate.

The website My Slavery Footprint will help you work out how many slaves might have been involved in producing the things you own.

No one would defend slavery, but we could all do more to combat it.

The organisation Free the Slaves asks that we:

1 – Use our social media to make people more aware of the issue of modern slavery.

2 – Be more careful in the products we buy.

3 – Make a donation or fundraise in support of organisations working to fight slavery.

The aim of today’s post is to encourage you to do something.

By doing one, two or even all three of the things on the list above, we can collectively help bring about change.

Perhaps we can free a slave !


Photo by Ben Fredrickson via Flickr

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Meet Razia Jan

Afghan born Razia Jan moved to Duxbury, Massachusetts in 1970, where she ran a small tailoring business, and served as President of the town’s Rotary Club. Following the September 11th attacks, she arranged to send 400 home made blankets to the Ground Zero rescue workers and went on to organise the sending of 30,000 pairs of shoes to Afghan children.

Razia then set up the Ray of Hope Foundation, raising money to build a school for girls in Afghanistan, and in 2008 moved back there to run the school.

Razia and the school have faced numerous difficulties and threats, the same day it opened another girls school in Kabul was attacked with hand grenades, killing 100 of the girls.

Before her school opened Razia was visited by four men who gave her ‘one last chance to change this school into a boys’ school, because the backbone of Afghanistan are our boys,’ to which she replied ‘Excuse me. The women are the eyesight of Afghanistan, and unfortunately you all are blind. And I really want to give you some sight.’

Winner of numerous Rotary Peace Prizes, and now nominated as a CNN Hero, Razia and her staff continue to provide education to girls in Afghanistan, hopeful of creating a more equal society and a better future – one girl at a time.


Photo from The Ray of Hope Foundation

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Half the Sky

March 8th is International Women’s Day – one of the aims of which is to highlight the discrimination and oppression that continues to affect millions of women worldwide. The three books below all powerfully describe the challenges faced by many women living in poverty around the globe.

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

There is a Chinese saying that ‘Women hold up half the sky’, but in many parts of the world women are treated as anything but equal to men – experiencing violence, abuse and exploitation. Half the Sky tells the stories of women across the developing world facing such challenges, but rather than being upsettingly depressing, it remains positive and upbeat, focusing on the advances and victories that have been obtained, and the often inspiring stories of the women who achieved them.

Sheryl WuDunn and her husband Nicholas Kristof had previously jointly won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting of the Tianamen Square protests, and has gone on to win numerous other awards since. They argue in their book that ‘the oppression of women worldwide is the paramount moral challenge of the present era’.

The Washington Post described Half the Sky as ‘one of the most important books we have ever reviewed – a call to arms that asks us to open our eyes to this enormous humanitarian issue’.

The Half the Sky Movement works to empower women and girls to fight poverty and extremism across the world. [Amazon]

The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz tells the remarkable story of how, after donating an old blue sweater to charity while at college in the US, she was amazed ten years later to see a young boy wearing her old sweater in Rwanda, where she was working as an aid worker. Stunned at how inter-connected the world is, she went on to write The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between the Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World.

The Blue Sweater describes Jacqueline’s trial and error approaches to supporting African woman through micro-loans and other means in her early days in Kenya, efforts which were very often unsuccessful and not appreciated by those she was trying to help. Over time and with reflection Jacqueline and her colleagues realised that more than just access to capital was needed if they were to transform the lives of the women they were seeking to help – women who have always been excluded from financial affairs, and must also find time in their day to struggle to care for their children, provide food and clean water and obtain basic health care, often with little support from men.

Jacqueline has gone on to found the Acumen Fund, which aims to use entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problem of global poverty. [Amazon]

Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara and Susan McClelland

As a small child in a village in Sierra Leone, Mariatu Kamara lived a peaceful life with her family and friends. One day during the civil war, the rebel soldiers came, many themselves children, and 12 year old Mariatu was captured and attacked. Having killed most of her family and friends, the soldiers decided to release Mariatu, but not before cutting off both her hands. Later, a she hid in the jungle she was faced with the challenge of how to feed herself and considered simply giving up, but she was determined to survive and finally managed to take a bite of the mango, she’d been given, holding it between her forarms.

The book tells of Mariatu’s experiences after the attack, and the difficulties she needed to overcome to adjust to life without her family or the use of her hands – including time spent in refugee camps, and begging on the streets of Freetown. Eventually she was able to secure a new life in Canada.

In recent years Mariatu has been named UNICEF Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, and has set-up the Mariatu Foundation to provide a much needed refuge for women and children in Sierra Leone. [Amazon]


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Photo by Afghanistan Matters, via Flickr

Mererani’s Tanzanite

Tanzanite is an impressive violet-blue gem stone that occurs is only one place; Mererani, near Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania, the country after which it is named.

Increasingly popular with jewellers and shopping channels, Tanzanite has had a poor ethical reputation – with a history of exploitation, child labour, inadequate safety standards, accidents, brutalisation, poverty wages and excess profiteering by foreign companies. Hundreds of miners have died in recent years in a series of mine collapses and floods. The short film Gem Slaves documented the appalling conditions and use of child miners in 2006.

In a recent effort to improve its image and the ethical standards of the industry the Tanzanite One corporation, which owns some of the largest mines, set-up the Tanzanite Foundation, which aims to certify ethical Tanzanite stones. As a result conditions in many of the mines have undoubtedly improved, but a lack of openness makes it impossible to be sure just how ethical tanzanite mining now is.

As Greg Valerio, jeweler, ethical activist and founder of CRED Jewellery points out: “There is no way to evaluate a companies claim to be ethical without openness”.

If  you’re considering buying tanzanite, or any other gemstone jewellery, it might be a good idea to check it’s origin and ethical credentials.

Knowing it’s been produced without exploitation will probably make it look even better.


Photo via Wikicommons

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