Comic Relief has been an amazing initiative since Richard Curtis, Lenny Henry and others began it in the mid 1980s. Combining the talents of comedians with the desire to educate people about the needs of the poorest and neediest both in Africa and in the UK was a risky venture but has worked. Not only have they successfully raised huge sums of money they have educated, and drawn in sports people too through the creation of Sports Relief.
This year we have already had the popular embarrassing display of comedians dancing in ‘Let’s Dance’ raising over £1,000,000 and the quieter but clever Radio 4 ‘Stand Up’ we have also had the very powerful and deeply moving documentary which showed Lenny Henry, Angela Rippon, Samantha Womack and Reggie Yates spending a week in the Nairobi ‘slum’ of Kibera. I put ‘slum’ in inverted commas because during the documentary Angela Rippon was rightly chided by her host for calling it a slum with ‘this is our home’. To be fair to Angela R she was the one who noted most the level of pride in the home, clothing, school uniforms and the rest that is taken by those who live in these appalling conditions. The documentary was very powerfiul. To see Lenny Henry broken by his experience of spending just a few hours with a child-headed household living with the foul overflowing pit latrine next to them and overflowing through their single room was quite a sight. With him I have no doubt I would have broken; I too, though rather less rich than Lenny H, could afford to buy this family a new home at just £1200. I would want to find a way of supporting them to stay in education and offer them hope for the future. It was no surprise to see at the end that all 4 of the celebrities have found themselves helping those with whom they stayed to try and improve their situation. None of us can solve all the poverty ourselves but each of us can change things for someone, or a few.
Through my involvement with CMS I have heard many stories about Kibera because CMS support people who work there. This work is hugely impressive, partly because it is there for the long haul, and because it is taking a holistic approach – the physical, moral, social and spiritual well-being are all part of the work concerned.
I think that Comic Relief and the BBC are to be highly congratulated on this latest foray into educating people into the realities of poverty in Africa. Inevitably planting 4 celebrities with camera crews makes the whole thing ‘unreal’; but the obvious real reactions of pain and anguish seen in all 4 celebrities show they did see stark reality and hopefully it will encourage many to support Comic Relief’s work especially this coming Friday.