|Nell coping without a watch...|
Nell, 11, is upset that at the start of the summer holidays her watch stopped. Seemed symbolic to me, but it's easy to replace the battery, especially as the shop owner of Raymonds in nearby Highbury Barn loves fiddling with watches. It's his original trade, the one he learnt in India. Seeing the lifeless watch he seized his magnifying glass, prized off the back and located another battery. "That's £5," he said. "all this money, all the watch money goes to charity. To an Indian charity that feeds blind people. The £1 is so strong that this brings about 80 rupees - that can give four people dinner, a lot of food."
As my own children and relatives get older I seem to see more appeals for help with overseas projects, like this one my cousin Nick sent from his pet project in Sierra Leone. What's agreed is that everyone needs money, the question is, how to give it? Does it involve going to a country, or can the money be sent in more imaginative ways? Offering up a skill - as a friend say helping to install an app or cut a hedge, or as I did 20 plus years ago as a volunteer working in Solomon Islands for VSO - is definitely generous.
Or is it? The early VSOs were unskilled school leavers, often on a gap year before university (although they have been skilled experts willing to pass on knowledge for years now). But I know a 14 year old who is doing wonderful fundraising (odd jobs, babysitting and saving her own birthday money) to travel to an African country and help with building projects. Even so I don't think she is old enough to be able to help. And even if she was I think it would be much better if local people were given that training in their own locale. Keep these UK kids out of it.
I know that what I got back from the experience of working for a NGO (Solomon Islands Development Trust) overseas was surely greater than what I put in. Just a quick calculation includes a new language, friendships that have really lasted, a new way of thinking that's more cooperative (sort of the pacific way, but not quite), a love of having children around, ideas for my novel Coconut Wireless. That's a big list, if I hadn't gone to the Solomons my life would have been considerably less rich in experiences.
My watch-loving newsagent takes this further: "People in India have nothing, and expect nothing," he says. "That's why they sleep. They sleep soundly, anywhere, even in the street. But here in the UK everyone's worried, so worried they can't sleep. They have everything but they need pills to sleep. You can be happy with nothing."
Over to you
I've noticed that people with strong Hindu beliefs often come to a similar conclusion - but for me it's another rich reward for just popping into my local shop for a battery. My question is do you listen more because you've travelled? Or is this an age thing? Of course travelling is a lot of fun, but do you think it does anyone - but the traveller - any good?