New beginnings and sad endings
POVERTY ANSWERING BACK Video of 8 90-second films Age range: 14-18 Oxfam Publishing 274 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7DZ.
It's quite a hike from Albert Square to Madras but it's one that erstwhile EastEnder Sean Maguire makes enthusiastically on behalf of Christian Aid. The result, two videos which use more or less the same footage but which are pitched slightly differently for their respective age groups, is a jolly, up-beat look at two development projects in India.
Maguire makes a personable spokesman for the charity and its partners and enjoys an obvious rapport with the young people he meets. He plays cricket, he performs in street theatre, he lounges by a pool (to make the point that we all take water for granted), all of which are bound to endear him further to young fans and which have accounted for a surge in sales of these videos.
One cannot carp at Christian Aid for cashing in on his celebrity. After all, charities have been doing this to great effect for years. But the net result is less an examination of rural and urban poverty than it is a chance for Christian Aid to blow its own trumpet.
No one could argue that empowering people to help themselves and improve their quality of life is a Good Thing and the charity is to be rightly congratulated for its efforts in this respect. But there is more than a hint of "didn't we do well?" smugness here.
Yes, you see the relief that prosperity can bring: that running water can change people's lives, that a goat can make all the difference between a life of despair and ignorance and one of relative comfort and optimism. But did we really need to hear the name behind the improvements reiterated at every turn?
This is development at its most cheerful and sanitised, carefully packaged for digestion in western school rooms.
There is no such comfort to be drawn from Oxfam and Channel 4's Poverty Answering Back. This is a series of eight short films made by commercial ad directors which highlight poverty around the world (including the West). The results are stark, direct and unbearably moving. They briefly illuminate the lost hopes and dreams of the destitute and dispossessed.
A bleached wooden boat lies on its side in a remote Newfoundland fishing village. "I built that boat to go to sea to make a living" says its owner. "Now there's no fish."
A nun working in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Managua says of the local children "They have a stunning will to survive" almost in surprise as though, even with her faith, she wonders why they make the effort. In this country, we spend more than 30 times as much on household plants as her town spends on its health budget.
Such short, sharp, shocking stories are all the more effective for their brevity. They offer no light at the end of the tunnel but are sure to leave classes clamouring for answers to the multi-million dollar question: why?
All three videos are well served by their accompanying teachers' notes, particularly the Oxfam pack, which has various exercises, discussion points, games and role-playing.
The Christian Aid duo come with copies of The Global Gang, a lively, information-packed newspaper, and teacher's guide.