You're woken up by the rain [[leaking through the thatch again->patch the roof]] and hitting you on the head. It's heavy - already you can smell it in the air. The dirt of the floor feels colder, damper - before long the rain will be pooling outside the door and the months of mud will begin.
With your eyes open to the first light of the morning you can make out the silhouette of [[Aunty Amelia->Aunty]] kneeling by the stove. The smell of the millet bubbling mixes with the rain and the dirt. Next to you [[Henry->Henry]] rolls over and stretches.
"It's raining!" he whispers. "No [[mosquitoes->mosquitoes]]? Did you get any bites? I'm [[hungry->hungry]]."
"Shhhh," says Aunty. "Don't wake up the [[little ones]]."'You will go to school,' says Aunty Amelia.
'You will pray,' says Aunty Amelia.
'You will [[work->work]],' says Aunty Amelia.
'You will [[study->study]],' says Aunty Amelia.
'You will fetch water,' says Aunty Amelia.
'You will not [[get sick->Thomas' Malaria]],' says Aunty Amelia.
'I love you,' says Aunty Amelia.Your younger brother. A few years ago he and his twin, Thomas, got [[sick->Thomas' Malaria]], and ever since Henry survived he's been the golden child in the family. You're always grateful to have a brother but sometimes you wish he wouldn't eat quite as much or snore quite as loudly.You know they don't mean any harm - they just want food, [[same as you->hungry]]. But that doesn't make them any less scary. Ever since Thomas died, whenever you feel one prick your skin you feel panicked, feel your heart beating faster, feel hot and eyes wide and breath fast and scared.
So far, though, none of them have carried it and you've been OK. That's what the doctor said. She said you were lucky. You haven't been so lucky with the [[worms->worms]]. And anyway it isn't luck, that's what [[Aunty->Aunty]] says.
It was very good when you had that [[bednet -> bednet]] for a while, before it got a hole in it. Then you could sleep or just lie down without having to slap them away all the time.
<img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/164050/original/image-20170405-14626-wmjv97.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=1200&h=1200.0&fit=crop" width="600" height="600">Last week was bad. [[Uncle Wyatt ->uncle]] couldn't afford to send anything back home and you didn't find much to sell at the [[rubbish dump->rubbish dump]]. So there's only been enough millet for breakfast most mornings, and only [[Henry]] got enough of that to stop the ache in the stomach. Sometimes you want to complain but then you think about all the [[little ones]], staring at you with their big cute eyes, and you stop complaining and 'keep your chin up,' like [[Aunty]] says. And anyway you've seen her, she never eats anything - she pretends sometimes but actually then she doesn't put anything in her bowl and says 'Ah, I was so hungry I ate that too quickly!' But really she hasn't eaten anything, her bowl is still clean.
Hopefully it will be a good [[growing season ->work]] this year.
<img src="https://swahilivillage.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/porridge.jpg?w=640" width="584" height="778">
It was so awful. Most of all you remember he just seemed so small. Thomas, so cute, so little, now curled up into a tiny ball, shivering, eyelids flickering open but not seeing, too eaten up by the malaria to even cry. Every breath a wet rasp and the seizures, coming more and more, the beautiful body of your tiny brother spasming, lips foaming... All from one tiny [[mosquito->mosquitoes]] bite.
<img src="https://media.voltron.voanews.com/Drupal/01live-166/styles/817x459/s3/2019-04/4811760C-7BBD-4125-9B5D-D5DF19A758F6.jpg?itok=T-JNQWY7" width="875" height="583">You miss him, your little Uncle. He was sometimes grumpy and always tired from [[working->work]] or not sleeping or the [[worms]], but also he was very funny and always made you giggle, and when you were little he would let you swing from him upside-down.
You remember when he said 'We need to do something, [[Amelia->Aunty]],' on that afternoon after [[little Thomas went to Heaven ->Thomas' Malaria]]. And it wasn't like the other times he had said 'We need to do something,' before. It was different because a week later he left to go to the city, and now he [[sends money->mobile payments]] when he can, and sometimes you talk to him on Aunty's phone and 'he tells you to take care of the [[little ones]] and eat lots and study hard and that you will see him soon.' It's been three years now.Yep - that's where you're headed today. The dump... Yuck. A big stinky pile of stinky rubbish, somebody burning something gross, and almost never anything that's worth anything. Only one time did you find enough copper to actually get some good money, and even then the man at the shop who promised you a thousand shillings only gave you eight hundred.
You always try to argue with [[Aunty]] when she says you need to go, but it never works - it just gets you a whack on the bottom if you keep arguing.
Is it time to [[go already->progress]] - can you lie here [[just a little bit longer->Intro]]?
<img src="https://www.fairplanet.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/waste-africa.1544466957.jpg" width="800" height="533">They're not as scary as the [[mosquitoes]], but they're probably even more gross. You remember after the doctor came and gave you the pills and explained about them, [[Henry]] said 'They're like leeches, but inside,' and you shuddered. You still shudder now, thinking about worms coiled up in your stomach, eating [[your food->hungry]], making your stomach hurt so much, making you tired, making your [[thinking fuzzy->study]], and even making your bodily excretions (that's what [[Aunty]] calls them) sometimes have blood in them, though you try not to look, or think, about that.
A few of the [[little ones]] have had it much worse - it's so scary when their stomachs blow up like a balloon...
<img src="https://imperialighi.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/infected-child.jpg" width="600" height="896">They gave to the whole village, in boxes off the back of big trucks. Actually they gave so many, for a little while when [[Uncle Wyatt->uncle]] was home he even tried to use some of them to fish! But that didn't really work so well because they had some poison on them, to keep the [[mosquitoes]] away.
Those were very good months. You could sleep so much better without having to worry about the mosquitoes, and even just in the evenings you could sit under the net and [[do your homework->study]] and focus. But they haven't come back with any more boxes for a long time, and all the old nets have got holes in them now.
<img src="https://globalhealth.duke.edu/sites/default/files/posts/bednet_department_of_foreign_affairs_and_trade.jpg" width="812" height="611">The farm. So much work, never-ending work! [[William]] told you about a man called 'See-see-fuss' who had to push a boulder up a hill, and then it would roll down the hill, and then he had to push it up again, and if he didn't the Devil would poke him in the tummy with a spear. Except your Devil is [[Aunty Amelia->Aunty]] with her wooden spoon.
It's like that with the farm. You pull up the weeds, but by the time you're done weeding, it's time to harvest again. You harvest all the plots, but by the time you're done harvesting, it's time to plow again. You plow the soil, but by the time you're done plowing, it's time to sow again. You sow all the seeds, but by the time you're done sowing, it's time to weed again! Never any break! If you had a cow it would be easier, because it could pull the plow and you wouldn't have to break your back to do it, and that's the second worst part (the worst part is the weeding for sure).
<img src="https://www.dw.com/image/16294137_401.jpg" width="700" height="394">School is pretty good, and really, you [[don't mind the walk->William]]. Before he went away, [[Uncle Wyatt->uncle]] was always talking about getting a little motorbike to take you and [[Henry->Henry]] to school and then to drive people around for work, but [[it never happened->poor]].
You maybe go to school to school two or three times a week. It would be nice to go more to see your friends, and to learn to read and write and do mathematics, but often [[Aunty]] will need you to care for the [[little ones]], or work on the [[farm->work]], or cook or clean or get water or [[patch the roof]] or go to town to [[charge the phone->mobile payments]] or try to get some money at the [[rubbish dump]]. And sometimes you just feel [[too tired->worms]].
Your favourite is English, because you have the one big textbook that you can study from at home, and it has stories in it. The people in the pictures in the stories always have big houses made of concrete with [[tin roofs->patch the roof]] and cars. Once you asked Uncle if he was going to be able to buy a big house and a car, and he said probably not, but maybe you could if you studied hard! So you try your best even when you are really tired.
<img src="https://www.dandc.eu/sites/default/files/styles/article_stage/public/article_stage/sw-alphonce-shiundu-web-kenya-grundschule-118803962.jpg?itok=c6tFOrNG" width="620" height="413">
You are poor. There's no way around it. Even in the village, most people have a little bit more than you do. They have a cow, a [[tin roof->patch the roof]], a motorbike, maybe even a radio. The man who owns the shop in town even has a TV - you've seen the light coming through his window, which is made of glass.
And the [[rubbish dump]] is full of that kind of stuff. TVs, computers, even laptops and iPhones, sometimes. That's how you know how rich other people must be - if they can afford to chuck away an iPhone, they must be really rich. Not like [[Aunty]]'s [[little phone->mobile payments]] with its little cracked screen, which is the most expensive thing you own, and you don't own it anyway because it's Aunty's.
If you had money - wow. You could buy [[more food->hungry]]. You could buy a cow. [[Uncle Wyatt->uncle]] could come back home and buy a motorbike, to work as a taxi driver. You could pay the fees and go to [[school->study]] every day. You could even buy a [[tin roof->patch the roof]]!There are so many of them!! There's Adam, and Kofi, and Christina, and Aaliyah, and Jelani. Whenever [[Aunty]] goes to the city to see [[Uncle Wyatt->uncle]], she seems to come back with another one in her belly. And sometimes even when [[she doesn't...->William Senior]]
Some of them aren't so little any more. Adam is five years old! Every day of course you worry, because they're no good at stopping the [[mosquitoes]] from biting them all over, and you think about [[Thomas->Thomas' Malaria]] whenever you see the little red lumps on their baby skin. But you have to admit, even though they are SO ANNOYING, they are all very cute, and sometimes it can still be fun to chase them around the [[farm->work]]. The stupid roof. It ALWAYS leaks when it rains, and then Aunty ALWAYS asks you to fix it, and then you ALWAYS have just finished fixing it when another leak appears somewhere else. Down the road William's family have a proper tin roof that keeps everything nice and dry. Sometimes, if it's really bad, [[Aunty]] gets you to ask if the [[little ones]] can sleep there, but it's so crowded and also impolite so she says 'but let them know it's no trouble, only if convenient,' every time. Of course William's family always say yes, but sometimes you wonder if that's because of the way [[William Senior looks at Aunty Amelia->William Senior]], especially since [[Uncle Wyatt->uncle]] has been gone.
<img src="https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/LUzlMZ5MGjG.5lXtdBPOYA--/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA--/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/r4fWaUFSAGDJ2s1ELmzeyw--~B/aD01MTI7dz03Njg7YXBwaWQ9eXRhY2h5b24-/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp.com/ab50105dc74b55a23f05ab0fa52fd100" width="768" height="512">The phone! Your favourite thing is to talk to your friends from [[school->study]], or play the snake game, or talk to [[Uncle Wyatt->uncle]], but Aunty always growls at you if you're on for very long - even if [[Henry]] has been playing games for hours and you've only had a turn to talk for a few minutes. And then she makes you walk all the way to shops to charge the phone!
Sometimes the little messages pop up saying someone has sent money. Normally it's from Uncle Wyatt, but sometimes it's from [[William Senior]], which is always gross. Sometimes you dream about somebody rich just deciding to send lots and lots of money to a random number, and it's [[Aunty]]'s random number, and then you'd [[be rich->poor]]!
<img src="https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/thumbor/88nR-ff9Z9g5gUDo3BBy6r01-TI=/0x0:1980x1338/1200x0/filters:focal(0x0:1980x1338):no_upscale()/cdn.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/21870680/GettyImages_74504527.jpg" width="600" height="405">It gives you the creeps, actually. Lovely [[William]], just a few doors away, is so nice but William's father, yuck. And it isn't so nice because his name is also William, so sometimes you end up thinking about William Senior instead of William Junior and it totally ruins your daydreams.
William Senior has always looked at [[Aunty]] with that gross stare, like he's staring through her clothes. Sometimes he even licks his lips! Once you said 'Aunty, that William Senior, he's bad news,' and she said 'Shhh, he's helping us very much,' but you could tell from the way she said it that she thought he was bad news too. But it's true, you've seen it - sometimes his name comes up [[on the phone->mobile payments]] because he's given money, or he even sometimes gives you [[food->hungry]]. So you can't say too much too loudly, or he might stop and then you'd be in trouble. And you wouldn't want to say anything that might upset William Junior. William Junior. He's so cute. He always waits for you and walks with you to [[school->study]], and sometimes he even has a few sweets that he shares with you, or he lets you borrow one of his books. Always on those walks you wish [[Henry]] and the [[little ones]] could just GO AWAY for a bit so you could have some privacy.
The best thing about William is the way his arms poke out from his shirt, which is always very clean. When he isn't carrying any books, he walks with his hands behind him, like an old man, which is really cute. A little while ago, at school, he got one of his friends to give you a note, and the note said 'Shall we go to the dance together?' and you showed it to your friends and they were all so jealous. In the end you couldn't go, but still, it was really nice to get that note.With a sigh, you sit up from bed.
'Good morning, Aunty,' you whisper.
'Good morning,' she smiles. 'So - you're hungry? [[Help me wake]] the little ones before you go, and we will all eat together.'You shake Kofi on the shoulder, then Adam, and their eyes open wide. They are so quiet, especially for boys, not like Henry. You watch them yawn and you pinch Kofi on the chin - he is the cutest, for sure.
Next Christina, then Jelani. Jelani grabs your finger, doesn't open her eyes at first, just lies there, then suddenly she jumps up and gives you a big hug! Christina does her stretch, always the same, like the cats that hang around the shop in town.
Little Aaliyah, the littlest, you save her for last. She's so tiny - only six months old, from when Aunty went to the city and came back with a big packet of rice and a little packet of sweets and a little something else too, in her belly - [[Aaliyah]].She's maybe not as cute as Kofi, but still, she's your favourite. Something about the way she looks at you - like she is already old and knows everything about you. She doesn't cry very much anyway, but if you hold her, she always stops crying. With a big smile, you tickle her nose.
[[Nothing happens.]]You scratch her cheek, then shake her shoulder a little. Still nothing - no big eyes opening, no morning yawn, nothing. You put your ear up to her little mouth - her breathing is shallow, and very fast.
'Aunty,' you say.
'Help me with these bowls, please,' she says.
'Aunty,' you say again. [['Something is not right with Aaliyah.']]It happens very fast. Aunty does not cry - her mouth makes a very straight line.
She looks at Aaliyah, touches her face.
She says [['You will need to be a grown-up, now.']] She gives you the phone.
She takes Aaliyah and walks down the road to William's house.
William Senior comes out and they get on the bike and drive away.The next days are hard. You have looked after the little ones before, but not for so long, and not with so little food. Of course, William comes to help, and William's mother and grandmother too. But you know they don't have much food either - no one has had much money and not much has grown yet this year.
[[A day passes.]]Sometimes it happens when it gets colder, or hotter, or if the mud gets too wet. But this one is really bad. If you don't fix it up soon, the whole wall might fall in.You do the best job you can, just like your uncle taught you. You want to call him and talk to him about it - and just talk to him, hear his voice - but there's no time to charge the phone and no credit on it anyway, and anyway you don't want to worry him. It looks pretty good when you're done, but still, you're worried. What if it gets infected?When the rain keeps coming down, you take everyone to William's house. When you come back the next day some of the new patches have slipped off the walls of your house, and there's [[a big new crack]].
[[Another day goes by.]]You try to patch the wall, but then Henry steps on some glass, and you have to rush him to town, and after you spend the money getting some alcohol and bandages to [[clean the cut]], there isn't any money left.
You want to cry, but you don't have any time during the day, and at night there are too many people in William's house and you don't want him to hear you and think you are not strong.
[[That night, you can't sleep at all.]]When morning comes, the first thing you hear is - nothing. All the little ones are too tired and hungry - even Henry is too hungry to complain.
You force yourself to get up and smile. You know what Aunty would say - 'keep your chin up.'
'Good morning, everyone,' you say. You can hear your voice trembling. 'Let's see what we can find for breakfast, shall we?'
'Maybe this will help,' says a familiar voice. [[Uncle Wyatt walks into the room.]]His whole face is one big smile. In his hands is the biggest bag of rice you've ever seen.
'Uncle!' you can't help yourself - you run to his arms and hug him. 'You're back?'
'I am,' he says, 'and I'm not leaving again.'
'What?' you say. 'But how will you make money?'
'People are coming to this village to give us money,' he says. 'A lot of money.'
'What? How much?'
'Well - that depends. [['But that's not all.']]'What do you mean?'
'People might come to give us more bed nets, too.'
'Maybe - again, [[it depends.]]''It depends, it depends - what does it all depend on, uncle??'
'I'm getting there, don't worry. Before I tell you that, there's something else - people might be able to give us all medicine - the whole village - to get rid of those worms.'
'Are you joking, uncle? This is too much.'
'I'm not joking. It just all depends.'
'Well - so what does it all depend on?'
[['The people reading this story.']]Hey Lish :)
My (very delayed) birthday gift to you is this story. I don't know if you remember us talking about it. It isn't perfect, but hopefully you get the idea - rather than just giving people charity, you can give them something that connects a bit better to what the charity actually means.
I don't have to tell you, but this is the part where I would say something like:
This year, I've given you a $200 charitable donation to [[Effective Altruism Australia.->https://effectivealtruism.org.au/]]
If you haven't come across it, Effective Altruism is a movement that tries to direct charitable giving to the places where it will do the most good. A lot of very smart people spend a lot of time working out what is the best way to spend a dollar to make sure it makes better the most lives possible.
At the moment, those ways are the things you've seen in this story - preventing [[schistosomiasis]] and [[malaria]], and [[just giving people money]]. Depending on which charity ranking site you look at and when, there's a few other obvious contenders - preventing [[blindness|https://www.sightsavers.org/]], [[vitamin supplementation|https://www.hki.org/]], and treating [[obstetric fistulas|https://hamlinfistula.org/]].
Personally, I give 5% of my income to these causes every year (as well as to [[effective climate change mitigation efforts|https://www.rainforestcoalition.org/]]). It's not much of an inconvenience to me, and somewhere, it makes a few people's lives a lot better.
To learn more, I'd recommend reading (or listening to) the Aussie philosopher Peter Singer - his book is available for free at [[here->https://thelifeyoucansave.org/]].
Lots of love,
I'll give you the 'code' to this, so that you can edit it however you like. I don't know if it's something you're still interested in, but if it is, obviously feel free to mess with it as you see fit. It's sort of a fun thing to do, I think. Oh and obviously happy to help out wherever/however :)
PS. I did actually make a donation on your behalf too!Schistosomiasis is an awful little parasitic worm. Amongst many other awful things, it causes chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stool and urine, and eventually, liver damage, kidney failure, infertility and cancer. It very often infects children, where it causes learning difficulties and prevents normal growth. It might not surprise you to learn people with schistosomiasis live shorter lives.
It costs about a dollar to treat schistosomiasis. About two hundred and fifty million people have it.
Learn more here: https://www.givewell.org/charities/sci-foundation
Malaria is horrendous. Intense pain, fever, vomiting, blood in urine, anemia, convulsions and eye damage. There's a very good chance that, untreated, it will kill you. It does kill a lot of people - in 2018, it infected 228 million, and killed 405,000. And most of those people are children.
An insecticide-treated bednet costs about $5.
Learn more: https://www.givewell.org/charities/amfOne of the most important things that's been learned from recent studies of charitable giving is how effective it is to just give people money. The myth that people will waste money on alcohol, cigarettes and so on isn't true - there are now a multitude of studies showing people spend on the things they really need like:
-animals or vehicles that enable small business ventures,
-education for their children,
We (people in industrialised nations) don't know what's best; the people who are actually in the situation do.
Learn more here https://www.givewell.org/charities/give-directly#Does_it_work