It’s a holocaust and it’s happening now.

 

Could this be a message of change for 2017? A friend in Saudi Arabia sent me a link to it. It is neither hopeful nor inspirational, unless you do something with it. Please forward. If enough people want it to be, 2017 can be the year when our political leaders stop standing by watching and wringing their hands and take action to stop this and similar horrors around the world.

’Don’t ask me who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. I don’t know. And frankly it doesn’t matter… Who is marching to stop this?‘

What a party!

By Mary Helms

We celebrated Cheryl’s 60th birthday in Paris, more than 20 of us, surprising her at an intimate gala at George V. What a party!

So some of us had amazing memories as we gathered at a neighbor’s home to surprise her for her 70th. There were new friends added, lovely food catered, and the best of wines. A true feeling of anticipation and festivity as we waited for Cheryl to arrive! The rain added to the excitement as we wondered when she would show up!

And show up she did, her recent discovered Parkinson’s trembling. We trembled with her, four of us who had strokes since the Paris party and the spirits of Ann and Bill and Jack whose laughter was a bright memory. And just before the cake was cut, the rainbow came, double and complete, horizon to horizon! And we trembled once more, all of us. What a party!

Damn you all to hell

This story also comes from the excellent Letters of Note website,

In July of 2012, in an admirable attempt to secure him as a guest on his Nerdist Podcast, Chris Hardwick sent a beautiful 1934 Smith Corona to noted typewriter collector Tom Hanks and popped the question. Within days, Hanks responded with the charming letter seen below, typed on the Corona.

27 Tom Hanks Smith Corona 27 Tom Hanks letter

Unsurprisingly, the anecdote-filled podcast that resulted is wonderful. It can be heard here. And here’s the text of that splendid letter.

Dear Chris, Ashley, and all the diabolical genuies at Nerdist Industries.

Just who do you think you are to try to bribe me into an appearance on your ‘thing’ with this gift of the most fantastic Corona Silent typewriter made in 1934?

You are out of your minds if you think… that I… wow, this thing has great action… and this deep crimson color… Wait! I’m not so shallow as to… and it types nearly silently…

Oh, OKAY!

I will have my people contact yours and work out some kind of interview process…

Damn you all to hell,

(Signed, ‘Tom Hanks’)

 

Broken sandals, worth one more repair.

by Ken Burnett

This story sets out to answer every potential donor’s question about whether charities are really doing any good. I’ve included it because it shows even my broken shoes have a story to tell.Broken sandals
I took my broken sandals to the shoe-mender across the road from my London flat. ‘These are unusual,’ he observed as I handed them over. ‘They’re from Ghana’, I told him. ‘ I bought them from a street vendor in Accra for less than two pounds but they are the most comfortable shoes ever, leather throughout. Though, not stitched or glued very strongly.’ I saw that he’d noticed their earlier mends. ‘Yes, I responded to his query, one repair was done in Bangalore, India, the other in Kathmandu, Nepal.’



‘They’re expertly done’, he said with respect. ‘How do you get to travel to such a lot of exotic places?’ I explained that, at the time, I was a member of the international board of trustees of ActionAid, the poverty fighting development charity. Each year at least two of our board meetings were hosted in different programme countries, so I got the chance to go somewhere far-flung and interesting. He looked at me incredulously, then a bit askance.



‘That sounds like quite a game’, he said. ‘These charities seem to have no end of fun spending their donors’ money organising meetings all over the place.’


It’s a natural criticism, not an unreasonable observation. Sometimes, it’s best to leave people with their preconceptions. But I know this guy, so I was happy to enlighten him.



‘You know,’ I said, ‘one of the biggest problems to overcome when fighting poverty is the often low standards of leadership and governance in developing countries. It’s a major cause of grief in many developed economies too, as we’ve all seen recently. But many poor countries lack the culture, capacity and traditions of good self-management. These are particularly essential characteristics in non-government organisations that are campaigning for human rights and lasting social change. So in ActionAid we’re investing in building governance capacity in all our countries worldwide.’



‘It’s a huge task,’ I continued, ‘one that can’t be done on the cheap. Relative to other perhaps more tangible investments, such as delivering food aid, building schools, digging wells and such like, the outlay is small. But the effects are likely to be much deeper and longer lasting. Our aim is to create strong, competent, well-run, self-sustaining, independent national boards that are capable of determining their own local and national priorities within ActionAid’s broad strategy, Rights to end poverty.
’

ActionAid works in getting on for 50 countries around the world, from Afghanistan and Brazil to Zambia and Zimbabwe. In 2003 it was the first major international charity to shift its international headquarters from a base in the affluent North – London, to a capital in the global South – Johannesburg. Its chair of trustees when I was on the board was a Ugandan woman; its chief executive was an agriculturalist from Nepal. Seated around its top governance table you’d find representatives from national boards that ActionAid has created and is supporting in Malawi, Guatemala, India, Sierra Leone, Greece, Ghana, Denmark, USA, Australia, Uganda, Kenya, the UK and others. ActionAid’s international governance system enjoys all the colours of the rainbow and all the flavours of a Nepalese street market. Though it started in the UK, British trustees are determinedly and deliberately thin on the ground. At our most recent meeting there were more Indians and Brazilians than Brits.



Experience to date seems to indicate that ActionAid’s board does its job rather better now too. In many countries the new ActionAid boards have been able to secure top brains and experienced campaigners for change of a quality that would have been hard to find and attract if we’d only been fishing in British local waters. These new, developing trustees include many academics, politicians, business leaders, legal specialists and opinion formers.



But diversity brings better decisions by definition. In each country ActionAid’s new leaders know where the poverty is and what’s causing it, because they come from it and see it in their daily lives. It also brings credibility and acceptance too, as individual national ActionAids around the world are increasingly seen wherever they work as self-regulating independent members of a southern-led international family, not as agents of British or American influence. In today’s volatile international environment, this makes a huge difference.



But will this move increase the impact that ActionAid’s donors will have on reducing poverty? Without doubt, it will. ActionAid’s response to poverty includes not just the traditional pillars of rights to education, health, land, food, water, livelihood, reproductive and women’s rights but also the right to sound democratic governance at all levels. By building exemplary boards at the country level ActionAid is sending a strong, consistent message to the people and political leaders of each country where it works – a message that proclaims the importance of sound, just and equitable governance. And will train new generations to recognise what good governance is, and does.


Will this really help make poverty history? Not immediately, perhaps.  Rather, as I endeavoured to explain to my friend the cobbler, it requires persistence and substantial investment, starting now. But as my shoe purchase and their repairs showed, value for money in these countries is often of a different order of magnitude than we’d find closer to home.  Building better governance is a large and important step on the right path. And the evidence already shows it is working.

This article first appeared in 2008 when Ken was a member of the international board of the charity ActionAid, a role he relished for 13 years.

We tell true stories, mostly. And all the better for it.

by John Carey

What follows is an extract from John Carey’s introduction to The Faber Book of Reportage, 1987. Here he explains the distinction we have to think of between writing truth and writing fiction. When Carey refers to reportage he does so in the broad sense, meaning live, on-the-spot news journalism.

 

…if we ask what took the place of reportage in the ages before it was made available to its millions of consumers, the likeliest answer seems to be religion.

Not, of course, that we should assume pre-communication age man was deeply religious, in the main. There is plenty of evidence to suggest he was not. But religion was the permanent backdrop to his existence, as reportage is for his modern counterpart. Reportage supplies modern man with a constant and reassuring sense of events going on beyond his immediate horizon (reassuring even, or particularly, when the events themselves are terrible, since they then contrast more comfortingly with the reader’s supposed safety). Reportage provides modern man, too, with a release from his trivial routines, and a habitual daily illusion of communication with a reality greater than himself. In all these ways religion suggests itself as the likeliest substitute pre-modern man could have found for reportage, at any rate in the West.

When we view reportage as the natural successor to religion, it helps us to understand why it should be so profoundly taken up with the subject of death. Death, in its various forms of murder, massacre, accident, natural catastrophe, warfare, and so on, is the subject to which reportage naturally gravitates, and one difficulty, in compiling an anthology of this kind, is to stop it becoming just a string of slaughters. Religion has traditionally been mankind’s answer to death, allowing him to believe in various kinds of permanency which make his own extinction more tolerable, or even banish his fear of it altogether. The Christian belief in personal immortality is an obvious and extreme example of this. Reportage, taking religion’s place, endlessly feeds its reader with accounts of the deaths of other people, and therefore places him continually in the position of a survivor – one who has escaped the violent and terrible ends which, it graphically apprises him, others have come to. In this way reportage, like religion, gives the individual a comforting sense of his own immortality.

If reportage performs these social functions it clearly has a social value comparable to that which religion once had. Its ‘cultural’ value, on the other hand, has generally been considered negligible with certain favoured exceptions such as Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, which are allowed to be literature because their authors also wrote respectable literary hooks. The question of whether reportage is ‘literature’ is not in itself interesting or even meaningful. ‘Literature’, we now realise, is not an objectively ascertainable category to which certain works naturally belong, but rather a term used by institutions and establishments and other culture-controlling groups to dignify those texts to which, for whatever reasons, they wish to attach value. The question worth asking therefore is not whether reportage is literature, hut why intellectuals and literary institutions have generally been so keen to deny it that status.

Resentment of the masses, who are regarded as reportage’s audience, is plainly a factor in the development of this prejudice. The terms used to express it are often social in their implications. ‘High’ culture is distinguished from the ‘vulgarity’ said to characterize reportage. But the disparagement of reportage also reflects a wish to promote the imaginary above the real. Works of imagination are, it is maintained, inherently superior, and have a spiritual value absent from ‘journalism’. The creative artist is in touch with truths higher than the actual, which give him exclusive entry into the soul of man.

Such convictions seem to represent a residue of magical thinking. The recourse to images of ascent which their adherents manifest, the emphasis on purity, the recoil from earthly contamination, and the tendency towards a belief in inspiration, all belong to the traditional ambience of priesthoods and mystery cults. Those who hold such views about literature are likely, also, to resent critical attempts to relate authors’ works to their lives. The biographical approach, it is argued, debases literature by tying it to mere reality: we should release texts from their authors, and contemplate them pure and disembodied, or at any rate only in the company of other equally pure and disembodied texts.

The superstitions that lie behind such dictates are interesting as primitive cultural vestiges, but it would be wrong to grant them serious attention as arguments. The advantages of reportage over imaginative literature, are, on the other hand, clear. Imaginative literature habitually depends for its effect on a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ in audience or reader, and this necessarily entails an element of game or collusion or self-deception. Reportage, by contrast, lays claim directly to the power of the real, which imaginative literature can approach only through make-believe.

It would be foolish, of course, to belittle imaginative literature on this score. The fact that it is not real – that its griefs, loves and deaths are all a pretence, is one reason why it can sustain us. It is a dream from which we can awake when we wish, and so it gives us, among the obstinate urgencies of real life, a precious illusion of freedom. It allows us to use for pleasure passions and sympathies (anger, fear, pity, etc.), which in normal circumstances would arise only in situations of pain or distress. In this way it frees and extends our emotional life. It seems probable that much – or most – reportage is read as if it were fiction by a majority of its readers. Its panics and disasters do not affect them as real, but as belonging to a shadow world distinct from their own concerns, and without their pressing actuality. Because of this, reportage has been able to take the place of imaginative literature in the lives of most people. They read newspapers rather than books, and newspapers which might just as well be fictional.

However enjoyable this is, it represents, of course, a flight from the real, as does imaginative literature, and good reportage is designed to make that flight impossible. It exiles us from fiction into the sharp terrain of truth. All the great realistic novelists of the nineteenth century – Balzac, Dickens, Tolstoy, Zola – drew on the techniques of reportage, and even built eye-witness accounts and newspaper stories into their fictions, so as to give them heightened realism. But the goal they struggled towards always lay beyond their reach. They could produce, at best, only imitation reportage, lacking the absolutely vital ingredient of reportage, which is the simple fact that the reader knows all this actually happened.

When we read (to choose the most glaring example) accounts of the Holocaust by survivors and onlookers, some of which I have included in this book, we cannot comfort ourselves (as we can when distressed by accounts of suffering in realistic novels) by reminding ourselves that they are, after all, just stories. The facts presumed demand our recognition, and require us to respond, though we do not know how to. We read the details – the Jews by the mass grave waiting to be shot; the father comforting his son and pointing to the sky; the grandmother amusing the baby – and we are possessed by our own inadequacy, by a ridiculous desire to help, by pity which is unappeasable and useless.

Or not quite useless, perhaps. For at this level (so one would like to hope) reportage may change its readers, may educate their sympathies, may extend – in both directions – their ideas about what it is to be a human being, may limit their capacity for the inhuman. These gains have traditionally been claimed for imaginative literature. Bur since reportage, unlike literature, lifts the screen from reality, its lessons are – and ought to be – more telling; and since it reaches millions untouched by literature, it has an incalculably greater potential.

The collection: it’s never to late to do something wonderful.

It was cold and my feet hurt. I’d just been rejected, for the umpteenth time and been politely told off by a station guard for rattling my bucket. ‘It annoys the staff,’ he explained. ‘Well, if you do it too much it does.’ Then a dignified middle-aged man with a beard trailing his family behind him stepped from the throng that was flowing from the shopping centre and stopped, right in front of me. He looked me full in the eye as he dug inside his voluminous winter coat, pulled out his pocket book and proceeded to empty its contents into my bucket. My spirits soared. Then he gathered his family around him, mother, teenage son and two younger daughters and spoke to them for a while in a language I couldn’t catch. Soon they were all rummaging among their clothing. The procedure took some time. Then the teenage son, beaming from ear to ear, came over to pour handfuls more cash into my bucket.
‘Thank you’, he said, then bounced off with a spring in his step to catch his departing family. For the first time that day, I felt great.

36Collection1

I was with my wife, Marie, and younger son, Charlie, standing at the top of the escalators in Bond Street station, just outside the barriers. It was Easter Sunday and, though a lot thinner than we’d anticipated, a constant flow of shoppers was coming through. Marie and I each had a bucket, Charlie had two and we’d a three-hour stint to complete. We were collecting money for Syria’s refugees and those displaced by civil war inside the country, three million-plus and growing by the day.

That sea of faces rising from the escalators is daunting, first time you confront it. They come in surges, a mixed amorphous mass. The last thing they’re expecting to greet them is three white Brits in a line, rattling buckets. Not all are pleased. Most are indifferent. Some are, well, extraordinary. If only we could have an announcement at the foot of the escalator, saying, ‘Get your money ready!’

Bond Street station is the world in microcosm, a mini United Nations. In our three hours it seemed as if every conceivable ethnic grouping filed past us. We couldn’t help but notice which were the more generous. It wasn’t the white British middle classes, far from it. Charlie felt South Asians gave most to him – a Japanese woman with a huge smile gave him half the contents of her purse. A Chinese woman with a cheeky grin slipped me a tenner. But it was middle-eastern people, mainly Muslims, who put most in my bucket. Marie’s too.

Young couples are the least generous, or so it seemed to us, with older couples not far behind. Some people love givers and giving, so support us with looks. Others prefer to look away.
Three people come at me from different angles all at the same time. Briefly the bucket gets busy. I don’t know who to thank first, so I thank the whole foyer, loudly. The station manager beams. Everyone is looking at me now.

36Buckets

Then there’s a lull. Busyness comes and goes, but the shoppers are few and I fear it’s not enough. We’re doing badly. Someone tells us that most shops are closed. For a full 20 minutes everyone ignores us. Then Marie says, ‘I’ve got three tenners.’ I think of Pavarotti and Co. but resist breaking into song.

Smile. Make eye contact. The brightest eyes are the most generous, there’s no doubting that. The bucket feels heavier, but isn’t really. We stand stock still, not rattling, not moving, buckets aloft. Then, in unison, we give them a sway.

Children really enjoy giving. A man stood in front of me for several minutes digging in his pockets. Then, having found his oyster card, he left without giving. Behind him a gaggle of Syrian women, hands ornate with henna designs, ask if they can take my photo, then give me a pile of cash. ‘Here’s £10.00, says another woman, ‘Have a nice day and thank you very much for what you’re doing.’ Smarter-dressed people are not more generous. Expensive coats don’t give, we reckon.

A young Turkish boy maybe eight or nine asks me what I’m doing.‘Why are they fighting?’, he asks. ‘What’s a refugee?’ I try to explain but can’t give him a decent justification. ‘It’s just bad’, I say. ‘People have to leave their homes and loved ones in the middle of the night.’
He looks about to get emotional. ‘I’ll speak to my auntie, ‘ he promises, ‘and come back.’ He didn’t, though he tried, I’m sure. And used some of my lines too, I bet. Perhaps, as he grows, he’ll think about it…

A young Italian man asks me the way to Buckingham Palace. I oblige, though he gives me nothing but a smile. Then another chap asks me why I’m doing this. I should have quoted some lines from A A Gill in today’s Sunday Times, but I didn’t bring it with me.

As I watch, figures appear out of the darkness, bent double under sacks. Families hold hands, moving past us like heavy ghosts. This is the last leg of one of the most dangerous journeys on Earth.

Gill goes on, in similar, graphic vein. Note for next collection: bring a supply of moving emotional stories, because sometimes people want to talk. ‘Why isn’t there more on the News?,’ one man asks. Marie responds accurately. ‘I don’t know.’

Just as we were getting ready to go a woman in a headscarf walked up to Charlie and asked what he was doing. She was young, about 25, and crying, big tears running down her cheeks. As she left him to visit the cash machine in the corner of the concourse, her eyes met mine. Minutes later she was back, clutching money. She didn’t want to speak, just put two notes into my bucket, urgently. I watched till, with a gentle push from her, they were gone. Then so was she. I was overcome.

Our time was up. We thanked London Transport’s wonderful people, signed out then headed off to find a pub, thirsty and a bit tearful. As we sauntered down Brook Street a passing gent hailed Charlie. ‘For Syria’, he said, putting a fiver in Charlie’s bucket. For a minute I thought Charlie was going to say, ‘But we’ve finished for the day.’ He didn’t.

‘You’re a toff,’ he said, beaming.

Truly it’s never too late, to do something wonderful.

36haul

© Ken Burnett 2013

An abridged version of this article is featured on The Guardian’s website.

Ken Burnett is one of six independent trustees of the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee, the unifying body for 13 leading British aid charities which come together in times of great need to raise money for the victims of crisis and disaster. To support the DEC go here.

What happens when I try to give my Guantánamo guards presents?

From the Reprieve website. See below for details. 

Emad Hassan was abducted by bounty hunters while studying in Pakistan and sold to US forces for $5,000. A simple mistake in the confusion of interrogation sealed his fate – he told his interrogators he knew about ‘Al Qa’idah’, referring to a small village with that name near his hometown in Yemen. Emad was then taken to Guantánamo Bay, where he has been held ever since. He has been on hunger strike since 2007, longer than any other detainee.

Emad has never been charged with a crime and was cleared for release in 2009. But he has lost a third of his life to Guantánamo. These are his words.

 Emad Hassan

While I was being fed, the Block Commander fell down unconscious, his eyes rolled back up into his head, a choking sound came out of his chest and his legs kicked at something invisible. I watched for a second. Then two. Then three. I found myself crying, calling the medical team to come. I was worried about him. I forgot who we both were. The block guards jumped to his aid, trying to help him breathe. He was taken to the hospital.

Believe it or not, I was really worried about him. I tried to analyse my feelings later, but found it odd that I would do so. This is the reaction of any human, surely? But here in Guantanamo, things are different. I’m supposed to enjoy this terrible scene. I’m supposed to be happy to see this man suffer. After all, he is, as the colonel put it, “an enemy”. If he is truly an enemy, then I shouldn’t have called the medical team over, I should not have asked about his condition for the rest of the day. Yet I thanked God for my reaction – it means I am still human.

I agree with Colonel Bogdan the guards here have been suffering. Although he said guards here suffer from PTSD at twice the rate of combat troops and that was an absurd statement. [He later retracted it.] The guards here are suffering because of the inferiority complex with which they live. They are ordered to separate their bodies from their souls and to abandon their humanity, yet this cannot be. They are forced to ignore their emotions and feelings for others. More than that, an important part of them was murdered: Justice, freedom and rights were erased.

These are the principles that they live by and are willing to die for, that’s the fuel that keeps them standing their ground in Afghanistan. So, where is it here? Guards do what they are convinced is wrong and say what they believe is nonsense. Especially the Block Commander who collapsed unconscious.
 This life affected him; it created an imbalance within his personality. This conflict disabled his mind, eyes and ears and instead he used his boss’s mind, eyes and ears. What his boss decided, judged, said – that is what he does. He is a robot.

I once gave a guard a gift, if you can consider chocolate milk a gift. He refused it with a fierce look, as if I was trying to bribe him. I expected the refusal. A refusal like that is nothing new. But why did he react like that? Did the chocolate milk offend him? Did he misunderstand my simple action? I explained why I did what I did. I told him: ‘My religion and morals teach me to appreciate respect and so when you show me respect, I want to give you a gift. I know it is nothing – the chocolate milk, I mean – but as you can see, there are few things I have. If we were living outside in the real world, it would be different. I didn’t mean to offend you, it never came to my mind that such a simple offering would offend you.’

Even after this speech, he refused to accept the chocolate milk. Perhaps he just doesn’t like chocolate milk.
 I continued to give guards small tokens of my appreciation. The medical staff reacted in the same way. Some accepted, but most refused my presents. I had to explain why I was doing this to everyone, particularly the women. It is hard to get beyond their suspicion. I have learned that if you give someone something then you must expect something in return. And no one here – guards, medical staff – wants to give us detainees anything.

They believe it is a risk to accept something from us. Once, one guard saw another guard accept candy bars from a prisoner. The first guard told someone what had happened, and the guard who accepted the candy was punished and moved to another camp while the detainee was targeted and harassed by the guards. 
So now we have been taught as detainees that our job is to hate the guards and we will be punished if we do not do our job.

How many times have I been punished for this reason? Too many. But I refuse to stop. Sometimes the gifts are not just for them, they are for me, they are given to remind me that there is a place for gifts in my heart, to remind me that I am alive and am capable of love, honesty and sincerity.

 

Story reproduced with permission from Reprieve,

Reprieve logo
PO Box 72054
London EC3P 3BZ

020 7553 8140

info@reprieve.org.uk
www.reprieve.org.uk

Reprieve is a small organisation of courageous and committed human rights defenders, founded in 1999 by British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. Reprieve provides free legal and investigative support to some of the world’s most vulnerable people: British, European and other nationals facing execution and those victimised by states’ abusive counter-terror policies – rendition, torture, extrajudicial imprisonment and extrajudicial killing.

Reprieve’s lawyers and investigators are supported by a community of people from all around the world, connected by a belief in human rights and justice. Together, they fight for the victims of extreme human rights abuses with a combination of public pressure and legal action.

Join Reprieve and take action here.

 

 

The running man

From Born to Run

by Christopher McDougall

The Rarámuri, or Tarahumara, are a Native American people from northwestern Mexico, renowned for their long-distance running ability. In their language the term rarámuri refers specifically to the men. This passage was read at Sir Christopher Chataway’s memorial service, held at St John’s Church on 19th March 2014, a brilliant celebration of a wonderful life. Chris was one of Britain’s most famous athletes. He held the world record for the 5,000 metres and paced Roger Bannister for the first 4-minute mile. Though running was his passion, he was so much more; a highly successful businessman, government minister and chair of the international development charity ActionAid to mention just a few. A great man and a good friend too.

Borntorun1

‘That was the real secret of the Tarahumara: they’d never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind’s first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath, mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle – behold, The Running Man. Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten: you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn’t live to love anything else. And like everything else we love – everything we sentimentally call our ‘passions’ and ‘desires’– it’s really an encoded ancestral necessity. We were born to run: We were born because we run. We’re all Running People, as the Tarahumara have always known.’

Borntorun3

‘Oh me? I eat anything!’

This story illustrates the smug self-satisfaction of the seasoned traveler. I’ve included it because it has the power to make people squirm, simply because of its subject matter. When I’ve told this tale in public, grown adults have begged me to stop.

By Ken Burnett

It’s a great thing to visit the work and see for yourself. Stories just leap out at you, particularly in Africa, or anywhere in the developing world.

I was in Cambodia, with the charity ActionAid, on a private though semi-official visit as former chairman of the board. I was given some time off to see the country and, as I always do wherever I go, I was telling my hostess, a delightful young Cambodian woman called Boromey, that, of course, I have no dietary restrictions. Boromey was charged to take Marie and me out to lunch, and had asked out of simple politeness.

‘Oh me, I eat anything,’ I replied, with the smug self-assurance of someone who when in Rome, habitually does what the Romans do.

‘Would you like to try a Cambodian delicacy?’ she asked.

‘Of course’, I replied.

‘Ok she said. And I swear she smiled, sweetly but just a bit slyly.

The appetizers were brought, a rare Cambodian delicacy indeed. Three large, hairy tarantula spiders, deep fried but cold, accompanied by a small amount of bitter, quite revolting pepper sauce. I nearly fell off my chair. Boromey fixed me with a gimlet eye.

‘You did say…’
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
The beer can is strategically placed to give you an idea of the scale of this brute. Marie declined. I was firmly hoisted on my own wretched petard.

Tarantula
I thought the legs might be least revolting, because they looked crisp and not too hard to digest. This was a mistake. They were soft and chewy, pliable but covered in hairs and quite stringy. Not at all nice. And there were eight of them!

Then came the head. The abdomen had looked so bad I decided to leave it till last. But the head was about as revolting as I could take. Its soft skin was filled with a kind of puree, a pungent, sticky blackish-red paste. But it wasn’t some confectionary put in there by some chef with a twisted sense of macabre humour. It was whatever tarantula spider’s heads are habitually filled with, rendered into a horrid paste. It was execrable.

Then came the abdomen, the big body of the beast.

I was now sweating profusely and feeling squeamish indeed. But I gamely struggled on and ate the thing, to its last, obnoxious drop. The body was full of a greenish, more liquid fluid of very uncertain origins. Boromey was by now rolling between the tables with laughter.

Boromey and Keshav
Boromey and Keshav back at the office, looking very pleased with themselves.

OK, so I deserved it. But however long it takes, I will get even with Boromey, one of these days.

I’ll invite her to Scotland and offer her haggis. Only I’m sure she’ll like it.

Tripe and dripping, perhaps? Any ideas welcome.

The President’s Task Force

From Relationship Fundraising, by Ken Burnett, Wiley 2002.

This story is and example of supporter recognition par excellence. It’s included here because it shows that donors and volunteers want to be involved in their favourite causes and will happily go along with whatever creative ways we can find to make that involvement real. This story was first told to me by an eminent American database expert called John Groman.

Donors want to be involved in their favourite causes. Even if they clearly understand it as a device designed to secure their involvement, they appear not to mind at all. The joining of a structured scheme gets them in on the inside, usually at a very modest cost. Fundraisers and campaigners should capitalise on this compulsion to belong. Voluntary organisations have a clear and very desirable product in involvement schemes, one that is so far under-developed in many countries.

A classic example of how completely this can work in practice was the launching of the President’s Task Force, an elite donor group established by Ronald Reagan’s office shortly after his election in 1981 as president of the USA. Of course the qualification to join the President’s Task Force was that you should give a minimum donation – $10 each month – to campaign funds. Large numbers of patriotic Republicans rushed to do their duty, trading a small amount of their disposable cash for the recognition and reward that went with being able to tell friends and neighbours that they were a member of the President’s Task Force.

Various pieces of commemorative paraphernalia were produced and distributed in case members had to prove their status to doubting acquaintances who needed physical evidence of their friend’s important role in the affairs of slate. These included a ‘presidential medal of merit”, a presidential medal of merit lapel pin, a model American flag, which was dedicated en masse at a special ceremony in the White House, and inscription of the donor’s name on the ‘presidential roll of honour’. There was even an exclusive ‘members only’ Task Force telephone hotline.
Donors, of course, loved it. For just $10 a month this was real value for money. Most of all to encourage the authentic feel of the campaign the fundraisers had produced stationery that was the exact facsimile of the President’s writing paper. Colour printed and embossed, laser personalised and signed it looked exactly as it would had the President himself taken time out from his busy schedule to write a personal note to Elmer E Rosenblum, or whomever, to acknowledge his individual contribution and stress its importance to America.

More than a few of these letters were framed and hung in a prominent place in the family home so that visitors could be easily subjected to an hour or so’S dissertation on Elmer’ 5 sacrifice for his country.

Across the length and breadth of the entire United States, thousands of Republicans took their membership of the President’s Task Force very seriously indeed – and the dollars rolled into the President’s office as a result. Sustained by a brilliant direct marketing campaign of record and reward, the President’s Task Force gave its donors something beyond price – the prestige of practical involvement in something they believed in. As such it simply used the best of technique and technology, plus a forgivable amount of kitsch, to establish the ideal relationship fundraising proposition, an ongoing relationship where both donor and recipient could benefit in equal amounts, at the end of which a clear financial and practical target could be reached.

In relaying the case history of the ‘President’s Task Force’ at the International Fund Raising Workshop in Holland, John Groman of Epsilon Data Management provided an anecdote which summed up the power of the campaign.

Late one evening a motor-cycle patrolman flagged down a speeding motorist on one of America’ 5 interminable inter-state highways. With customary leisurely grace he strolled up to the driver, who appeared to be in something of a hurry, and proceeded to ask him to provide his driving licence and evidence of insurance. Without a word, but inwardly seething at the delay, the driver – it may even have been Elmer E Rosenblum – got out of his car and led the patrolman firmly by the hand round to the back of the car, to the enormous boot (or trunk) of his Cadillac. Still without a sound, but with a gesture of magnificently righteous indignation, he flung his hand dramatically down to point out the large and very official-looking bumper sticker which prominently proclaimed the ‘President’s Task Force’ and indicated that the driver was, in fact, nothing less than a member.

The patrolman was astounded. He stammered a fulsome apology, saluted, swore it wouldn’t happen again and waved his distinguished visitor happily on his way. I don’t know that the patrolman escorted Elmer across the state line with lights flashing and sirens wailing, but I like to think he did.PTF1