There’s a scene in the film Schindler’s list, where freedom is in sight for the Jewish people but Oskar Schindler is having to flee. He looks around at the mass of people he helped keep alive and no one would complain if he then surveyed the survivors and shouted at how great it is that so many survived.
Instead he looks at what he still has, the ring made by hidden bits of gold fillings, his car to help him escape… How many more people’s freedom could he have bought? It’s the part of the movie that always gets to me. That realisation that how ever much you have given, you might have been able to give that little bit more. As a Salvationist it’s something that drives me:
“While women weep, as they do now,
While little children go hungry, as they do now,
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now,
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!”
― William Booth
There are some people who know the value of a life and put themselves in a position to do the most good. Oskar could’ve sold his car, but that lavish lifestyle helped get him into places where he could do the most good. Would he have been able to get into the nazi regime if he had turned up on shanks’ pony? If he turned up to a party asking to buy human beings but only bringing cheap wine, would he have got through the door?
I have been lucky enough to experience poverty and to be around people who know how the price of a coffee for some, could mean the difference between an evening meal or a night of hunger. I’ve met women selling their bodies to unknown men in darkened cars so they can put £10 on their electricity meter, and although the going rate for sex in Leeds is a little higher (sorry to be blunt, but sometimes you just shouldn’t mince your words), each time I go into a costa coffee shop I’m reminded of the women I met who charged less than the price of my coffee.
Lucky? Yeah, it’s strange to think of it as luck. A privilege maybe to know real survivors and real strong women, yes, most definitely.
A lot of my ideas and university projects are based around charity projects, mittens for women who work in the cold, craft classes that are cheap enough for all, knitting groups in places that don’t expect you to pay a fortune for a drink.
I know how many people in poverty don’t have the luxury of a wide screen TV and SKY (despite the myth that we all do) I read the studies that show how knitting and crafts can help boost confidence and keep depression at bay, but I also know how the hidden extras of attending a craft group can keep some from benefiting.
Our latest project at Uni is a craft project. We’re making a quilt by hand, learning the techniques of making and producing a one of a kind item. Two quilt groups, two single quilts.
We asked what is going to happen with the quilts at the end of the project and were told they would be given to a local charity for a family in need. Two quilts to help two families.
And yet… Something bothers me.
I’ve seen before where something is given to charity with conditions, or in some cases, no conditions but the wrong gift.
Recently I heard a story from members of the guild for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.
They had a community project where they made knitted squares that were sewn together to make dressing gowns. The idea being that they would keep someone warm over winter when they couldn’t afford heating.
This might be the charity they gave them to.
Nothing wrong with the idea I suppose, not my cup of tea. I’d rather keep warm with heating or in something a bit less colourful, but the thought is certainly there.
The story I heard was that members of the guild were becoming increasingly worried about the squares they were knitting. Would a person in poverty know how to wash their hand spun, hand knitted luxury squares? Would a poor person know how to wash delicates?
I pointed out to the people worrying that the chances of the person having the means to wash the dressing gown was more of a worry than whether they would damage all their hard work.
It’s not just that many people in poverty don’t have a washing machine, nor is it the lack of laundromats in poorer areas, the simple choice of fitting one bulky gown over several everyday items of clothing into the machine means they might never get washed. At a fiver a load, washing clothing becomes a choice of what is needed most.
There is another niggle I have about choosing what to give. I know many people don’t give cash to people begging on the streets and I see the logic in donating that money to a charity instead, each to their own in that respect. As long as you really do give to the charity instead!
It’s the giving situations where choice is denied the receiver. Those times when you decide to buy the guy a coffee instead of giving cash, but don’t ask first whether the guy even likes coffee, never mind if he even wants one.
The ever recurring rumour that the government will give people on benefits cards to shop in certain places instead of allowing them the choice to spend the benefit money where they want (yep, I know it allows people to spend their benefit on things you might not approve of, I’m sure some of you’ve spend money on things I don’t approve of) So what if some of my benefit money is spend on wool, it keeps depression at bay, has got me into University, and put me in the positive mood to write this blog that you so enjoy.
It’s the removing of choice I disagree with. The idea that because you are poor, your choices cannot be trusted. The feeling of despair you feel when you have so little, and then even the freedom to choose is removed from you.
And that, kind of brings me back to the quilt.
It’s a lovely gesture, hand sewing a quilt, putting hours of love into the project, imagining the faces of those little poor kids who can’t wait to sleep under their quilt. Won’t they be so grateful, so appreciative, won’t they just love me all the more for it, won’t I be treasured in their minds with every warm sleep they get because someone hand sewed a quilt for them. And won’t I get such a warm fuzzy feeling in my giving. Won’t I sleep so soundly under my 15 tog duvet with freshly laundered cover knowing that somewhere in town is a little child sleeping under my thin hand sewn quilt.
And suddenly it no longer becomes about helping a family, but about how grateful they should be and how fuzzy my feelings will be.
I challenged this idea, suggesting an alternative. What if the charity were allowed to sell the quilt, maybe they’d get £100, maybe £10, but what if that quilt could help 2 people? Two quilts, four families helped? Two quilts, twenty families helped?
A quick look on Asda gave me this information:
£7 – single size summer duvet
£15 – Slumberdown 13.5 tog duvet and pillow set.
Hand sewn traditional quilts are lovely, don’t get me wrong. I’d love someone to make me one, but it would just be decoration. The quilts at Uni are filled with the thinnest stuffing available and small, they just fit a single bed. You couldn’t wrap up warm in one.
It wouldn’t replace the softness of a cheap duvet, and it can’t be changed with a new cover as often as the £7 Asda duvet. Who’d pay me £14 for a hand made single duvet? (I’m imagining hands shooting up) Two children will benefit if you do, what about £21 (three children) how many children do you want to keep warm?
Sadly, I’m in the minority. One family is going to receive our quilt, I hope they like it, maybe they’ll spread it across their knees while watching the wide screen TV they don’t have, maybe they’ll spread it on the floor as a rug. Our quilt group has chosen what will happen to it, we now have to choose which charity is given it.
I have another suggestion, what if every student in the quilt group took the finished quilt home for one night. What if they turned off their heating, removed their duvet and spent the night under the quilt, then decided whether it would benefit a family.
What if I took them on a day trip, I could show them the family who live on my street, no wallpaper, little furniture and bits of scrap carpet for walking on. Four people living in a one roomed flat, a teenager and his little sister sleeping night after night on the sofa (year after year!), mum and grandmother sharing the only bed. What if the students were allowed to go to their little flat and hand the quilt over, sure the fuzzy feeling would be overwhelming, and my neighbours would be grateful, oh my, they would be so grateful. What if, when walking out of the flat I pointed to another flat, same situation. What about them? Two quilts… How many families?