Charity begins at home, does it?

Charity begins at home, does it?

Charity begins at home, does it?6

Fundraising | David Philpott | 25 Jan 2012

David Philpott returns to East Africa to see the fruits of aid spending first-hand in Uganda.

“How many died in the Civil War?” I ask to nobody in particular, as we bump along the dirt track, carefully negotiating the occasional crater on a feeder road that will eventually lead us back to the asphalted highway. “300,000” says Alex Aisu, our driver, emphatically.

“I think, many, many thousands more than that,” suggests Peter Walukamba, sitting beside him in the front of our Nissan Hardbody.

“You should Google it” suggests Richard - my fellow Mazungu (white man) - rather helpfully, but in my long quiet reflection, I decide that I don’t want to. When you start using numbers in the hundred-thousands you can forget the individuals and it all becomes meaningless, like the difference between billions and trillions at an international bankers convention.

It is more than ten years since the sights, sounds and pungent aromas of East Africa have assaulted my senses. I have come back – not to Kenya or Tanzania which I knew so well – but this time to Uganda –a place that Churchill described as the Pearl of Africa. I am here to see first hand the work of Fields of Life - an Irish charity which for nearly twenty years has been bringing quality education and clean drinking water to what used to be known as The Killing Fields.

We are in the Luwera Triangle and have just been to see Michael Muhumuza who had won the tender to build a new Fields of Life school in Kasizi. At a cost of £75,000 – when finished it will provide primary schooling for up to 500 children. Now it is providing work for 60 people, half of them from the local community and is therefore regenerating the local economy. The cement mixers and brick-layers and cooks and carpenters are each earning up to $40 a week. “Someone needs to calculate what the follow-through of that money is,” I thought to myself, as I imagined how many small-holders, bakers, water-sellers and so on, would get some of that money and where in turn they might be spending it.

There are just four of us on this 'boy’s own' road trip – Richard Spratt – CEO of this not-for-profit organisation – and our two African compadres; Peter who is responsible for running two water drilling rigs and Alex who looks after the child sponsorship program which matches over 3,500 kids to sponsors. I am impressed by their diligence. Peter tells me of his weekly routine:

“Mondays and Tuesday I usually stay in the office to catch up with paperwork” he says, slowly, carefully, as if reminding himself of just how important this part of the job is. “Then I spend the rest of the week visiting the schools,” he continues. “We have about 65 schools with sponsored children in them, so I visit the schools to make sure that the children are still there and attending classes. If they have moved on – maybe their parents have taken them to another district - we try to find them. The money always stays with the child,” he concludes – as if this were a doctrine of faith.

"She had no name when we found her"

We swing by New Beginning Orphanage and meet Roger Annet, a builder, who gave it all up to come out here and create this amazing haven. Think Justin Lee Collins meets Johnny Depp and you have Roger – a cool dude indeed. One of the 60 kids literally climbs up into my arms and clings so hard that I fear she will never let go.
“What’s her name?” I ask Roger.

“She had no name when we found her in the slums of Kampala but now she is called Faith Annett,” he says, as a dozen other children cling to him or play at his feet.

We move on just along the road and visit another school – the Royal Grammar School in Nakasongola district – and I meet David Charlton. This visionary – for there is no other word for it - has assembled 48 people – mostly men – who for the priviledge of paying £1,800 each, will spend a week or so shovelling dirt, mixing concrete, laying bricks and putting a roof on a pair of new dormitories. He calls them Hopebuilders. I shake his hand and salute him before we move on. We have many miles to cover today.

We are now heading North – having left the Luweo Triangle - but still the horrors of the Civil War that ended in 1986 keep re-surfacing – as if by talking about them – my two new African friends will excercise the demons out of their national history. Fields of bones and skulls are described, forced prostitution, mass executions, even mass suffocations.

We reach the North near Lira but still the horror stories seep out from their mouths like puss from an undressed wound. It is tales of Joseph Kony and his famed Lord’s Resistance Army that terrorised this nation in the name of the God of the Old Testament with 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'. I am glad to reach the gorgeously named Gracious Palace Hotel and not in the least surprised that it isn’t.

Morning comes but we must set off early, for the drillers will be sinking a new bore hole today. Some 20 kilometres into the bush, meandering around mud huts and along tracks only wide enough for bicycles, we finally find them sinking a shaft to the water table. It will cost £3,300 but this well will bring clean water to up to 3,000 people every day – and therefore abate that twice-named grim reaper of Cholera and Typhoid and all the life-destroying parasites he brings in his wake.

We are back to the road trip, now heading South and East, to check on another new build school project. But I am lost in thought. I hear my dear old grandad, long since burried, and a thousand other voices echo in my head – the voices I have heard all my life.

“Charity begins at home” he said.

“None of that money you give to Africa ever gets there” he said.

“It’s all a con” he said.

“Not for Faith Annett, its not” I say out loud to the ghost of my grandad past.


Bryn Price
Kent People's Trust
27 Jan 2012

No charity will ever change all the issues mentioned, but eventually the people we have helped will have time on their hands, because they don't need to spend it carrying water for miles, and the education that will allow them to solve their countries problems. All charities can do is help them survive and get past the hygiene factors and start on the road to building (or re-building) their societies.

Niki May Young
Website editor
Civil Society Media
26 Jan 2012

Thanks for your comments, of which all are very happily received. I'd like to have my personal say on this matter as well. I happen to be a volunteer for a charity which builds schools in remote villages in Africa, and I'm sure Barbara that if you also took a trip out there you would learn why.

The areas that we work in suffer from extreme poverty, but have dedicated individuals providing rudimentary education, and seeking assistance to allow them to improve upon the education systems that they provide - we specifically select projects with strong local support to ensure their survival. For instance our school in the Ashanti region in Ghana was a literal shack run by passionate local volunteers who were working their absolute hardest to ensure these children's education. They lack the funds, or the government infrastructure to provide a better education, or educational facilities.

We work with local government wherever possible to provide the best possible education to the children who live there who, sadly, at present would not have a decent standard of education without our support. Like it or not, the infrastructure in many parts of Africa does not yet support its education system. By funding education projects international aid agencies, like mine and undoubtedly the one the Mr Philpott is visiting are helping to furnish future generations, so that they no longer need our assistance, and if we help with a few mosquito nets along the way why not? I personally know several children, parents and siblings who have suffered the tragic death of kin to malaria, if it can be prevented easily with our assistance why not? We're born into relative fortune, is it not our responsibility to do what we can?

25 Jan 2012

And what will happen with people when the Great People will eventually leave? Or is this Victorian paradise going to last forever, presumably because goverments of some countries will always prefer to spend money on arms instead of schools and infrastructure knowing that the Great People will come? C'mon!

David Philpott
26 Jan 2012
Response to [Barbara]

"Great People?" " "Victorian Paradise? I am confused Barbara. The vast majority of people I have met in International Development over the past 20 years have been extremely humble and certainly not the Victorian do -gooder colonialists that you seem to be implying..

I do not know all the reasons why Africa starves or why children die in their tens of thousands because of malaria and water borne deseases nor indeed whether there will ever be a time when the international aid agenciues can leave.

What I do know is that they are making a diference to hundreds of thousands of lives every minute or every day. There but for the grace of God go I............

30 Jan 2012
Response to [David Philpott]

Well done and please keep it up.
I am a deputy headteacher at Gayaza high school in Uganda and my interest is in helping rural schools to provide the right education. I am an enthusiast in using technology in education and project based teaching. Please visit out E-learning platform at and our website at to follow the work we do. We are lucky to be a good school and it is against this background that we base our efforts to support education in Uganda.We document good students' work in a shareable form using the available technology .We can share teaching content and advice through your project leaders who can access the internet. Local support will go along way to develop teacher motivation. Do not give up.

26 Jan 2012
Response to [David Philpott]

Why, this is the first question people should ask themselves - why indeed these children are dying and people starve and there is no education and death-at-childbirth rate is so high (...and so on and so forth...)? Let them sell their agricultural products to protected markets of Europe and USA and you'll see how fast people will find will and courage to fight for their right to education, health and justice. European farmers (but not only them) are receiving hundreds of millions of euro in a form of direct subsidy, external agricultural production is buried under import taxes and we are talking about people who go there and build schools for these poor souls who otherwise would what? Die of starvation? Or diseases? All of them? Because life in Africa started with Western missions 2 centuries ago? Be honest and admit that you just like to go there. I know it's extremely rewarding.
We have very interesting conversation here. I have moral problems around international development for years, glad to hear other voices.


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David Philpott

David Philpott has over 30 years experience of working in the UK, USA and Africa in a career which has spanned local government, Christian missions, the National Health Service, broadcast media, event and conference management, international development work and leadership.

A previous Charity Principal of the Year he now runs his own management and marketing consultancy.


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