When we get into the car to go pretty much anywhere, the children both bring with them their extensive collection of Roal Dahl and David Walliams CDs. The kids are normally putting their seatbelts on as I lock the front door and as I turn to walk towards the drivers door I know that without fail I will see my eldest, leaning forwards, one leg hoiked up in the air as she precariously reaches forwards to cram her CD in the slot before I have a chance to stop her. Despite my love of Roal Dahl’s tales and David Walliams humour, I have very much got to the point where if I have to listen to either one of them ever, EVER, again this year I might honestly cry.
However, on Sunday my daughter and I had our first ever girly shopping trip out into town together. I was a mixture of both delighted at our mother/daughter bonding day and also bleary eyed from our late (for once, very late!) night the night before. So when the Mr Stink CD stealthily appeared by my side before I’d even had a chance to put my belt on I caved, smiled sweetly (!) and conceded to listen. Not only were my eyes bleary but so was my brain (not having yet had a sip of the coffee I had brought with me), and so for want of giving my brain something else to do, I settled down to listen to the story. As the story unfolded I realised that I had never actually properly listened to Mr Stink before, merely allowed it to hum in my peripheral hearing.
Here is a quick synopsis if you are unfamiliar with this lovely David Walliams tale:
The story is about a little girl called Chloe who one day meets a tramp unlovingly nicknamed by the locals “Mr Stink”. Chloe is a deeply unhappy 12 year old who is being picked on and bullied by other children at her school. She is also unhappy in her home life and has no one to talk to about her problems. Mr Stink is an elderly gentleman who lives on a park bench, he is both smelly and old and people are rude about him. He is excluded from society because he is homeless and when, one day, Chloe sits down next to him on his park bench he is both surprised and delighted. From here on an unlikely friendship ensues.
As I listened I couldn’t help but make the comparison between what was happening in this story, with the book “The Locust Effect” by Gary Haugen (which focuses on social injustice). Now, I can almost see your eyebrows go up! So please bear with me as I explain the comparison between a child’s bedtime story and human rights work of non-fiction!
I have written about “The Locust Effect” a number of times and many of you are now probably aware that it is a work meant for an adult audience, about the horrors of violence endured by those living in poverty around the world.
The whole point of “The Locust Effect” is to explain the problem of violence that keeps those living in poverty, living in poverty. Hague’s compelling argument, and also multiple case studies, show that whilst money, food and water can be injected into developing countries, the sad truth is that it will never make the difference it needs to if the issue of violence isn’t dealt with. Violence is an every day issue for poverty stricken people. For women and girls it is frighteningly worse than for men, however men do also suffer significantly at the hands of violence. One of the strongest reasons for this happening is because if you are poor and living in a developing country then you are not protected by the law. Developed countries generally have sophisticated law agencies and enforcements which all citizens can benefit from. No doubt there will be some errors in the system but on the whole they are systems that enforce protection for all, both poor and rich.
“Violence is as much a part of what it means to be poor as being hungry, sick, homeless, or jobless. In fact, as we shall see, violence is frequently the problem that poor people are most concerned about. It is one of the core reasons they are poor in the first place, and one of the primary reasons they stay poor. Indeed, we will simply never be able to win the battle against extreme poverty unless we address it.” The Locust Effect
You may well ask who Gary Haugen is to be able to speak so authoritatively about this issue. Well! He is a human rights lawyer and he was chosen to head up the prosecution for crimes committed in the Rwandan Genocide. He speaks about his experience in the book and you realise very quickly that Haugen is a man who has seen much and understands even more.
In countries like Peru, India and Africa (to name just a few), if you do not have money then the police will not help you no matter how bad the crime you have suffered. You can have been raped and beaten but if you don’t have the cash then you don’t have the defence. The flip side of this is that if the wealthy commit a crime (and if you read “The Locust Effect” you will see how excessively this happens) then they merely need to slip some money to the “right” guy and their crime disappears. This system ensures that the weak (therefore the poor) are subject to crimes which are more often than not violent, and if not violent, then the threat of violence is used to achieve the same outcome. The fear of this violence is enough to squash people and keep them down.
“Most people do not live under the shelter of the law, but far from the law’s protection” UN Report
Right, back to Mr Stink!
Chloe is picked on for one reason: she is weak. I don’t say that unkindly, as if being weak makes her inferior, she just isn’t a tough or confident girl. She finds it hard to defend herself and stand up for herself. She is easily intimidated by the bullies she suffers at the hands of and she is unable to express her feelings to her parents about what is happening in her life. Her personality is not bold and strong and this makes her an easy target. If it were not for Mr Stink and what he teaches Chloe she would probably remain a girl who gets bullied and suffers at the hands of those bigger and stronger than her all her life. Mr Stink, despite his outer appearance, is strong minded and bold. He teaches Chloe about inner strength and it is through this strength that Chloe is able to rise out of her circumstances and experience positive change in her life. Chloe is one of the lucky ones.
Do you know how many “weak” (i.e. poor) people there are in the world, who cannot defend themselves? Who need a Mr Stink to come along and help them? Billions and billions and billions. 40 million alone are living in slavery, chained up in brick kilns, chained up in human trafficking, chained up anywhere but somewhere safe. Then there are the billions living without water, without food, without homes, without shelter, without protection.
So let me ask you a question, can you be as bold as Mr Stink?
There are so many ways to help those billions and it doesn’t have to be by upping and jetting off to India to become a field officer with International Justice Mission-although if it weren’t for the kids and Rob I’d be gone! It can just be by making a monthly donation to an organisation like International Justice Mission, or by learning more about human rights issues and seeing how you can get involved with a charity. Or maybe quite simply you know a Chloe…..someone who is having a hard time, someone you can see is suffering. Could you sit with them on your park bench and just have a chat with them?
To learn more about International Justice Mission please click on IJM
To hear a true story about a little girl who was outside of the laws protection then please click on Yuri
“Most acts of violence against women are never investigated, and perpetrators commit their crimes safe in the knowledge that they will never face arrest, prosecution or punishment. Impunity for violence against women contributes to a climate where such acts are seen as normal and acceptable rather than criminal, where women do no seek justice because they know they will not gain it, where the original pain and suffering are prolonged and aggravated by the denial that a serious violation of human rights has been committed.” Amnesty International “Its In Our Hands: Stop Violence Against Women publication (2004)