I’ve a feeling that if I ever try to apply for a visa to visit Kenya again, I might be asked a couple of tricky questions.
Twice in eight years I’ve been there, and each time my only contribution to the country has been to teach apparently useless skills to local children.
In 2003, I went with a student theatre company to perform one of Harold Pinter’s least penetrable plays – The Hothouse – in schools around Nairobi and Nakuru.
We also found time to teach a lesson on Arthur Miller’s All My Sons in a very well-appointed boarding school, and teach a half-day ‘drama’ lesson to more than a hundred pupils in a shanty village school a few miles down the road from there.
And last week, I returned from a cricket tour around Central and Southern Kenya. We played four games, one in the Masai Mara against these guys (with Thompson’s Gazelle on the boundary rope, and a genuine cow at Cow Corner), a second in Nairobi and two in Mombasa.
We also spent a day at Destiny Garden School in Mtongwe, a school set up by a local man, for children who could not afford to be educated otherwise.
Over three-quarters of the pupils there have lost a parent to HIV/Aids.
So, obviously, we decided to take them several bags of cricket equipment, and teach them to play.
After spending an hour or so in lessons with them, we went out into the open ground next to the school in the midday sun, and explained to them the delicacies of straight-arm bowling and a good forward defensive.
In return, they slaughtered a goat for us. They even saved us the testicles to eat, as a delicacy. At least, they told us it was a delicacy.
We also had a sobering encounter with the regional commissioner for the area, a caricature of a petty local government official, who turned from gently condescending officiary to steel-eyed despot when the investigative journalist in our party started to ask her about corruption and electoral unrest.
On the more practical side, we brought with us text books, and an ingenious system of crop-planting, invented by our opening bowler and his girlfriend, to start a kitchen garden at the school.
Then we left, and the children’s lives were the same again, except for cricket gear and a vegetable patch. Both valuable assets, but neither likely to change their lives greatly.
To say that we had performed great charitable deeds on either occasion would be incorrect.
Although there are people who are doing important work, such as the two trainee nurses from Missouri who had financed their own lengthy stay at the school, also working in a local medical centre, and the founder of the school itself, a Mr Jacob Boaz.
All this took place many hundreds of miles from the famine spreading across East Africa right now, where Reuters reports that 3.7 million people face starvation and countless others find themselves in makeshift camps, having left their homes to find food.
But it’s hard to find out much more about this from scanning the press, unfortunately.
A cartoon in this week’s Private Eye makes the point clearly, if bleakly. Two starving children sit in one of these camps, and one says to the other – “Have you heard about the News of the World closing?”.
It’s difficult to make a moral point about this. If newspapers only reported what morally ‘deserved’ to be known, then we’d soon stop reading them.
Maybe the point is that we should try a bit harder to find out for ourselves what’s going on in the world, rather than acquiesce in an editor’s opinion of what we ought to know.
Successful editors know exactly what will draw more eyes and minds to their content, but we are asking a lot of them if we expect them to act as arbiters of what we ought to know.
You can donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee, an umbrella organisation for 14 humanitarian aid agencies working in East Africa, here.
You can find out more about, and donate to, Destiny Garden School here.
What is more worrying is to think of all the places where help is needed, but which we can’t read about at the click of a mouse.
How are we supposed to find out about those?
Stephen Pidcock, Publicist, The Corner Shop PR