When I was asked earlier this week if I would like to interview Kirstie Allsop and find out a bit more about her recent trip to Tanzania with Comic Relief, I leapt at the chance. Having worked in the property industry for 12 years I am a huge fan of hers and love her “no nonsense” approach to life. But this chat wasn’t about her passion for property, or mine, but another of her passions: Comic Relief. Something that is also becoming a passion of mine.
Kirstie has just spent six days in Tanzania seeing how money raised by Red Nose Day during 2013 has been put to good use. I started by asking Kirstie what she thought of the country and if it was what she expected:
I have visited Kenya several times so I knew there would be a certain buzz about Tanzania. A real sense of energy. Of optimism and of just getting on with things. Naively I had thought though that there would be more equality for women. However, life for women is bloody hard
Kirstie went on to tell me that she was shocked to see women last to eat in families. The men eat first, and then the sons, and then the other children, and if the food has then run out, well the women just don’t eat. Like Kirstie, I find that really hard to comprehend. The idea of going without food in order to feed my family because there just isn’t enough food to go around is frightening.
As a mother, I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have absolutely no idea where your child’s next meal is coming from. Yet for millions of mothers, like those I met in Tanzania, it’s a worry that never goes away. Seeing how money raised from this year’s Red Nose Day is helping women who once struggled to survive in some of Africa’s biggest slums, become proud homeowners and entrepreneurs has been completely overwhelming
In Tanzania six million people — more than two thirds of the urban population — live in slums with limited or no basic necessities. Living conditions can be incredibly tough and job opportunities are scarce, particularly for women with limited education or skills training, who face gender discrimination in their day to day lives. For these women it’s a daily struggle to feed and clothe their children and send them to school.
Kirstie visited TGT, the Tanzania Gatsby Trust. This project is supported by money raised through Red Nose Day and helps women start new businesses so they can generate their own income to help lift themselves and their families out of poverty. By providing special training they are helping women make their dreams a reality.
It reminded me of the women we saw in Ghana, being helped by a similar organisation to TGT, called African Outreach. Also supported by Red Nose Day and offering loans and training to women to run their own businesses. Remember the hairdresser in the slum I talked about in Ghana? And the amazing women at the Virtuous Women’s Bakery? Or Theresa who made the batik that my lovely mother in law then made into a bag? Those stories all came back to me and I agreed with Kirstie just how overwhelming it had been.
I asked Kirstie if that was her overwhelming feeling as she looked back on it? And told how I had been warned by friends not to cry in the slum, but that actually it had never occurred to me to do so. That the slum had been an inspiring trip. Not something I ever thought I would say.
The only time I wanted to cry was when I met a young lady, married at 20 to a man of 27. They had done things properly, worked hard, married, had three children. Her husband had bought her some ducks that she raised to make money, they had a plot of land, he worked as a delivery driver. One night he was killed. It was devastating. She was left with three young children, the eldest two having now gone to live with her parents so they could attend a free school. I can’t imagine having to send my 7 and 4 year olds away to school because I can’t support them.
I got a lump in my throat just hearing the story and it made me realise just why it is so important that we do all we can to help support Comic Relief. That raising just a small amount, such as a tenner, can make all the difference to women’s lives.
I see all sorts of properties when I’m helping families look for the perfect home in the UK. In Tanzania, the wish list is shockingly different, with the simplest of things — running water, electricity, even a solid roof — as their priorities
I asked Kirstie if this frustrated her when people gave her a list of their “must haves” when house hunting? Does she not want to just shake them and say “For God’s sake, listen to yourselves”.
YES! I went to a housing project when people had been moved out of the slums. I asked them if they missed their old homes at all. They said “No, why would we? We have a loo”
It was this basic need that Kirstie really felt was important. For women to have privacy for something so basic as having a wee. Something that so many of us take for granted and just don’t think about. Yet here are women who just don’t have that basic amenity.
By receiving funding and training from TGT though these women are transforming not just their lives, but those of others around them. It is likely that having received training and setting up their businesses these women will go on to employ others, train others. Empower other women.
It’s a real ripple effect.
Starting their own businesses means they can create safe environments for their children to thrive, they can feed them, and most importantly for many mothers, they can now send their children to school. This project is changing their lives, so they can save their lives.
Kirstie joked about the polished concrete floors they had in the projects. How they felt it was basic but was the easiest to keep clean. “Hey this is all the rage in Notting Hill” she said, “everybody wants this in their houses in Notting Hill”.
Hearing from Kirstie the difference Red Nose Day donations has made and that UK Aid Match (the government’s scheme to give the public a say in how a portion of the aid budget is spent by matching public donations to charity appeals for projects to reduce poverty in developing countries) continues to make is awe inspiring. And has really spurred me on to do more this year.
Team Honk helped raise £10,000 this year and knowing that in some small way that money is changing lives, saving lives, educating children, empowering women, well, it doesn’t get any better than that, does it?