Returning from a funeral, the post had arrived; a mailing from an overseas aid agency. Going through the front door and turning into the room to the left, a deft flick sent the envelope across the room and into the recycling box; theoretical development does not appeal.
A particular moment remains fresh in the memory. Staying at the offices of a small Filipino non-governmental organization in 2001, there was a meal at tables set in the courtyard of a building which had offices and accommodation. The meal ran very late and people talked for hours.
There was much to discuss because a lot of work was being done, but as the time passed, I became mindful of a woman hovering at the corner of the courtyard. She was waiting to clear things from the meal.
Some plates were finished and she gathered them up. I got up to help her, but no-one else moved. Nothing was said and I was fearful of having committed some social misdemeanour. When the meal finally broke up, the woman moved around efficiently clearing everything away. The last people were saying “Goodnight” and going out through the compound gates. The woman worked on as the gates closed.
Looking at the woman, I asked one of the group with whom we had eaten. “What about the maid? Where will she sleep?”.
Without any expression of concern, he replied, “She has a sleeping mat. She will sleep on the office floor.”
“Has she no home or family?” I inquired.
“Yes”, he replied, “but it is too late for her to go home now, she must be here in the morning”.
There was no need for the meal to have run so long. How could the group talk about working for development and justice when it couldn’t even be troubled to allow a woman time to go home to her husband and children? I was baffled.
It was not the first time I had watched people at meetings of groups concerned with justice remain completely oblivious to the people around them. I saw it happen many more times before, in 2008, I decided I had had enough; that no longer would I send money to a group who had fine offices and salaries – and little practical or personal regard for the poor.
Oddly, it seems not to have registered with them that my support ceased long ago; they still send mailings to test the accuracy of my throw.