Coming Home

A little over a year ago I woke up early to the sound of a cockerel crowing. After stepping out of bed, I walked towards my small balcony and opened its wooden doors wide. The hot morning light spread across my room. I leaned against the iron railing, looked down to the bottom of my street at the Saigon River, and took in a few deep breaths.

My beautiful white, ginger, and tortoiseshell cat rubbed up against my ankle. The only time she was nice to me was when she wanted feeding. After seeing to her needs, I got dressed for the day ahead choosing suitable clothes for teaching English to energetic children in classrooms that had one or two slow old ceiling fans, while temperatures often reached 32 degrees.

Before leaving the house, I wrapped a long skirt around my waist, pulled on a flowery face mask, a pair of long beige gloves, and a long-sleeved thick black cardigan – suntan lotion cost a fortune –strapped a helmet under my chin, and put on a pair of my favourite fake Ray Bans; preparation for the forty minute scooter ride to a primary school on the other side of Ho Chi Minh City.

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Today I woke up in my mum’s house in Kirkby. Those morning rituals are from another life. After three years living in Vietnam, I left on 24th June 2015. And, after a short period travelling through Cambodia and Thailand, I came home on 19th August 2015.

Those exact days when I left and arrived are completely etched in my mind. I remember subtle details like the sweat on my back as I stood at Vietnamese immigration and the warm eyes of the young man who greeted me at the guesthouse in Phnom Penh. I remember the car journey from Heathrow airport. The cold English rain running down the windows. The curry I ate with my mum and aunty in our B&B bedroom. Days of extreme opposing emotions.

When I returned home, I spent weeks visiting friends and family I hadn’t seen for years. Each big bear hug was a healing experience. I had actually got through it; through the painful loneliness I’d felt for so long. And coming home was my reward.

Then began the process of thinking about work. Actually, this process had been going on for some time. ‘What will I do?’ had haunted me from the moment I’d decided to return home. I knew what I’d enjoyed doing in Vietnam. I loved writing articles for two of the biggest English magazines in the country; Word Vietnam and AsiaLIFE. I especially loved writing a really controversial piece about sexism within the expat community. The then editor of AsiaLIFE, Chris Mueller, had seen me argue with a bunch of Neanderthals on some expat Facebook group, sent me a private message to ask if I was the writer of a blog post called ‘Why I will leave Vietnam a feminist’ (I was) and if I would write a version of this for the magazine.

I wrote the article and got paid $50. I was made up! Then the article went to print. What followed was probably the most transformational experience I have ever had. So much love and support came my way. Men and women sent me private messages on Facebook and Twitter thanking me that finally someone had spoken up. And how disgusting it was the way many expat men treat Vietnamese and other expat women. Thank you thank you thank you!!

Oh, and then all the really awful, nasty, abusive public comments that were written about me and the article on social media. I expected the fallout. What I didn’t expect was to not be able to physically write anything of substance for over a year. My self-confidence was shattered. It wasn’t the pathetic delusional comments like “she’s just jealous because no one wants to have sex with her,” but the comments that criticised my writing ability and poor grammar.

A year or so later, we held a party in our house for a friend’s birthday. I sat on the floor of the spare bedroom with a girl I’d just met called Njeri who had recently arrived in Saigon to teach English. By this point I’d become disillusioned, knackered, and cynical of life in Vietnam but tried, and failed, to hide my true feelings from her. I mentioned that I’d written an article the year before about sexism. She looked at me excited, “Did you write Why I will leave Vietnam a feminist?” I choked. Someone I had never met before had read my work, liked it, and actually remembered the bloody title. I realised then that I’d done something very powerful in writing that article. I’d encouraged someone. I’d empowered another woman. My shit grammar didn’t matter anymore. I’ll always treasure that conversation with Njeri.

So I was back in the UK and adamant that I wouldn’t return to 9-5. Before I’d left for Southeast Asia in 2012, I worked as an Intelligence Analyst for a law firm in Liverpool. The job had its interesting moments and I think I was good at it. What I wasn’t good at was working in a corporate environment. The only way I could utilise any creativity was by coming up with efficient and organised systems of work. It was dry and I died a little bit inside every day.

I needed to separate myself from what I thought was expected of me and instead realise what I wanted to do. Not in any selfish way. I wanted to use my skills in a pure and unhindered way. To wake up every morning enjoying the work that I do. To show others that there are other, happier ways of living. That was the goal, anyway.

By October 2015, thanks to the kindness of my cousin Robyn at Innovators Hub, I landed a two-month internship with Wordscapes, a print and digital communications agency based in the Baltic Triangle, working with the very talented Fiona Shaw and Andrew Beattie.

During my internship I did a bit of copywriting, research, admin, interviews; basically loads of dead interesting work that I completely believed in. Halfway through I was asked by Fiona to do some research for the launch of a new initiative called The Beautiful Ideas Co. that would be funding social enterprise ideas with the aim of regenerating North Liverpool. I needed to find stories of social innovation around areas such as money, spaces, manufacturing, regenerating the docks, mobilising the workforce, and real-life social networks.

The stories I came across were fascinating; a worker-owned cut and sew textile factory in North Carolina; a community hub and market for the distribution of wholesale food and local artisanal goods in Detroit; a city-wide initiative to incubate local creative enterprises using empty shops in Newcastle, Australia; a renewed transportation infrastructure to mobilise the local workforce in Medellin, Columbia; a local city-wide currency to support independent businesses in Bristol.

Beautiful Ideas Co. launched in November through a series of events across Liverpool. What I’d researched and written about was hung on large A-frames at all of the events and used to inspire people to come up with their own beautiful ideas for North Liverpool. It was through these events, specifically a hack day at The Sandon pub in Anfield, where I met someone who would change the direction of my life.

The morning of the hack day, I walked through Anfield where I’d lived with my mum until I was 13. It had been maybe ten years since I’d been anywhere near the place I grew up and I was curious to see how much of it had changed. I walked past my old primary school on Anfield Road, along quiet streets of Victorian terraced houses, then on to Stonehill Street, and saw my old home. When I dream about it – and I dream about it often – the front door is always open and I go inside. Sometimes the interior looks completely different, but I always feel safe.

That day I saw my old house boarded up in between other boarded up empty homes. And I stood in the street with this sinking feeling in my stomach. I took a few steps back, pulled out my phone, and took a photo.

As I walked away, I burst into tears. I don’t know why. It could have been the memories of life on Stonehill where we used to regularly hold street parties. Where kids would play until it went dark and people would stand to chat at one another’s doorsteps. Where everyone knew everyone else’s business and that was fine because we were looking out for each other.

My childhood home
My childhood home

Ten minutes later, I arrived at The Sandon on Oakfield Road. As the function room filled with some new and familiar faces, I showed Fiona the photo of my old house, the windows and doors boarded up. We both agreed it was a real shame and then I got on with the job for the day.

Once everyone settled, Ronnie Hughes stood up. I’d briefly met him the night before at the Beautiful Ideas launch event but had no real idea who he was other than a well-known local blogger. Ronnie began introducing the day ahead which was to be about coming up with some beautiful social enterprise ideas that would ultimately regenerate North Liverpool. Someone shouted out “Like what?” Ronnie suggested a project could be set up that would see the thousands of empty homes in Liverpool lived in again. Fiona and I looked at each other and smiled. What a coincidence.

Later that day, I ended up interviewing Ronnie to camera for a short film. I asked him questions about social enterprise and his answers were elegant and succinct. Afterwards, we chatted about Ronnie’s work with the Granby 4 Streets community and also some with Homebaked and I knew I wanted to be friends with this kind, honest, and gentle man.

My internship at Wordscapes ended just before Christmas with a promise of partnering in the New Year. By early February, I still wasn’t working but instead kept myself occupied with a screenwriting class I’d joined. I hated being at home on my own all day so made the decision to get out the house and find a café in town where I could work on a screenplay and be around people.

I went to 92 Degrees on Hardman Street, ordered my coffee, pulled out my laptop, and scattered some papers on the long wooden table to make myself look legit. Not long into my session, I noticed Ronnie had been sitting at a table at the other end of the café. As he was leaving we had a little catch-up and that was that.

Over the next four days we bumped into each other twice as we walked in opposite directions on Bold Street. We laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Ronnie asked me if I had any dreams for a social enterprise. Not really, I said, although I had dreamt about my childhood home the night before. But in real-life it was boarded up and empty. He told me his idea was the one he’d mentioned at the Beautiful Ideas hack day about the empty homes.

We met up properly a few days later at The Egg on Newington. Ronnie said he’d tried to give away his empty homes idea to someone else but it turns out he was the perfect fit for it. He’d worked in housing since the 70’s and has been heavily involved with the Granby 4 Streets; the most recent winners of the Turner Prize. I explained my background, my dreams for my future, my faith, my family story, pretty much laid out my whole life before him. For some reason, Ronnie liked what he heard and decided to put his trust in me.

Coming Home – the fitting name Ronnie gave his empty homes idea – will soon be a Community Interest Company (CIC) working to get many of the thousands of empty homes, primarily in North Liverpool, made into beautiful safe places to be lived in again. So far, the core team is me, Ronnie, and local artist Jayne Lawless. We also have a strong board of proper amazing people; a few national but mostly Liverpool-based.

I’ll be Writer-in-Residence. At a pitch for funding with The Beautiful Ideas Co. I was asked what it actually meant to be a Writer-in-Residence. I’ve never Googled it to find out or really asked around but I know what I am capable of. Since coming home to Kirkby in August last year, I’ve written a few articles and blogs, have a regular column at Ethos Paper writing about new ways of doing business, and have coordinated a grassroots business festival partnering with Wordscapes. I teach English to asylum seekers and work as a social media manager for a small local company. I am also building relationships with fascinating people who love Liverpool.

I know I’ll be writing regularly, be it blogs, tweets, bids, proposals, press releases, emails, and even a book! I’ll also be painting walls, updating spreadsheets, meeting homeowners, making tea for builders, project managing, and loads more. I’ll be using all of the skills I’ve picked up over the years. Nothing is lost. And I am dead, dead excited!

Recently, Ronnie, Jayne, and I were at a pub discussing all things Coming Home when Ronnie pulled out a book called Soil and Soul by Alastair McIntosh; the story of how a community on the Isle of Eigg fought against corporate power by organising themselves and using their collective resources. Ronnie told us that this book inspired him and others when working on Granby. The following day I flicked through the beginning pages and read this beautiful passage:

“If we can persist and sit with the reality, not running from it, a music may eventually be heard. The fetters of destructive control loosen. Life’s dance resurges. And there is joy in spite of everything.”

Yes. Joy in spite of everything. That’s what I see. That is what Coming Home is about.

Independent Liverpool are proper sound

As many of you know, I’ve recently returned to Liverpool after 3 years living in Vietnam. I left in June but the months that preceded my departure were some of the hardest I’ve ever had.

I’d known for a while that it was time for me to leave but I didn’t feel ready at all. Social media became an obvious way for me to escape from reality and find out what was happening in the lives of my friends back home. Around the same time, loads of people I knew had liked this Facebook page called Independent Liverpool which promotes local independent businesses, writes blogs like 10 of the best Sunday roasts in Liverpool, and posts the odd photo (see below) to mix things up.

David Hameron

Independent Liverpool made me feel so excited to come home. I was simply delighted by each post and blog they wrote. I felt proud to be coming back to Liverpool and I knew it was the right thing to do.

Even though their content is stunning and hilarious and makes me dead hungry and sometimes I actually physically drool, there’s so much more to Independent Liverpool. They themselves are a business and sell these cards – £15 each or £20 for 2 – that give you access to discounts at nearly a hundred different local independent restaurants, café’s, bakeries, bars, pubs, clothes stores, arts and crafts shops, theatres, bookshops and more. It’s incredible.

When I arrived home I wanted to let the fellas at Independent Liverpool know how much they’ve helped me while I was away so I sent them an email thanking them. I received a lovely reply and they offered me, as a welcome home pressie, two free cards. I couldn’t believe it. A few days later and today they’ve arrived in the post.

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So, now I have the joy of giving away one of these cards and I’ve come up with a cunning Liverpool-themed plan.

If you live or work in or near Liverpool and would like the chance to win a card, then take part in my ‘Ooer, How Scouse Are You?’ quiz.

So get your mate Google ready because some of these questions are proper rough.

 

Ooer, How Scouse Are You?

1) If you have new kecks, what do you have?

a) New pants/trousers

b) New trainers

c) New friends

 

2) What doesn’t go into a pan of Scouse?

a) Potatoes

b) Mushrooms

c) Onions

 

3) Which came first?

a) Everton FC

b) Liverpool FC

 

4) When did Liverpool become a city?

a) 1720

b) 1207

c) 1880

 

5) Which of these is not a middle name of a member of The Beatles?

a) Arthur

b) Paul

c) Winston

 

6) To be devoed means…

a) To have no money

b) To be drunk

c) To be upset

 

7) What is the most likely meaning of the name Liverpool?

a) Pool of life

b) Muddy water

c) Pond of livers

 

Send your answers to me at ourjencanjump@gmail.com. I’ll randomly select a winner from those who get every answer correct. If you get any wrong the first time, don’t worry I‘ll let you know and you’ll have 2 extra chances to try again. The winner will be announced Wednesday 30th September.

Good luck!

 

Courtesy of Independent Liverpool
Courtesy of Independent Liverpool

 

For more info visit Independent Liverpool at independent-liverpool.co.uk and like them at facebook.com/IndependentLiverpool

We need to talk about human trafficking

When I was a child my mum became a member of Friends of the Earth and was their Liverpool coordinator for a time. I have very fond memories of those years. I remember going along to protests at B&Q, watching my mum’s weird mates holding handmade wooden placards shouting at customers for buying wood from Brazil. I remember once sitting on a big green sack filled with leaflets and pamphlets at the back of a white tented stall in the middle of Church Street while my mum and her mates would give curious kids and lippy teens a badge of a big beaked bird with the words ‘you toucan save the rainforest’ emblazoned across. I loved that badge. I remember overhearing a lot of talk about how it was absolutely necessary to only buy dolphin-friendly tuna, which we never did because ours was, naturally, a vegetarian home.

Sometimes I forget this childhood and tend to remember instead having handstand competitions against the school wall and playing manhunt while simultaneously trying not to get smacked in the face by a football hurtling through the air. Yet, being exposed to these global issues and environmental injustices at such a young age has most definitely paved the way for me to bring to light those causes I believe are the greatest injustices of our time.

When people started to become aware of the possibility of bits of dolphin being found in their tins of tuna, they were horrified and many did something about it, especially in the USA. They boycotted any tinned tuna company that did not state that theirs was dolphin-friendly, later rebranded as ‘dolphin-safe’. By 2004 dolphin mortality rates dropped by 97% thanks to the dolphin-safe commitment made by tuna companies. Nowadays ‘dolphin-safe’ tuna is the norm and is expected by consumers and for a while it seemed that the world had been made right-ish.

Fast forward 20-odd years and recently, before the refugee crisis hit our shores, there were news stories coming out on a near daily basis about thousands of people being enslaved as fishermen for brutal Thai fishing captains and other forms of forced or bonded labour across the world. Many victims trafficked by people they may have initially trusted. Just because these stories are no longer flooding our media doesn’t mean it’s all been fixed and we can go on our merry way.

In fact, it has been widely reported that traffickers are cashing in on the current refugee crisis. Lest we forget the 71 people – 59 men, 8 women and 4 children – who were found dead in the back of a lorry, abandoned beside an Austrian motorway.  It was illegal people smugglers, traffickers, with their networks and logistical knowhow who are behind incidents like this.

So now, let me remind you of the full extent of the problem.

A New York Times article, Sea Slaves: The Human Misery That Feeds Pets and Livestock, investigated the experiences faced by those, mainly Cambodian and Burmese men and boys, who were promised a job by traffickers within their home country only to be faced with years of indentured servitude as they work, and occasionally die, in horrifically oppressive conditions at sea: ‘the sick cast overboard, the defiant beheaded, the insubordinate sealed for days below deck in a dark, fetid fishing hold.’ All to fulfil the needs of the United States’ cat and dog populations.

The findings of investigations like the New York Times’ article have prompted lawmaker Gabriel Mato, a Spanish member of the European parliament and its committee for fisheries, to suggest the possibility of refusing imports of Thai fish products into Europe. In the meantime, as we did with tinned tuna, a boycott of Thai fish products by European consumers would send a strong message. There are plenty of websites giving useful recommendations for how this can be organised. Ethicalconsumer.org is a good place to start.

Already we are witnessing the Thai government moving into action. It was recently reported, after the discovery of 36 bodies in the south of Thailand – all believed to be migrants from Burma and Bangladesh – that over 100 people, including 15 state officials, have been arrested for crimes of human trafficking within the fishing industry. The Thai defence minister, having received a letter from the EU detailing their concerns, has admitted to 3,000 unregistered fishing boats being used nationwide.

To be clear, the definition of human trafficking is “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.” It’s worth pointing out that every country is affected by human trafficking, as countries of origin, transit or destination.

Trafficking happens in your country. A quick Google of ‘human trafficking statistics UK’ provides ample evidence that it is rife in my country. In 2014 the National Crime Agency published a report which stated that an estimated 2,744 people, including 602 children, were potential victims of trafficking in 2013. A 22% increase from 2012.

Stats are not easy to come by in terms of measuring the size and impact of the human trafficking industry; traffickers, pimps and madams don’t particularly enjoy being quizzed about their business dealings. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have identified that forced labour, such as what we see happening on Thai fishing boats, amounts to 18% of those who are trafficked contrasted with 79% who are being sexually exploited. Due to the fact that those who are sexually exploited are more visible, to an extent, and those who are forced into labour tend to be hidden, especially out at sea, the distribution of these figures may be due to statistical bias; forms of trafficking other than sexual exploitation are less frequently reported.

As consumer activists we need to consider the fact that human trafficking for sexual exploitation cannot be boycotted and therefore it is harder for governments to give the ‘red card’, and sanction into action those nations that contain sex trafficking networks.

Compared to what we are able to do as consumers for those in forced labour, the average concerned citizen can do a number of things to raise awareness of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. You can help by campaigning and fundraising for organisations such as Stop The Traffik, a global movement of activists around the world who passionately give their time and energy to build resilient communities and prevent human trafficking.

The work Stop The Traffik do in terms of awareness raising for sexual exploitation cover campaigns such as the No Room hotel campaign which enables you to ask local hotels to say they have No Room for trafficking. Or if you or someone you know is a taxi driver then Stop The Traffik can provide support for how to deal with a potential trafficked victim in your taxi. Drivers across Liverpool are now issued with a sticker (see below) when they renew their license.

Taxis against Trafficking
Courtesy of Stop The Traffik

A Cambodian-based non-profit, Sak Saum, provide vocational skills and training to women who have been trafficked and sell an array of handbags and accessories. Buying from a business such as this and telling people about the story behind your purchase is a way to raise awareness.

Whenever you read an article about human trafficking for sexual exploitation you can share it on your social networks and raise awareness that way. If you want to do something more visible within your community you can walk a mile barefoot.

19th July 2010, Dr Jeff Brodsky visited Cambodia in order to support a feeding programme. His visit took him to a rubbish tip in Phnom Penh where many children lived who were at risk of being taken and sold into brothels. Jeff noticed that most of the children at the tip were barefoot. Later that evening, back at his hotel, Jeff wondered how it would feel to be without shoes every day. He decided that for the next year he would live barefoot.

Jeff said the day his barefoot year ended he went to put on his socks and ‘sat on the edge of my bed, socks in hand, and was ready to feel the warmth and softness of those socks around my feet. I stretched them a little, brought them towards my foot and then something very strange happened. I couldn’t get them past my toes!’ He believes something that day stopped him from putting on his socks and he saw the children who motivated him, children who had no choice whether they would wear shoes or not. He has never worn a pair of shoes since.

Since 1981 Jeff has been working with the poorest and neediest children of the world with his organisation JOY International. In 2014 Jeff visited a church in Coshocton, Ohio where the youth group decided that they wanted to help JOY International somehow. After some discussion they came up with the idea that they were going to walk a mile barefoot. Their local community participated and together were able to raise over $12,000 while bringing awareness of child trafficking for sexual exploitation to hundreds of people.

My own experience walking a barefoot mile was powerful. It was the five year anniversary of Jeff being barefoot, and the first international event, outside of the USA, of its kind. Held at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh, it couldn’t have been at a more appropriate location, chosen because those we were representing that day may never get the chance to participate in the sports and events that take place there. Due to construction on the running track we did four laps above the seating area. Although it was raining constantly the weather was ideal for being barefoot; the hot Cambodian sun would have made it a painful experience. As each lap ended Jeff would speak about something on his heart, the growing crowds of Cambodians and other nations being represented were left tearful yet motivated to continue.

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Dr Jeff Brodsky – photo courtesy of JOY International

After the event, Kelly Treat, Joy International’s National Director of The Barefoot Mile told me ‘Our hope is to expand our Barefoot Miles in many more countries to raise awareness and the much needed funds to continue rescuing these precious children. Together we can make a huge difference in the lives of these children.’

The funds raised through hosting a Barefoot Mile go towards rescue missions, rehabilitation efforts and other projects that allow JOY International to combat child trafficking. If you would like to organise a Barefoot Mile event in your local community then contact Kelly Treat at kelly@joy.org for an information pack.

Imagine thousands of people across the nations walking barefoot in solidarity for the oppressed, the powerless and voiceless. You’re stood waiting for the bus. You’re not wearing shoes because you’re being sponsored by friends and family. Someone asks you ‘why aren’t you wearing shoes, mate?’ and you tell them that you choose to be shoeless for those who have no choice. A powerful statement and one which, although initially mocked, will be remembered for a long time after.

You have more power than you realise. Use it to make this world good.

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Photo courtesy of JOY International

 

Where reality TV is real

Recently I have had a new obsession. After I wrote my last blog where I mentioned the backlash towards the female contestants on the most recent series of The Great British Bake Off, I realised that I needed to give it a go myself and make my own judgement call. So, I spent a whole week watching every episode whenever I had a spare 2 or 4 hours to put aside for a TGBBO binge. And it was just brilliant and all I’ve been doing since, in between working and sessions at the gym, is baking and eating cakes.

Reality TV is more popular than ever these days and everyone loves a bit of it every now and then, don’t they? So, even though I’m not a fan of most of the shows on offer in the UK, (although I do love The Apprentice and I’d like to take this opportunity now to apologise, on behalf of all Scousers, for the abomination that was Desperate Scousewives)  I would never judge someone for being a fan, except if they like, maybe, Geordy Shore. They’d get sooo judged…

I agree that perhaps a large proportion of TV viewers watch reality TV as a form of escapism, which is probably why the genre is so popular. However, I believe that these shows promote an unattainable life of glamour, sheer perfection, unceasing excitement and a never ending flow of cash when, in reality, that’s bollocks.

Now, let’s be honest. These kinds of reality TV shows truly exist either to (a) create/endorse celebrities and/or products, or, in the sense of The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den, (b) to promote an image of British business that is just a little bit bullshit. In essence, they are money makers. The producers behind the scenes of these shows are laughing all the way to the bank because they know exactly what the people of Britain want; to be given a brief glimpse of an often elusive lifestyle that is beyond our reach.

It is easy to criticise the materialism and celebrity worship found in most reality TV shows but with the state of the UK economy at the moment why would anyone want to return to the Kitchen Sink realism of the 50’s and 60’s? We’ve got fictional shows such as Shameless, we don’t need to see actual REAL LIFE, do we?

Since June 2012 I have lived and worked in Vietnam, so I haven’t been able to flick through the channels and fall into the clutches of a TOWIE episode for a while. Instead, I have had to watch about eight English speaking channels, half of which only show Thor or Source Code on repeat.

About three months ago, my friend, Vi Trang, introduced me to Vietnamese reality TV. She explained to me that these shows were very popular, in some cases, even on prime-time slots. You may be thinking, ‘well, duh!’ yes, reality TV in Britain is also shown during these times. But reality TV in Britain is nothing like these two shows:

Overcome Yourself (Vượt Lên Chính Mình)

The purpose of this reality TV show/gameshow is to help very poor people pay back their debts and finance their small family-run businesses.

The show opens telling the back-story of the contestants and their family then leads into three rounds. The 1st and 2nd rounds are called “Xóa nợ” (pay back the debt) when contestants have to overcome two challenges related to their jobs in 1 minute and 30 seconds. If they succeed, half of the debt will be reduced.

The final round is called “Cấp vốn” (financing): The contestants randomly choose two of the advertising panels of the sponsors for the show. There are different amounts of money at the back of each panel. The contestants receive this money and use it to support their life or business.

The Golden Tintinnabula (the small bell on an ox or horse’s neck)  – (Lục lạc vàng)

This heartwarming show helps poor households in rural areas from all over the country by gifting them with a couple of ox or buffalo.

Each year, philanthropists, together with local authorities give a couple of oxen or buffalo to families in difficulty (in each episode different families have different touching stories). Agriculturalists later train these families in how to take care of the cattle.

Funnily enough this show is broadcast every Sunday at 8.30 p.m. on one of the most popular Vietnamese channels.

And there are more where they came from.

When I heard about these shows I was immediately touched by the raw honesty of them. In a country that is affected so badly by poverty, rather than brushing it under the carpet, the Vietnamese media has embraced its responsibility to draw light to the problems. Of course there are still TV producers and businesses behind the scenes who are hoping to make a profit or promote their products, however, the most important thing to remember is that here, in Vietnam, poverty isn’t taboo.

On the contrary, the idea that Britain has a poverty problem is often scoffed at by our government and news agencies. The pantomime villain of British politics, Michael Gove, was once heard to have uttered such tripe as people are in poverty because of their own ‘decisions’ and are ‘unable to manage their finances’. Perhaps some re-education on this matter wouldn’t go amiss, Mr Gove?

But let’s be real, the poverty in Britain is nothing like the poverty found in Vietnam. Vietnamese poverty is hell. It is backbreaking work in unbearable temperatures. It is having a disability yet still needing to work at the same level as able bodied people in order to survive. It is doing whatever you can do to earn a dollar a day by breaking ice, going through bins to find recyclables, selling lottery tickets, selling your body. These are some of the jobs of the poorest poor.

Yet Britain has its poverty. Just take a read of Jack Monroe’s blog, A Girl Called Jack, which is filled with statistics and anecdotal evidence of the poverty that she has endured and that exists throughout the UK. We have people now who cannot buy enough food for their families because their housing costs are so expensive. We have pensioners who are struggling to afford their energy bills each month because the costs have sky-rocketed. We have millions of people unemployed, desperately seeking work because of a whole load of reasons that are not their fault. Poverty is insidious and it is growing in the UK.

Thankfully some newspapers, such as The Guardian, are embracing Jack’s message and the message of other activists and campaigners by bringing awareness to the problems. This is a great first step however I think we need to do more, perhaps by taking a leaf out of the Vietnamese’s book and doing something radical.

How about a TV show similar to Dragon’s Den but for people who want to set up or grow their own small business, like a family member who makes greetings cards but wants to be able to afford some advertising to get some customers and start a venture, or the friend who has always dreamt of training to be a masseuse but can’t afford to pay for the lessons because they have to live hand to mouth each month, or a bloke at the pub who has always talked about wanting to open up a pizzeria but has been in debt for as long as he can remember. There are millions of people all over Britain with creative and innovative ideas for their lives. They mightn’t set up multi-million pound enterprises, but at least they might get the chance to make a difference to their family’s lives. And that is really all that ever matters.

Britain has its needs and it is about time that the media accepts its full responsibility to help and improve the lives of the downtrodden and the debt-ridden families of our great country. Let there be no more articles printed blaming the poor for all and sundry, instead let us together call for change, a change that leads to the empowerment of the less fortunate in our own towns and cities.

I have loved watching The Great British Bake Off; the immense pressure to bake a perfect Victoria Sponge was like nothing I have felt before, but I would also love to watch something that pressured and challenged my country as a whole. This is about changing our culture from the inside out. We have to do it ourselves because no one else is going to. This is about us all doing what is honest, equal, good and right. And while we do so, let’s make poverty in Britain as taboo as a woman in 2013 showing her ankles.

Saucy!
Saucy!