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Welcome to Lagos: our charity view

Welcome to Lagos: our charity view

Comments on BBC Welcome to Lagos broadcast tonight

Editorial by Andrew Cates

Tonight people escaping from the election debate with have a great chance to get insight into what Lagos is about by watching "welcome to Lagos". I have only been to Lagos once, but from experience and from reputation it is one of the most extreme and extraordinary human places on our planet.

What is so extraordinary about Lagos (and what the program brings out) is although life is incredibly hard and poor, this seems to bring out a particular resilience and spirit in the people trying to live there. Foraging through rubbish dumps to provide for your family may seem like utter misery to us, but the program portrays people who are managing to survive doing it and even how a sort of pride about their success.

Of course, strong young men survive and can sometimes provide for their children, but as well as being a tough life it is certainly life close to the edge. There is no safety net or contingency: a bad infected injury foraging and survival ceases to be an achievement and becomes an impossibility. Still, there is a certain satisfaction helping people who put so much effort into surviving and being independent themselves, and finding ways that families on the edge can stay together is a very low cost way of making life much better.

SOS Children started in Lagos in 1973 when I was still in primary school. Originally as everywhere they (we) focused on lone children with no viable future but over the years as well as dealing with orphans and abandoned children we have steadily moved "upstream", trying to help families right on the edge of break up to have some reserve capacity to cope, manage to get some education and hope for a better life for the children. Today the family strengthening programs are a family level attempt to get a better life (with perhaps a microloan, some advice and help to earn a little more money) and they have to be one of the most cost effective ways to improve the quality of life for children in one of the toughest places there is.