But who helps the helpers in Rwanda?: I persecute my family, but it's unfair

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Indy Lifestyle Online
MARCUS THOMPSON, 49, is emergencies director for Oxfam.

Once, when I was on a relief project in Uganda, we picked up a family in our Land Rover, who were in extremis - extremely malnourished and in rags, because they had been hiding from the conflict in the bush. I had to carry one of the boys on my knees for the two-hour journey to the hospital. He was about the same age as my son and when he did not make it, I wept.

I was involved in a relief operation in Cambodia in 1979-80. It was hard to relax. We were living in a community of aid workers and, of course, there were no children. But I love being with children, so I used to spend my Sundays at the local orphanage playing Chinese chequers or football with the children there. It would get me through a week of frustrations, when the plane would not arrive, or the drugs did not work, or the fax machine broke down. It kept me going, knowing that I would be able to play football on Sunday.

One of the difficulties about getting back home is that my wife will say to me: 'This bathroom is a tip. We really need to spend pounds 100 redecorating it.' And I will say: 'Come on, it's perfectly adequate. I have just been somewhere where people do not even have a shack to live in. If we have got pounds 100 to spare, you should give it to Oxfam, or to one of the local people I have been working with, who has now fled to a refugee camp.'

The same thing happens when the children ask for a new bike, or for a colour television. But it is unfair of me. There is no point in persecuting the families because we do live in this economy.

When you go home, you step out of one economy into another. The two economies meet in me - the economy of a refugee camp and my normal middle-class life outside Oxford. There are immediately tensions within the family.

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