Leading article: Shocking stories, practical solutions

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The Independent Online

The newscaster Martyn Lewis once expressed the view that there was not enough good news in the bulletins he had to read. Someone else floated the idea of a newspaper based entirely on good news. It never got off the ground. There are all kinds of definitions of news. It is what happened yesterday. It is about events. It is about the dramatic or even the sensational. No definition is adequate, as anyone who has ever tried to put into words what "news values" are will testify. But like an elephant, even if we cannot define the beast, we recognise it when we see it. Dog bites man is famously not news, unlike its obverse.

But there are some constants. News tends to be about incidents rather than situations. It is about what is unusual rather than everyday. That is what is different about the stories we tend to tell our readers in our annual Christmas Appeal, which we launch today. For the situations we will report on over the next month are exemplary, but they are all too everyday. They are the situations in which the most unfortunate one billion people on this planet subsist. They are not news.

Even so, we hope they will interest as well as edify. And that they will make you dip your hand into your pocket and pull out more than you intended to. Independent readers, one of the charities involved in a previous year's appeal told us, are singularly generous. The average donation that year was 81 per person. We are counting on the fact on behalf of our three charities, Save the Children, the International Children's Trust and The Gorillas Organization that we can stimulate you to perform an even greater feat this year.

Some of the stories will shock you. We make no apology for that. Child domestic labour in the Philippines is shocking. Parents there sell their eight-year-olds into a life of domestic-worker slavery in the hope that the children will at least get food, shelter and, perhaps a little education. The reality is much more cruel with 15-hour days, only one day a month off (or none at all) and regularly verbal, physical and sexual abuse. But one of our charities has an impressive safe-house programme and lobby campaign to bring political change.

Some of the problems may be new to most of us. There are girl soldiers in Liberia whose families will not welcome them home now the fighting is over, for what they have done is deemed unnatural. Then there is the new drug, developed for affluent slimmers in the obese West, now ravaging South African townships, dragging children into gangsterism. But there are new solutions, too. Those township children are being offered an alternative attraction by one of our charities. In Sierra Leone, another of our charities has found answers to the Aids epidemic in the unlikely persona of an agony aunt.

But we hope that our appeal this year will do more than elicit financial support. We hope it underscores the frail interconnectedness of all the peoples, rich and poor, on our fragile planet. The introduction of a fuel-efficient stove, which cuts firewood requirements by as much as 80 per cent, has slowed deforestation in the Rwandan rainforest. It has also reduced chest infections among local children by making the villagers' huts far less smoky. For just 10 a stove, it also shows poor Africans doing their part to combat global warming.

Our charities point us to win-win situations. Water cisterns installed in Rwandan schools have removed the need for children to spend the first hour and a half of every day fetching water for their families. They spend longer in school and results have rocketed. It has also reduced their need for dangerous incursions into the habitat of the endangered mountain gorillas.

The problems of one are the problems of all. So should be the solutions.