The Blog

Charity Begins at Home, But Where's Home?

When did migration stop being a word for the seasonal movement of animals and birds and become the catch-all for a permanent change of life - whatever your past, whatever your circumstances?

When did migration stop being a word for the seasonal movement of animals and birds and become the catch-all for a permanent change of life - whatever your past, whatever your circumstances?

I have been uncomfortable in recent weeks with many of the words used to describe what has to be the biggest humanitarian crisis Europe has faced in recent years. Every single one of those souls crossing continents, braving the seas and dicing with death around trains and lorries, is an individual with their own, very personal story. Yet we continue to view them as abstract groups of people - migrants flocking towards a new future far from home.

I am saddened that it took the death of a toddler to galvanise some governments, but I am impressed by the heartfelt reaction of so many of Europe's citizens, offering accommodation and providing essentials.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an estimated 350,000 people have fled the Middle East and Africa in the first eight months of 2015 and that doesn't include all the people who will have crossed borders undetected. That's a massive movement of people in just a few months, many of them unprepared for the days and weeks it would take to travel, or the interruptions they would encounter as they journeyed across the globe.

The reasons for leaving homes, loved ones and extended family are varied - civil war, terror, human rights, the desire to work - but they all carry the same conviction: West is best. But is it?

Nearly 30 years ago I was technically a migrant. I took up the opportunity of work in the US to embark on an exciting new life. And goodness it was different. Everything in America seemed to be built on a vast scale. Cars, roads, houses, plates of food.

The US was a colourful and challenging place to be. It inspired all my senses and encouraged my personal need to drive myself forwards and excel. But a massive part of that move was how welcome I was made to feel. Americans like highly motivated, self-starters. It's the land of boundless ambition and a land populated by people who originate from elsewhere.

But was that welcome also based on the fact that I came from a successful country? Are even the most talented, and professionally trained people today being treated differently because they come from countries struggling with democracy and technology? Are their skills regarded as unnecessary, or even insufficient, in a highly developed, everything is possible 21st century world?

I wouldn't dream of making a value judgement on the choice people make to start a new life thousands of miles from home. I have never experienced the terror many of the people we see on the news have faced. Also, I made just such a decision all those years ago and I never regretted it.

However, I do wonder about the millions of people left behind. The people who are too poor to pay people smuggling gangs for their passage. The families who don't have relatives they can join in more prosperous, safer countries; kin who will guide them through the next stage of their lives.

At Send a Cow, the charity I work for, we know charity begins at home; but we believe that for the world's poorest people, home has to be with the communities people live among.

We know people living in remote villages get sneak previews of life in the West via the internet on mobile phones, from radio programmes and from newspapers. They are all too aware there is a parallel universe a few thousand miles away but it might as well be on the other side of the universe. And it's this knowledge that can compound despair and drive feelings of depression and hopelessness.

All too often we see families split by migration as parents and older children seek an income by eking out a living in shanty towns on the edge of prosperous cities in their own country, or in neighbouring ones. And sometimes the migration is as simple as leaving their own, unproductive land to labour on a more successful farm nearby.

Send a Cow believes this doesn't have to be the case. This is a rich world. We have the capacity to help even the poorest people build productive, sustainable and rewarding lives in their own homes. And with the right support they can build secure futures, safe in the knowledge that they are able to cope with any trauma - be it climate, or even violent, political change.

There will always be people who have to seek safer futures far from home, but there are millions more who need our help too, because migration will never be an option for them and why should it be?