Let’s face it; we’ve all done our fair share of complaining about the recession. We like to talk about how times are hard for us British and moan that the Government isn’t doing enough to help. It’s time to stop that shit – and here’s why: Famous, Rich and the Slums. This program is about the serious side to Comic Relief, the reason behind all the TV specials and wacky fun – the people who need the money that is raised. Being stuck in a lift with Jeremy Kyle would seem like heaven when compared to the lives of some folks we meet in this documentary.
Usually, a line-up of Lenny Henry, Angela Rippon, Samantha Womack and Reggie Yates would be more than enough to turn off your television. But then, they’re not normally dropped in the middle of one of the world’s largest slums in Kibera, Kenya, a place that houses over one million of the world’s poorest people in an area of just 1.5 square miles. The premise is this: these four celebrities are being left to fend for themselves for three days and three nights. They are given £1.60 to start them off and have to earn their money to live for the rest of the time.
Cheeky Radio One scamp Reggie Yates is the first to get a job. However, he isn’t quite so chirpy after a night of walking around the filthy streets cleaning out toilets. And this isn’t cleaning out toilets like you may have done at home; unless your toilet is a hole and you regularly have over 1000 people using it every day. But Reggie steps up to the challenge and does reasonably well, earning what is – in Kibera terms – a lot of money for a night’s work.
Lenny, who gets a job with a family making and selling street food is dismayed to learn that the amount of money he has earned that day would be enough to send the man’s ill son to the doctor, and he tries to give it back. As it turns out, the man has paid him extra for the day because he felt sorry for him which suggests that, amazingly, even the Kenyans realise that the career of Lenny Henry is on the slide. But the man’s generosity even in those conditions is astonishing, and he even invites Lenny over for dinner, telling him that he keeps smiling so his children can have hope, even if he has lost all his.
Angela tries her hand at washing and teaching, but, somehow finds it slightly distasteful that her new friend sometimes has to make money by working as a prostitute. Presumably, given the choice between starvation and sleeping with someone for money, she’d gladly take her principles to the grave.
Finally, Samantha finds work at a hospital as a cleaner and then a home-visitor slash guidance counsellor. Neither of these are easy jobs because the mortality rate is extremely high, with 1 in 5 children not making the age of 5. Dealing with a woman who has just lost her baby after delivering in the waiting room is an experience she finds particularly harrowing, and understandably the experience soon reduces her to tears.
Famous, Rich and in the Slums makes for difficult viewing, not because it’s bad telly, but because it is reality TV firmly grounded in the horrifying truth of millions of people’s lives. It’s not so much the personal journeys of the celebrities that is important but the message that it sends to everyone watching: Most of the world’s population are much much worse off, but putting few quid in a Comic Relief jar, means you can play your part in making a difference.