How the Other Half Lives

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I’m reading a fashion feature article in the weekend colour magazine of The Irish Times. There are pictures of models wearing designer clothing. We have a cashmere polo $1090, leather ankle boots $875, a chiffon blouse $1350, and a leather skirt $1590. We have a split wool crepe skirt for $1125, a leather belt for $395, and a leather satchel for $1135. Or maybe you’d prefer a leather duffle bag for $1810 and a sheepskin coat for a mere $1980. The most exclusive item on display is a cashmere and wool coat at $3200, the least expensive a pair of socks for $15. (note: I’m using $ to represent the Euro, here)

Who is this article aimed at? I thought the country was deep in a recession, with 98,000 mortgage-holders 90 days or more in arrears. Are there really people in Ireland with money like that to spend on clothing?

Last night I watched a documentary on TV about this project, set up in 1988 by Sr Ethel Normoyle to bring essential humanitarian services to the people of a shanty town near Port Elizabeth in South Africa. This is a community of people living way below the poverty line, in houses made of woodchip, galvanised iron and cardboard, with no schools, no running water, suffering from malnutrition, high HIV incidence, and 75% unemployment. Sr Ethel told us how she first set up a school and healthcare and nutrition centre under a tree in the shanty town, and how she has developed these services over 25 years. The documentary spent a few moments showing us the mansions of the super-wealthy in nearby Port Elizabeth with their fountains and swimming pools.

This was mind boggling stuff. The effect was like a bucket of cold water in the face. It’s 2013, and the gap between rich and poor is greater than ever.

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