Three Lions was being sung up and down the land. The nation discovered a fondness for waistcoats. And I welled up at a penalty shootout.
But for me the World Cup was more than football. It seemed to say something about us as a country.
We know – and I’m referring here, if you’ll allow me, to the whole of the UK – that we’re not perfect, but we never give up hope. As the song Three Lions, with typical self-deprecation, puts it: “30 years of hurt never stopped me dreaming”.
Gareth Southgate himself wasn’t just adored because he got England to the semi-finals, but because he embodied many of the things Britain is proud to be – passionate, resilient and dedicated.
I feel the same way about UK aid and our role in the world. We know we don’t hold all the solutions to world poverty. We know the job is hard and the goal is a way off. But we’re on this mission because we don’t do what’s easy, and because we believe in team work and doing our bit.
“So how is UK aid money making a difference to people’s lives?”
I was recently sent this question from a supporter. It’s a common one and, if I’m honest, something I’m also keen to understand. It can be challenging, when most of my time is spent in an office in London, to talk convincingly about UK aid changing lives somewhere else.
So I can relate to Save the Children supporters when they tell me it’s difficult to have conversations with friends and family about UK aid. I often feel I must defend or explain the job I do.
“Charity starts at home Beth,” family might say. They read in the papers that aid is wasteful and corrupt. We need to become better storytellers if we’re to explain to our friends and family how our work makes a difference.
Because in the face of misinformation and criticism, it won’t be enough to champion aid with statistics. So, while UK aid has helped 11 million children get an education in the last five years – an amazing achievement – numbers like that can feel meaningless. It’s the people behind the numbers who make them meaningful.
I want to tell you about Electisha
Electisha’s home is on a mountain top in Kenya. The paths are strewn with boulders. The only way to get anywhere is to walk – it’s impossible to drive across the place she lives.
When Electisha was pregnant with her first child she went into labour early. The nearest suitable clinic was a three-hour walk away. She was in a lot of pain but concentrated on the joy she would feel to hold her first child.
After an hour of walking Electisha knew she wouldn’t make it in time. She delivered the baby on the journey with only her mother-in-law, Jenta, to help. Jenta cut the umbilical cord with a razor blade and tied it with some thread. They carried the baby, weak, premature and underweight, the rest of the way.
When they reached the health facility the baby was treated by doctors but sadly died two hours later. The doctor told them that if the baby had been put in an incubator straight away, he would have lived. She told us:
“I still think about the child I lost. Maybe he would have been a governor or a senator.”
There is hope to this story though. A couple of years passed and Electisha became pregnant again. This time she was able to give birth at a health clinic just a five-minute walk from her home, which had recently been equipped with a delivery room by Save the Children. It was funded by UK aid.
It was here that Electisha gave birth to a healthy baby girl in March this year.
This UK aid-funded programme is working closely with the Ministry of Health in Kenya to improve the quality of maternal and new-born health services, as well as making sure women can access them. Thanks to UK aid’s investment, Save the Children has provided the health facility with essential equipment and training for doctors and nurses.
Programmes like this will reach thousands of women like Electisha. It’s an investment in them and the children they give birth to. It will help in the immediate and the long term.
In the last five years alone, UK aid has ensured that 5.1 million babies were delivered with the help of doctors, nurses or midwives. That’s nearly the equivalent of the entire population of Scotland.
When newspaper headlines use terms like waste and madness to describe the UK’s commitment to aid, I think of the first part of Electisha’s story as the real waste. The waste of human potential represented by the death of her first child. And the madness that he died just because she wasn’t able to get to an equipped clinic in time.
Instead of wasted opportunities, children should be able to thrive, have the chance to accomplish their dreams and grow old. The UK’s generosity means we’re committed to this. It’s what makes us the nation we are – passionate, devoted and brave.
Just like Gareth Southgate’s World Cup team.