Thumbs up for Hands Up

In the past week, Hands Up For Darfur (HUFD)’s fundraising methods have come under attack. Yet for the greater good of the world’s impoverished and violated people, who cares how money is raised? Funding for aid programs facilitated by charities such as Médicins sans Frontières and Kids for Kids is constantly and desperately needed. It is our universal responsibility to contribute and respond by whatever means possible. Consequently, the £50k raised by the HUFD committee last year can and should only be seen in a positive light. Perhaps we should dismiss the £150m raised by Live Aid, another event supposedly cheapened by the shame of people enjoying themselves whilst giving to and gaining from a major charitable initiative. How dare the masses raise money, educate citizens and stand in solidarity with the world’s poor and voiceless? Controversial or not, quite frankly it works.

The fairly obvious shortcoming of Friday’s undeveloped and sensationalist attack on the Hands Up Fashion Show was its failure to distinguish its status as a fundraising as opposed to awareness raising event. As was kindly pointed out, the committee holds several educational events and programs a term dedicated to providing exposure to the massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law occurring in the region. Fundraising however, is the lifeblood of any non-profit organisation and put simply, needs to be done. The devastated refugees in the camps of Eastern Chad will not begrudge nor belittle us for the means by which their (sadly temporary) salvation comes. And neither should Max Seddon.

Furthermore, he should really get his terminology right. It is not a college commemoration ‘ball’. It is proudly a ‘fashion show’, and one for which he clearly didn’t do his research. We may be providing champagne, canapés and a catwalk showcasing the creations of dozens of the world’s designers. But one should not ignore the concerted effort to draw attention to our worthy cause throughout. A speaker from Médicins sans Frontières will open the event to discuss her experiences of the conflict. We are presenting extensive photographic exhibitions, have included several different African designers in the show itself and music from Mattafix, a band strongly affiliated with the Darfuri cause. Decadence for Darfur? Or the good old cliché of Brideshead regurgitated? How very original of you Max, how very thought-provoking. The sad truth is that HUFD, like so many other charities has had to adapt to the fact that students don’t part with £50 easily, even for a good cause. Provocative ad campaigns, appealing to the bacchanalian sides of the juvenile character-yes we are using these mediums as ‘vehicles’ for selling tickets. Perhaps we have preyed upon the abstract, detached mentality of some towards distance and far flung foreign conflicts. But at least we are a team committed to doing something asides from self publication.

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 I really do sympathise with Mr. Seddon’s idealistic outrage geared towards the West’s moral corruption and relative indifference to third-world crises. If I thought it would help, I would also bravely preach about the debasement of society and corporate philanthropy in the 21st century to anyone who would listen. Even if the premises are true however, the majority of his arguments are weak and invalid. I deeply resent his self-righteous derision of a team of people who have worked phenomenally hard to produce this Fashion Show. It smacks of the very social stereotyping and snobbery he has tried so hard to expose. Are students not allowed to raise money for Darfur and get a summer job? Are only those who spend their holidays in African refugee camps deserving of the accreditation of trying to make a difference? So what if a 19 year old values teaching English on their gap year as a formative and helpful experience. That is their decision to make and not yours to patronise.

However let me take this opportunity to apologise to Max for holding the after-party at ‘Thirst Lodge’-despite the owners generously lending us the property for free I can see why the name might seem offensive. Perhaps we should have held it at ‘Filth’-that would have been far more appropriate. Or given we are talking about the plight of over a million refugees, should we have chosen ‘Escape’? Or why not ‘Imperial’? Would Mr. Seddon like HUFD to shoulder the blame for the unfortunate trend in names for Oxford clubs as well as the West’s social evils? Furthermore I am baffled by the ridiculous attempt at associating our fundraising evening with the ball held by the EAS, indeed funded by the Chinese government. The two are entirely unrelated events, run by different societies. How many people bought tickets for both? To be honest I really don’t know, but given the vast difference in the ideologies and political leanings of their organisers, probably not many.

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There can be little doubt that holding a Fashion Show in aid of a humanitarian crisis provokes some deeply discomforting realisations regarding the vast gulf existing between the personal freedom of the inhabitants of Oxford and Darfur. It is important to remember however, that despite the connotations with frivolity and fantasy with which fashion is inextricably intertwined, ultimately it is a mode of creativity and individual expression. The terrible contrast that this evokes for Max, myself and many others only clarifies the urgency with which we must act in order to alleviate the plight of so many. If a film star such as George Clooney wishes to spend weeks lobbying at the UN and making films exposing the horrifying fall-out of civil war, thus making Sudan’s plight a cause célèbre, then so be it. The more people who hear of the atrocities, the more who can think and eventually act.

I would like to know of a suggested alternative from Max that will raise more than £50k in one evening. Even with that substantial sum aside, if just one person comes and understands more about the Darfur cause then the Hands Up committee will have fulfilled some of the intentions that fuelled the 6 months taken to prepare the Show. To attack and belittle the project shows a determination to publicly damage and destroy the efforts of dozens and furthermore deter people from showing their support for a deeply worthwhile project. What doe¬s such selfish article ultimately achieve for Darfur? It was with a sense of real sadness that I read the end of his piece, utterly concerned with an encompassing ‘we’ mentality of his own society’s disgusting and hedonistic notions of how to aid the underprivileged. Altruism is not purely an avenue of self-development; to end upon himself and his readers entirely neglected the pressing issue at hand. Let us keep our focus on those afflicted by the Sudanese conflict and what we as a community can do to help them. Regardless of the critics, the funding and publicity that arises from tonight’s Fashion Show is aiming to do just that.