From ELLE's New York Editor, Scarlett Curtis
The first time I remember engaging in philanthropy of any kind I was seven years old and being sat on by a babysitter who I didn’t really like. My parents [Richard Curtis, screenwriter, producer and director and Emma Freud, writer and broadcaster] were away, again, working on Comic Relief, a charity that they founded and have worked on for my entire life, but at seven I’d had enough. They had been away from me for too long and I was beginning to feel restless.
The next morning I marched downstairs in my school uniform clutching £3.60 of my pocket money in my sweaty little hands. ‘I’m giving this to the poor children!’ I exclaimed, and slammed it down on the breakfast table next to my Cocoa Pops. Just recalling the memory makes me cringe - there were millions children in the world living on absolutely no money and I had a warm bed and a house and Cocoa Pops - but at seven years old the whole situation seemed delightfully simple. Give away my carefully collected pennies, and everything would be fine. Plus I’d get Mum and Dad back.
That afternoon, when my parents left again, I looked at them with total, utter confusion.
‘It’s fine. You don’t need to go. I saved them. I gave them my pocket money.’
My mother looked down at me with a sympathetic expression and tried to explain.
‘I’m afraid that’s just not how it works.’
At the age of seven, I had to begrudgingly accept that this whole ‘making the world a better place’ thing was going to be a bit more complicated than I had expected.
As I grew up I started fully comprehend what words like ‘poverty’, ‘hunger’ and ‘sponsored danceathon’ truly meant and I continued on my mission to raise money mainly to try and impress my parents. I tied myself to my 3 best friends for 24 hours (please don’t ask about the toilet situation), did a sponsored 18 hour knit-athon (again, let’s not talk about toilets) and sold slightly dodgy baked goods on the side of the road every holiday.
At 15, in an attempt to impress a boy I liked who was passionate about recycling and hemp trousers, I watched the documentary about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. Despite spending the next few months fervently rinsing out soup cans and conscientiously turning off light switches, he still didn’t like me. But my zeal for the environment was at least partly real and not entirely self-serving.
My teenage years introduced me to Gertrude Stein, Germain Greer and Lena Dunham, sparking a feminist fire in my belly that has led my three younger brothers to shake with fear at my wrath if I ever catch them referring to a girl as a ‘bitch’ or a ‘piece of ass’.
Every year I found something else wrong with the world I was living in, and every year I seemed to feel more strongly about this injustice than the last. Each new discovery spawning hours of research and fervent Googling of how I, a not very tall, not particularly strong West London girl, could possible save the planet from this new, painful problem.
And now, despite my best efforts, I find myself at 20, feeling like a bit of a charity flake. Every time there’s a new bandwagon - I jump on board. Every time there’s a new rally - I sign myself up, fighting for the injustice of the month as if it was my lifelong mission to fix it. Overwhelming myself with information and 'causes' has led me to not really dedicate myself to any of them. There are so many different things I care about – poverty, gender inequality, mental health - but this need to help with everything leads to an inability to do anything. I flirt with every charity, but never pick one to commit to, ending up feeling disparate - as if no matter where I spend my energy, my donations, or my sponsored swim, there will still be a thousand other problems in the world needing more money and more support.
In a world full of Ice Bucket Challenges and no-make-up selfies, it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by things you should care about, that you end up not committing to anything. And despite my best efforts to focus in on something, I still have no idea where my true social priorities lie. But my mission to find a cause that encompasses all the many things I feel need attention continues.
Later this month, the UN launches the Global Goals - a set of goals to guide all politicians around the world in an attempt to end poverty, fight inequality and battle climate change. For these Goals to succeed, they need to be made as famous as the Kardashians, and the campaign is encouraging it’s supporters to spread the message wherever they can in order to make sure they are actually completed.
Faced with the question of how to know what cause I care most about, this campaign seems like a pretty good answer. If the Global Goals work, they have the power to fix gender bias, hunger and poverty in a way that the £126 I raised for dancing non-stop for 16 hours never could (again, I beg you, don’t ask about the toilet situation).
I think the only thing we can do is try not to give up or to to be so inundated with information that we grow numb, uncaring and devoid empty of any belief that one person can actually make a difference. The only thing we can do is keep on trying, keep on supporting causes we believe in, and hope that one day, something like the Global Goals, can make a true, incredible, positive change.
<font color="#00a8f1">3 Things you can do to make a difference today</font>
1 - Tweet/Facebook/Share/Instagram/Carrier Pigeon about The Global Goals (or your charity of choice), help to publicise the objectives and ensure they are completed!
2 - Become a Global Citizen. They will keep you up to date with everything you could possibly be doing to take action and make a difference. You can also win tickets to one of their amazing festivals taking place around the world.