I was shot at - but I covered it up for the charity's image

Martin Edwards asks should we always tell the whole truth - warts, gunshots and all?

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

My biggest confession as a charity worker is this: someone tried to murder me at work and I covered up the crime.

During the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure's Band Aid single Do They Know It's Christmas? inspired me to raise £26,000 for Oxfam's famine relief work while I was at university. A decade later I was working for Save the Children and I persuaded some British television reporters to join me in Ethiopia to mark Band Aid's 10th anniversary and the story behind it. The story that needed telling was one of progress: how the country was more stable and more able to deal with drought next time.

The TV crew flew ahead from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to Dessie, while a local aid worker called Mulgeta drove me and their equipment north to join them. Our dreams of a positive film were shattered by the gunfire that peppered our vehicle as we drove along. Fortunately, we escaped unharmed, but we knew that the TV crew would pounce upon the story when they saw the bullet holes, and the resulting film would inevitably portray Ethiopia as some kind of chaotic basket case.

Or at least, they would if they ever found out.

We weren't actually lying when we hid the vehicle behind the compound on arrival. We were, I suppose, being 'economical with the truth' for the sake of the country's image in the minds of many potential donors.

The ensuing subterfuge was exhausting, but it did at least ensure that we were far too preoccupied to feel traumatised.

Indeed, our cunning plan was going fine until a local man came up to the reporters at dinner and said how sorry he was to hear about the shooting. A comedy of errors ensued as I leapt to my feet and distracted the reporters while my colleagues switched into the local language of Amharic and frantically told the man to backtrack. He adapted superbly by saying he was referring to the film's shooting schedule, which by then was over-running.

I know what you're thinking: integrity means telling the whole truth - warts, gunshots and all.

We weren't journalists, however. We were charity workers who got our positive message across to millions of viewers and staged a successful appeal. But was it the right thing to do?

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House


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