What supermarket cheese tells us about how lucky we are

Becoming grandparents again has been no less exciting for Ron and Lorna Banks than it was the first time. But the arrival of Ollie and Lizzie Banks’ son, a brother for Alice, has pricked the conscience of Grandma and Grandad, as Ron explains in his latest Solo Expenses ‘Giving Back’ blog.

We were in Tesco the other day, trying to buy a bit of cheese. Nothing special; I just fancied a slice of cheese on toast, so I wanted something that my late mother might have called ‘mousetrap’.  The choice was enormous. Would you believe that Tesco offers 62 different kinds of Cheddar?

Setting aside the issue of supermarket marketing, and their mantra that they have to stock all this stuff because customers ‘demand’ it, we’ve come to believe that having so many choices is actually normal, and are disappointed when ‘extra mature’ isn’t available, so we have to settle for ‘mature’ instead.

It’s the same in the bread aisle, and the cakes, and the crisps, and the beer. We forget just how well off we are in the western world. So much is spread before us that we’re blinded to just how much we have, and how fortunate we are to have it.

Something small makes a big difference
And that’s why I felt a little guilty when I pressed a coin into my new grandson’s hand. It was for luck, because I’m an old softie. It was a £2 coin. Nothing much, in the grand scheme of things here, but a week’s turnover for a tiny business run by a woman called Vanita in India. And even that tiny turnover is a huge leap for her, because she was born blind. Bad enough in the west, but a such a crippling burden in a country not equipped to provide the help she needed that she spent the first 18 years of her life indoors, where her parents felt they could keep her safe.
Vanita’s story of transition from ‘prisoner of darkness’ to businesswoman was made with the help of a charity called Sightsavers, which Solo Expenses supports from profits generated by the people who use the handy expense manager app. Created originally for sole traders, its versatility means it is equally effective for students, busy mums, and anyone who wants to be a better expense manager in their own lives – people like our son Ollie, for a start.

Vanita was 18 by the time Sightsavers started to help her. The project’s workers were able to overcome not only Vanita’s feelings of loneliness, shyness, and isolation, but also the apprehension her parents felt about losing their ability to protect her.

But she was taught skills in basic living, personal hygiene, orientation and mobility, how to identify money, and was given assistance in applying for the pension of about £1.46 she was entitled to.

Grocery ShopNow 23, Vanita is married and her husband Harish lives with her and her family. Thanks to the project, Vanita was able to set up her own shop outside her parents’ home where she sells shampoo, tea, biscuits and soap to her community. From this she can make up to 40 RS (about 39p) a day.

She said: “I feel like a responsible person now. I have learned so much; I have my own kitchen for me and my husband… I am no longer dependent.’

Spare a thought for those with no choice
So the next time you’re spoiled for choice in a supermarket, spare a thought for Vanita and thousands like her. None chose to be blind. But you could help them by choosing to use Solo Expenses and paying a modest monthly fee. We’ll use part of it to support charities like Sightsavers; you’ll probably save more than the fee every month, so you’ll be better off in your own right because you’ll be better at money management, and someone who’s been cruelly treated by fate will have a better life!

Vanita’s not here to say this to you, so we’ll say it on her behalf. Thank you.