‘Tis better to give

Inspired by comments on Angry African‘s latest post.

Why do people give to charity?  I’ve heard a lot of excuses.  A lot of rich people say that they feel an obligation to the society that allowed them to succeed and gain wealth- which may very well be true.  I’m sure the tax breaks and the status don’t hurt, either.  Poorer people give out of a recognition that there are those even more desperate.  Christian’s give because they feel it is their life calling. There is also belief in Karma- that all we give away is returned to us.  So some people give because they wish to receive, or they give because they already have received.  There are those who give when a life experience like a loved one being diagnosed with cancer brings to the forefront of their mind the need to establish foundations for those in need.

And then there are simply those who feel that being charitable should be a way of life.  Those who are motivated deeply by compassion for their fellow humankind.

Then there are those who make excuses.  There are those who say that it’s too hard to know where your money is going, and they don’t have the time to properly research.  There are those who say that by giving charitably you are taking away the impoverished man’s need to learn to care for himself.  There are those who say, “why delay the inevitable?  Allow nature to take it’s course.”  There are those who say that to be charitable is a calling- one they haven’t heard.  Better to leave the good deeds to those who are summoned for it.  There are those who say that charity is simply medicine for the conscience of the complicit, and not necessary for themselves.  There are those who say they don’t have enough time, enough money, enough passion.

Let God judge their hearts.

The ones who bother me the most are the ones who blame the charities.  The ones who talk about it being a bandaid on a deep bleed.  Why feed a child who will just starve later?  Why give clothes to someone who will always be jobless?  Why give medicine to the starving, the impoverished, the ones who will never do anything to better themselves?  Why save the unsalvable?

The basic premise of this sort of argument is that there is something inherintly unworthy about one class of people, but more worthy about another.  So why save the starving African orphans, who will likely always be impoverished and in need, instead of offering job training to poor people in one’s own country?  Well…  There are a few reasons.  The first is this:

  1. First I will acknowledge the fact that there are some nations where the problems of poverty and governmental corruption are so intertwined that it seems impossible to do anything to better the situations of the actual people involved.  I know that Mexico is like this- one can do very, very little to actually improve the lots of the poor.  All one really can do is give a little, year to year, day to day, and hope that it keeps them from dying.  Which is a tragedy.  It’s not the old axiom of “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat forever”- they know how to fish, their governments just steal their fish.  So the question I ask in this situation is:  will you allow the corruption in the system to kill these people- or will you do as much as you can?
  2. I understand the reasoning- no matter how much money is thrown at some problems, they will persist.  So why even try?  Why not give money to a separate cause that has some greater hope of being eventually effective?  Well, it goes like this:  People in our country have options.  They have a government that has their back.  They can find someone to set up a nonprofit organization in their favor, they can apply for grants.  How is a starving African AIDS orphan going to do that?   Yes- I realize that people in my own country can only get that help if someone is willing to help them, and it may as well be me- but I tend to gravitate towards being sympathetic to the most urgent needs.  If the governments of some people will not stand for them, then someone else has to.  It might as well be you and I.

Ultimately there are a lot of ways to help.  If you want to be sure that all of your money goes towards helping someone who wants to help themselves, there’s always Kiva, which allows you to give a “micro loan” to someone who is trying to start a business.  A friend of mine gave $300 to a woman who wanted to start selling organic peanut butter, because he liked peanut butter- and it was a great experience.  There’s also the Heifer Project, another organization geared towards finding more long-term solutions to short-term problems.  I find that a lot of people complain about charity without actually informing themselves about what is out there and what they can really do.

So let me tell you:



16 thoughts on “‘Tis better to give

  1. This is interesting, because on this topic I actually disagree with you.

    I have a belief that in the case of starving africans we do more harm then good. Lets say you have a desert region dwelling society/tribe with around 100,000 population. In natural conditions, they go through times of drought and times of plenty. The population fluctuates with these cycles. Enter white do-gooders into the equation. They feed the starving africans, for a time the africans are going well and the population increases to 200,000 (fertility increases and child mortality decreases also). The next drought comes and instead of 25,000 dieing (which would have occurred anyway), 50,000 africans die. We basically unnaturally increased a population and killed twice as many people.

    If its a case that people are not being fed due to political or infastructure issues: how will feeding them like cattle, and therefore increasing the problem due to growing population, actually help the general situation? If you want to help, instead of paying away your guilt with a charity, go lobby their government for better infastructure and sort out their political problems. But actually trying to solve a problem is harder than feeding someone, isn’t it?

    When I was in high school our school used to give to a charity called 40 Hour Famine (its huge in Australia, not sure about other countries). When one of our teacher called up (after years of donating) to enquire about how much cents in a dollar actually got to the starving people, the organisation refused to tell her (even when she threatened to no longer donate). In the end, our school stopped participating because of this.

    The difference here is that others may see these as excuses; I see them as reasons. I’m all for donating to charities that might actually help. As for starving african/asian/south american/anyone – no.

  2. @goldnsilver – wtf? So it is okay to let people just die because it is more “natural”? Okay… Of course your maths are also stuffed because you make assumptions of birthrates and corrupt governments. You should have a defensive and offensive strategy (or reactive/proactive). Defensive: Stop people from dying. Offensive: Change the system.

    Three key challenges we face that needs offensive strategies as well:
    1. we do actually have enough food in this world to feed everyone. But the Western world (Aus included) waste too much and consumer too much. Result – other people suffer and die thanks to this.
    2. Money goes to charities in the West and/or loads are “tied” aid which means it needs to go through the hands of Western consultants before it gets to the ground. It filters the money through so many levels that so little hits the ground where it is needed.
    3. Let’s trade. The West protects their own little industries that are limited and can’t compete with so many in the South. The rally call for “trade not aid” is what people want. But the West pays through aid because they know they can’t compete on the trade front. Level the playing fields and then we can talk again.

    If you want to go “natural”. Then don’t export and don’t import either. Live off what you can do yourself in each country and lets see how long you will last.

    Before making wild statements on whether aid works – check the facts first. There are too many cases where we can show it works and where it leaves sustainable solutions and hope.

  3. goldnsilver: I understand some of your logic, which is why I made the point of saying we CAN do more than just throw food at the problem. For example: there are entire squatter villages in Mexico where the average person makes about three dollars a week. They live under blankets. Kids run naked. My family is pretty tied to that area for reasons I won’t go into here, but my father has independently gone to Mexico, made small loans (of two to five hundred dollars) for the women in one of those towns to start a small chocolate kiosk, and has managed to make them enough money in the long run (this has been going on for YEARS) that people are now able to buy land and build houses.

    It doesn’t take much to change the world when you’re talking about that kind of poverty.

    And I take issue with your “artificially inflated population” argument when it comes to Africa, I don’t have the literature on me, so I can’t quote exact statistics- but if people in some countries in northern Africa keep dying out at this rate, populations of entire countries will be decimated in the next few years. I’m talking entire countries that will simply cease to exist because no one lives there anymore. Rather than “artificially inflating” the population, in many cases, aid simply helps to keep the bottom from falling out of the whole machine. And we’re talking about children, here. Little kids whose parents died, little kids who have had no choice in life.

    I understand your argument, and it’s a tempting one- but as I pointed out in my post there are ways we can get beyond simply throwing money at problems. Both Kiva (kiva.org) and the Heifer Project (heifer.org) are organizations that look for long term solutions to short term problems. Kiva allows you to help an individual create a business that will feed them and their family for the rest of their lives (much like my father is doing in Mexico). The Heifer Project offers dairy cows to rural communities so that they can create milk, butter, yogurt, and use the cow’s manure to fertilize otherwise infertile ground, offering a larger possibility for farming.

    Again, I can’t get to my literature right now- but I can attest to the fact that these things really work. An old church of mine gave twenty water buffaloes to a community in Africa where they had previously bought people out of indentured servitude to discover that said people had no way to live outside of it. Rather than throwing their hands up in frustration, my church tried to think of a more creative solution. The water buffalo allowed people to farm (as they could drag tillers) they gave them cheese and milk, the manure worked as fertilizer, and as they bred new buffalo they could kill the old and sell the pelts and eat the meat.

    What took us a few months to organize and pay for has changed the lives of over a hundred people, forever.

    And as for the governmental problem, well, we can write to our Senators until our fingers turn blue, but unless you and I run for office we’ve got few options on that end. I simply refuse to sit by and do nothing if there is ANYTHING I can do.

    Angry African: thank you so much for your comments

    wvhillcountry: Thanks. It’s not nice to think about, but it’s necessary sometimes.

  4. I don’t give to charities. Just because of what I do for a living. (there are occasions were we do. Hurricanes, tsunamis, etc)

    For me I work day in and day out with kids who basically don’t have a shot at living a normal life. People often ask why I do what I do when there is no hope. I tell them there is always hope. I believe in the human spirit and it’s strength no matter how wounded it is.

    I’m poor in monetary terms because I have chosen to do what I do. I’m rich because there is nothing greater than seeing a child learn to trust and smile.

    Cara and I talk about how our Government will spend millions on other countries, but cut funding to social services in our country.

    I don’t believe it is a ‘rich’ countries job to take care of other countries until that ‘rich’ country takes care of its own people.


  5. goldnsilver, what if we stopped giving vaccinations to babies here in the US? The babies of poor people? Maybe then there would be a “natural cycle” of,w ell – infant deaths from diptheria and whooping cough and…

    I know that sounds very, very harsh. But I’m just trying to give you a “Western” parallel to what you’re suggesting about Africans and their lives.

    Sorry to be so heavy-handed, but …

  6. I would like to add one more thought re. the “unnatural increase of population”: To me personally, it sounds as if you are talking about game animals, not human beings. I doubt you intended that, but … some of your wording is what I might call “difficult.”

    Again, I don’t mean to offend, but may I ask: do you know anyone from Africa? Or Central/South America? (or any of the other places you mentioned?) I’ve done a lot of ESL/EFL work, and… for every group of people you mentioned, I can see faces with names attached to them. Some are former students, others are colleagues, neighbors, friends.

    I have never lived in the kinds of harsh conditions we’re referring to, so close to possible starvation and/or death (including infant/child death) on a daily basis. I ahve never had to fight to try to keep my family alive. But that’s only because i was “fortunate” enough to be born into the upper middle class and stay in the middle class. My guess (per figures) is that over 90% of the people in the world are not that fortunate. We are – *I* am – blind to the realities that face most of the people in this world, or at least, those of us who are “fortunate” are (largely) blind.

    I’d better stop before I say something inflammatory. *Lindsey, please feel free to either pull or edit this comment and the previous one, OK?

  7. Haha, quite a reaction. But i’m alright with playing the devil’s advocate.

    Mr Africa: My figures are ballpark/examples. Also, read my writing closer. I never said it was ok for people to die because its natural. I meant that if we unnaturally increased a population in an area that doesn’t have the agriculture, medicine and infastructure to support more people than we are doing more harm than good. You’ve got to change the system before you stop people dieing, because if you do it in reverse or the same time all your going to do is kill a lot more people than would have already died. How is that compassionate? But oh, wait, you were trying to do the right thing. But I believe a death is a death, regardless of the good intentions of the perpetrator.

    lindsey: I think you’ve got me a little wrong here. I’m all for projects like Kiva, which by the sound of it give people a realistic solution to poverty. That sounds fantastic. I’m against simply feeding people because I’m objective about it. As for entire populations dying, they probably will. And yet again, I don’t see how me giving them food is going to do anything but prolong the agony. If an entire population is set to be wiped out than the problems are again linked to more than food.

    e2tc: First of all, how the hell can not vaccinating babies in poor parts of America have anything to do with starving africans? Stop trying to draw comparisons that just aren’t there in order to make it seem like I’d be all right with other things.

    I know a couple of south africans, thats about it. But i see a lot of similarities between the aborigine situation in Australia and africans. And let me tell you, throwing money and aid at them doesn’t work. Its a lot more complicated than that, and I think that this is something people have to realise. They can’t just donate 2 bucks because they feel guilty and expect things to fix themselves. Its naive.

    In closing, maybe i am a sociopath. Or maybe I just realise that acting emotionally about the situation and being a bleeding heart is going to do fuck all, just as I think donating to feeding people like cattle won’t do anything but make the situation worse.

  8. goldnsilver: I don’t think you’re a sociopath. I do think that your initial comment did sound a little nihilistic, but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. I probably would personally tend more to the philosophy of Ubuntu than nihilism, but, hey…

    I suppose I can see your reasoning with the ethical question of prolonging someone’s life if it is a life of pain and suffering- the same question has been asked of people about elderly in poor conditions in homes in the US- if we are prolonging their lives through artificial means and that life is a lonely, painful, and diseased on- does it stand to the test of “do no harm?”

    And you are right on one point- throwing food at the problem ultimately does no good other than delaying the inevitable. But there are a lot of good charities that do far more than simply throwing food. I’m glad you see the intrinsic value in things like Kiva and my father’s charity. 🙂

  9. We give the ten percent to our local church. In addition to that, I get cash in my pocket each week and use twenty percent of that for benevolance work. All local stuff.

    However, Lindsay, as you know the biggest “charity” we are supporting now is in the form of our new kids who are (now) four and six years old. Hard to believe they have been with us for twenty-eight months! 🙂

  10. goldnsilver, I agree completely re. “throwing money” (or food)not being a wise or reasonable solution.

    My pseudo-comparison (vaccinations)had more to do with attempting to come up with something that might parallel some of what I thought you were saying, but in less detached way. And I have no doubt that there are lots of people here in the US who might well agree that poor people have too many kids, thus increasing the number of poor (and/or people receiving public assistance, which aren’t snyonymous). There probably *are* people who think such a drastic “solution” would be a good one! (There were certainly enough people monkeying around with eugenics in this country at one time; “experimenting” on poor, minority populations in the not-so-distant past…)

    I think maybe we (US natives, anyway) might tend to judge others and their cultures on the basis of our own standards and ideas about what constitute “wealth” while simultaneously missing the fact that people from other cultures/countries might indeed have tremendous assets in some form other than real property, 2-car garages and, well, comfy houses in the suburbs. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, really – and I know I’ve been guilty of that line of thinking many times. By the same token, I think that working with people to help them find (and create) their own solutions to problems is vital. Time and money have to be invested, sure, but it is an investment. (Dealing with immediate needs for intervention – people on the brink of starvation, etc. – is another situation entirely.)

    Somehow, I think the idea of “investment” means a lot more than throwing money or food in someone’s path, but that’s just me.

  11. Oh, re. my “game animals” analogy, it wasn’t meant as a slam. I literally live in a mountainous area where there’s been a huge problem with deer populations growing out of control. There’s a lot of talk (in the newspapers, etc.) about “managing” these herds, and about population control. It sometimes seems as if the people who really care about wildlife management and conservation of natural resources (including wild animals) have to work overtime to get people to see that there are (just an example) better “solutions” than either “Let’s go out and blast up some deer” or “I don’t think anyone should ever fire a bullet at a wild animal.”

    i realize that this analogy was clear to me only, but maybe now it’ll make more sense? Again, it’s not something I see as being a 1:1 correspondence by any means!

  12. Wow, I’m out of it for a few days and I miss all these incredible posts. Lindsey this post again is incredible, thank you for writing this one, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I extend this invite with a smile and no sarcasm, it is genuine.

    I welcome anyone who says that aid, charity or giving to the sick, dying and poor is wrong or causes more trouble. I welcome them to my country, to come and spend some time with the orphans here, orphans that have no place to go. They will get a private tour of the orphanage I worked with, get to meet the little kids that broke my heart with their pain, they watched their parents die of AIDS, left alone in their shacks.

    Education is great but what about the children already suffering from the lack of it, I’ll take you to shack schools where 10 kids share one torn text book, where the only lunch they get handed is an apple, if that.

    I will also invite them to my friends in Kenya, they will get a private tour of the camps there, they will witness what malnutrition does and what a starving child looks like. They will see the smile on that child’s face when they give it a simple hug, it’s first hug in its life at the age of 4.

    I welcome anyone who wants to venture to Africa, come and see for yourself before you take a first world stance on what we see everyday. Come and see for yourself why giving one plate of food to a child who has only ever had rice means so much. If it means that they die with a smile on their face, so be it.

    I give because I love, I give because they are me, they are part of my soul. I am like AA, I close my eyes and see my people, then I know it’s worth it.

    The offer stands, anyone who wants a tour of Africa let me know, it is a genuine offer.

  13. Pingback: Weekly Fruit Salad - Numero Tredici « SanityFound’s Rambling’s

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