“No one has ever become poor by giving”
– Anne Frank
‘Charity begins at home’, as the saying goes; it is paramount to ensure that you provide for and meet the needs of your family before worrying about others. But maybe that’s a little misleading, and in fact another reading of the old proverb might be that charity begins ‘in the home’, by teaching your children the value and importance of charity in all forms – financial, behavioural or in terms of giving your time or expertise to charitable causes.
And I think it is important to bear in mind that just because charity might begin in the home, it does not end there. In order to grow and thrive as a society, we must all take responsibility to help those less fortunate than ourselves, in whatever way we can. And whatever our personal situation, there will always be those less fortunate. Always.
Less tolerant times?
To my mind, we find ourselves living in far less tolerant, less charitable times. It seems easier to find reasons to isolate ourselves from others, and to turn the other cheek, than it is to reach out and offer help and support. Of course, many thousands, even perhaps millions, of people in the world devote time, energy and financial support to charity work.
The rise of far-right groups across the globe, particularly in the United States and Europe, epitomises how far away from the idea of inclusivity and comradeship we now find ourselves. The current American president has shown time and again his intention to pursue isolationist policies – the Mexican wall, the anti-immigration rhetoric, trying to remove DACA rights – and the Brexit vote in the UK was made largely on the basis of anti-immigration scaremongering. Such events seem to have empowered those with xenophobic (and indeed racist) tendencies.
The appalling Windrush scandal has revealed the behaviour and motives of the UK government to have been less-than-charitable for some years now. The reluctance (and downright refusal) of the UK government (and, to be fair, many other countries in the EU and NATO) to assist huge numbers refugees of the civil war in Syria suggest the same. We in the West seem happy enough to contribute to the carnage, but less interested in helping and supporting those directly affected.
It seems charity ends at home
Current policy, then, suggests that charity does indeed begin – and end – at home, in the view of the US and UK governments. What sort of message does that send out? The West purport to proudly stand tall as beacons of compassion, freedom, opportunity and hope, when in reality, we are anything but.
When we see our governments acting in such a way, why should we be surprised to see a decline in charitable donations? Unstable economic times, hard-line austerity policies pursued by the UK government since 2010 and a huge erosion of trust in charities have all seen donations fall away from historical levels. Recently uncovered abuse scandals by charity workers has done nothing to help. Factor in the distasteful trend over the past few years for ‘chugging’ and it’s not hard to see why people find it much easier to turn their back on helping those less well off.
Against such a depressing backdrop, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that anything, financially at least, which we give to charity will not reach those who need it most; it will be swallowed up by dubious admin costs; it will help pay for abusers to travel to vulnerable (and fertile, in terms of satisfying their nefarious urges) areas; or will serve only to line the pockets of those administering the supposedly unscrupulous organisations.
To stop donating to international organisations might not, in itself, be a bad thing, if it helps stem the abuse of power currently being demonstrated by some of the management and aid workers. But international charitable work is vitally important and much good work occurs, in spite of financial and physical abuse. To compromise those efforts by removing funding would arguably do much more harm than any good it might do in encouraging the affected organisations to clean up their acts.
But if you really can’t bring yourself to donate to international charities, just take a moment to consider what you can do at a more local level. Is there a charity in your own country to which you feel comfortable in contributing? What about Dog’s Trust? The NSPCC or RSPCA? Homelessness organisations such as Shelter? If you are uncomfortable donating financially, why not consider giving your time to help? Most organisations would welcome voluntary assistance in terms of fund raising or working a few hours in their shops.
Any contribution, however small, will have a huge impact on someone, somewhere. Even taking a purely selfish viewpoint, the contribution you make will make you feel good about yourself. Local foodbanks or soup kitchens will always welcome help and support, and giving time is something money just can’t buy.
Please, take a moment to think about how YOU can help someone else. You can keep your degrees, your fast cars, your foreign holidays, your second home in the south of France. Changing someone’s life for the better is perhaps the most amazing achievement anyone can ever accomplish.
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta
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