Christmas is based on the principles of charity and goodwill to others (this is false, but let’s not get distracted by details). What better occasion then exists to tackle the global insult that passes off as charity. I want to make a real difference this year, and I want to do so by telling the charitable souls an unsettling truth (or two) about what really happens when you blindly donate to those who have pockets that never seem to fill no matter how much, and how frequently, society gives to them.
I want to speak from my own experience with and observation of charity, and how it is usually distributed. This is a true story and it helped open by eyes to spot the ongoing sleight of hand used by those who beckon on behalf of the poor and needy. I hope it will similarly enlighten you.
The eye-opened introduced itself to me in my pre-teen years, when my mother was working at a ‘place of safety’ for troubled and abandoned children. There was nothing benign about the place, for it was more of a juvenile detention center than a safe haven for children who have lost their way. The orphanage-esque theme and slogan were only there to ensure a steady stream of donations from society’s gullible and conscientally-troubled members. These people are always looking for a way to feel better about themselves; it is a pity they don’t seem to care much about making the targets of their donations feel any better.
After school, I would go to my mothers work and play with the other kids until she knocked off at 7PM. One evening, the child prison received an unexpected and sizable donation of treats (and other food) from Woolworths! These were foods that were approaching their sell-by date, and a particular Woolworths branch manager was kind enough to pass the luxurious treats (otherwise destined for the trash heap) to the ever-hungry, treat-deprived, gruel-fed mouths of the children under the auspices of said organization.
But no donation is free from the distribution problem. You see, the conundrum the intermediate social workers face is a mathematical one (and they suck at math!): how do you equally (because it’s all about fairness, right) distribute a donation of 500 chocolate mousse containers (and other goods) to the 501 children that occupy the compound? Do you ask a child to share their mousse with surplus child? Hell no! Children don't share! Ask any government-employed social worker; children are nothing but the offspring of satan! Well then, do you, perhaps, deprive one child of a chocolate mouse and maybe give them the chocolate bar in your purse as a consolation? Now that just does not make any sense! Either everyone gets a mousse, or nobody does!
With this flawless reasoning and exemplary fairness, these social workers decided to act on the only honourable solution they could think of (or cared to think of): they would distribute the donation amongst the staff because none of them would complain about an imperfect distribution. These are educated adults we are talking about, after all, not bratty, demonic disposed children who incessantly complain over those who got the accidental extra baked bean on their toast at breakfast! It was quite a spectacle to observe that night as the 10-strong staff invited friends and family to come and partake in the feast; everyone could leave with enough chocolate mousse (and other food packages) to last them a few months!
Even as a toddler, I could sense the deception and wrong in what they had done, and then I made off with my share of the chocolate mousse. Look, you can’t seriously blame me? I was a child and perhaps the one that inspired the stories of selfish kids who never share but a child nonetheless. Though it bothers the adult me, today, that those adults flew into that Woolworths donation like vultures into a rotting carcass. Had they no shame or conscience? What part of this behaviour was parallel to charity?
Of course, in a bid to ensure repeat donations in the future (all of which would prove impossible to equally divide amongst the children), Mr. kind Woolworths manager was sent a fabricated stack of letters and crayon drawings, which he was led to believe was from the thankful children, to warm his heart and boost his charitable nature. Of course, the disenfranchised children knew nothing of the deception that had unfolded behind their backs; they were told the letters and drawings were for a competition, which if won could see them all feasting on sweet treats for a day.
That is my personal account of a charitable act gone wrong, and I am sad to say that cases such as these are not the exception. If the reader would research charity fraud, they would realise that the rot indeed runs deep.
Globally, the problem will all charity donations is that they always just fall short of making a perceptible difference to the conditions of the ultimate recipients.
In South Africa, the Lotto donated millions of Rands to various non-profit and charity-dependent organizations. There are numerous accounts that detail how the money was mismanaged and used to upgrade facilities (such as lavished tearooms) for the ‘selfless’ and ‘hard-working’ staff. The next round of donations were syphoned off to upgrade the parking lots, where the ‘selfless’ staff park their vehicles. The next batch of donations came just in time to install air conditioners for all staff offices (dis vokking warm in die somer, man, met al die globale verwarming en goed). Nay, donations kept coming in and were expertly diverted into decorated staff gardens, tranquil koi dams at the head offices, solitaire-capable staff computers (because solitaire is critical part of a social worker’s daily routine), etc., but not a cent, sock, or lollipop ever reached those on whose behalf the donations were pleaded and ultimately intended for.
“We need more” is the slogan I think every charity organization should adopt, because no more fitting a slogan exists.
I did not fully realise just how deceptive (and effective) the faces of charity really are until I read a book that struck at the heart and soul of charity, Mother Theresa. I ask the reader to stop reading my inarticulate scrawl; go and read Christopher Hitchens’ book The Missionary Position - Mother Theresa in Theory and in Practice. You will realise that the poor are only ever used as the marketing material for the selfish ‘saints’ who trod the surface of the third world in the name of charity.
Perhaps our lethargy ripened us to the point where we can have our money squeeze out of our pockets and bank accounts so easily. Charity, after all, has a karmic quality to it, and can indeed make one feel good about oneself for the meagerest expense. A R5 placed in the hand of a beggar is a really cheap way to feel better (or good) about yourself. However, we are all very clever when we are asked to donate a sizable amount of our money (say our bonus) to charity. No no, then we all know that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, he can feed himself for life.
Resist the urge to give charity that stems from your own greed; clasp your hand around the coin; retract your arm, roll up your window, and drive off without shame. Choose dignity for yourself and those whom you claim you want to help.
If you are a business owner who was just chalking up the figures for your next round of charity donations, then please, I implore you, rather take a bit off the total, pay for a truck, take half day’s leave, and go and give the needy the things you hope their wardens (I mean, caretakers) would buy for them with your contribution. Put in just a little effort and your charity contribution may finally be worthy of being called that.
Play the role of the intimidating, inflexible auditor—don’t just settle for the warm smiles and cupped hands of the intermediaries—you may just make the needy feel as good about finally receiving your donation as you do about giving it.
A belated but none the less merry Christmas to you all!