I am so happy that we live in a world that has “Giving Tuesday”, a movement that started six years ago in response to overconsumerism that was (and still is) attached to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

AND I’d hate to be a Negative Nancy BUT I do have some thoughts about this that aren’t what some would call ‘optimistic’. Through my growth from a fast fashion consumer and quick shopper to an ethical fashionista and slow to buy, I have learned a lot on my journey. Some of this includes that not all charities are doing what they say they are doing or the money isn’t necessarily being put to good use. I think that most, if not all charities have good intentions but the money is not used in the best way. Often charities are not a sustainable solution.

I quoted Lynne Twist in my last post, as well, but she has some really good material that I don’t want to move on yet.

“The painful legacy of excess and misguided charity was evident in Ethiopia when I was there in the early 1990s. Six years before, “Live Aid” had taken place, the biggest television fundraising event in history at that time, and succeeded in drawing world attention to the devastating famine taking place in 1984 in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia. Millions of dollars of aid had been raised and food had been sent to stop more deaths. Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people were at the center of the world stage for several weeks.  The televised images of their gaunt, starved faces and emaciated bodies pulled the heart strings of the affluent world such that charitable contributions flooded into the agencies working to alleviate the famine and help the people.

Although much good was done with that money and many lives were saved, when I visited there six years later I encountered people who were still on the brink of death, who had lost their sense of self reliance and who were waiting for the world to save them again. Now, without the headlines and television images, they were helpless and hopeless in a situation of drought and despair, and the world community had moved on to other crises. There was talk of “donor fatigue” and the aid had dwindled to practically nothing.

By being charitable for those weeks, the affluent world had perhaps done more to relieve its own discomfort about the situation than really addressing the Ethiopians’ situation, and as soon as that crisis was out of fashion, attention and money went elsewhere. The Ethiopians, on the other hand, had learned that they needed to be able to continue to hold up a starving baby to get the attention they desperately needed to keep some form of aid flowing in their direction. Much as the organized beggars of Bombay had learned to present themselves advantageously for alms, this charity relationship based on pity and sympathy for “the needy” began to show up for me as a kind of pornography of poverty that demeaned all parties.

I have seen it again and again in my work in the developing world. I see people with a dependency hangover. I see the consequences of a welfare state worldwide that goes beyond rich and poor, that is actually inside of institutions, families, nation to nation relationships where people “help” other people in a way that is patriarchal- from the top down- and creates dependents, and dependence, instead of supporting self-reliance and healthy interdependence. It diminishes everyone.””

I am not trash-talking charities in this post. I think that there is good that comes from them, when done correctly. I am concerned about people becoming dependent on charities in third world countries, and when the charities stops coming to assist they are at square one or even worse than before. This is not a sustainable solution. This is not the answer. This is not providing dignified work or other opportunities.

I know that this post is a day late, but, I think, like anything else we need to be doing our research when it comes to charities. When you give for Giving Tuesday next year make sure your money is part of a sustainable solution. You can always vote with your dollar. 

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