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As we transition Change You Can Afford into a charity, that site will be dedicated to the charity and no longer host the blogging archives.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Help Vs. Charity

This last week, I had an interesting comment on my Prosthetics in India post relating to the Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti - a charity who manufactures and provides prostheses for disadvantaged individuals in India. They are one of the most impressive organizations I have seen recently, very impressed by them; if you haven't read the post yet, you should read it or check out the website.

One of the aspects which I appreciated was their philosophy on helping. One aspect of which was: "HELP NOT CHARITY - while the assistance is being given free it is ensured that BMVSS, its donors and its beneficiaries recognize such assistance as help and not Charity. Psychologically it is recognized that assistance given as charity demeans both the giver and the taker. The recipient particularly looses his self-respect. The constant effort of BMVSS is that the support given is treated as one provided to a brethren rather than a charity to a poor person."
I got the following comment relating to this point from Maureen "Yes, help not charity! Thanks for putting into words what I had been thinking." My quick reply was "I use the word charity a lot on this blog, but I get so frustrated by that. Because it takes a way a person's autonomy. It implies they could do nothing without our help, but that's not so, the important thing is how much they can do with a bit of assistance. None of us would get anywhere without some help from someone along the way..." 
But I keep have been thinking about this a bit more and wondering how this impacts my blog. How do I go about donating money to organizations without supporting organizations who merely give food. Do I emphasize the helping aspect and stay away from the word charity?

I remember when I was younger and learning about the work of Heifer International, the volunteer explained it using the old phrase - Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for life. The idea behind this phrase has always appealed to me. Rather than giving someone food, organizations can help them have a livelihood. Giving them chickens will give their family sustenance from the eggs and they can earn money by selling the extras. Or help someone to become mobile again with protheses and aids so they can work to help support themselves and their family.

Merely giving charity and giving food does not alleviate the problem, it makes them dependent on you. And while it is nice to help someone, wouldn't it be nicer to give someone a chance at self sufficiency? When I think about charities, programs which do this are the ones who truly appeal to me. Ones that work with a community to improve it long term, instead of just bringing aid by now and again.

Maybe we need a different word than charity, one which addresses the idea of helping others, without the connotations of that other person being helpless. If you have suggestions, let me know. And as always, please comment and leave your thoughts.

Thanks all, and while you are enjoying your three day weekend, remember Martin Luther King and all he stood for, as well as how far we still have to go to make his dream fully a reality.

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