Charitable Value

January 03, 2012

Charitable Value

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Barry's Bay This Week 

Barney McCaffrey

This Christmas season I've received in the mail a larger than ever amount of solicitations for various charities.

Some go straight in the recycle file, others are set aside for further reading and meditating.

A few may actually get a cheque of no large amount.

I have some definite ideas about charity; which kinds help, which may be neutral and which could be potentially harmful.

Certainly one of the types of charity that is hard to argue with is the giving in an emergency.

Fires, floods, hurricanes, accidents, famine, all demand an immediate response, both from our emotions and the incident's aftermath.

Having been both on the receiving and giving ends of this type of charity, I've seen it's something individuals and private groups can, and often must, do before governments even think of organizing.

There's not much debate over the early actions after a disaster: save lives, give medical care, find shelter, distribute food.

It's not until later (sometimes continuing on much, much later), that the arguments begin over which type of charity should come into action.

Continuing long periods of emergency-type charity can lead to its own revenge effects.

At the other end are those who say the best charity is no charity at all.

An example of this latter type thinking was the first reaction to the housing problem at Attawapiskat, where our current crop of business-oriented (dare I say mean-spirited?) federal government ministers sent in forensic accountants when they heard people were freezing in unheated tents.

This is where it gets tricky - and sometimes quite explosive - literally.

The battles between monarchist-capitalist-fascist type forces against socialist-communist-populist movements over what constitutes "charity" have been going on for 200 years, with millions killed and billions in destruction cost.

Even when it stays in the realm of political discourse it can become quite nasty.

Witness last year's debate in the U.S. over health care extension, where "individual freedom" versus "socialist slavery" arguments hid the deep underlying racism in that country.

The bite backs from the extremes of these views of charity have been painfully obvious recently.

In Europe we see the huge debt load problem of governments, caused in large part by the easy access to "charity"-public healthcare, public education, grants and subsidies to arts and agriculture, unemployment assistance, maternal benefits, etc., etc.

(A person would have to be quite naïve to believe the bloated profits of banks and financiers had nothing to do with the "crises." Their policies used to be called "usury" and have been condemned for centuries by churches and mosques).

We have to look no farther than our southern border (if a wall has not been built there yet) to see the effects of the other extreme.

The de-regulation policies of the Ronald Reagan administration (cut back government "charity" and let business do what it wants) bore fruit in junk bonds, downloaded mortgages, offshore loading of manufacturing jobs and bankrupt banks.

In our two years as volunteers in Peru, my wife and I had to use both sides of this charity coin to keep the day nursery we were put in charge of both viable and on the way to self sufficiency.

To the general donor, we showed photos of children looking lonely in the nursery and smiling at what we were teaching them in the pre-school.

To aid and investment groups we showed how their donations would be used to make the project self-supporting and would no longer need "charity" (of the first type).

It's a fine line between getting a people or a project "on its feet" and keeping it going without it becoming a "symbol of colonialist expansion and oppression", or a "dead end centre of misery", or a "grant machine industry", or a "too expensive government program that's outlived its usefulness."

These are ideas Canadians will have to wrestle with as our current federal government, in its ideologic fervour to cut back government services (except for police, prisons and military), attempts to withdraw from public health, public broadcasting, grants and subsidies to everything except oil and gas projects.

With money ever more scarce, thanks to all those manufacturing jobs shifted overseas, charities dependent on donations may have to look at other means to continue to exist, but how many hospital lotteries can we tolerate?

Personally, I'll grudgingly donate to one donation-based charity that deals with an illness I've been intimately connected with in the past.

I say grudgingly because by financially supporting it, I worry I'll give moral support to the government's direction toward privatized health care.

Otherwise, I'll try to give to organizations that, instead of "giving a fish," will "empower fishermen."

One empowering type gift that's recently caught my eye is located right here in the Valley.

Petawawa's Glenergy Inc. offers a $40 gift certificate for a solar lantern and panel.

Not only do you receive a charitable tax receipt, but the gift card explains this lantern will become part of the inventory of a small East African entrepreneur who will sell it, make a commission, repay the principal, which will buy another lantern for another entrepreneur to sell.

While cutting out the use of expensive (and pollutive) kerosene for lighting, it keeps the "charity" on a person to person small business investment relationship, with little in the way of giver to receiver power imbalance. (contact

A gift of light for the birthday of "The Light Of The World"? The poetry alone makes me want to go for it.

Hopefully, we've all had a de-light-ful Christmas.