Saturday, 23 June 2012

Charity and Justice - part 2

Charity is something I struggle with. I acknowledge its necessity in a world where injustice and poverty persist and I recognise the positive benefits it can bring to individuals and communities. On the other hand, I am uncomfortable with the presentation of charitable giving as a universal good because while I celebrate its potential benefits, I also fear its dangers. The risks for those receiving charity are well documented, with organisations anxious to show they are providing appropriate and directed assistance and that they are not creating a culture of dependence but rather helping recipients to help themselves; but I fear more for the dangers for those of us on the giving end.

Charity is a necessary evil in a world in which injustice persists. A world which is richer than it has ever been, and yet where children still die of hunger and of treatable diseases. While charity does indeed help some of the victims of injustice, it is not going to bring an end to the persistent injustice which allows the rich to get richer at the expense of the poor sinking deeper into poverty.

If we feel our charitable giving absolves us of our greater responsibilities, as actors in a global system which maintains the oppression of the poor, then it is doing more harm than good. A lot of charity undoubtedly does much good. Meanwhile the effects of the global debt system and the crippling effects of unjust trade continue to do many billions more pounds worth of unspeakable damage.

Charity is never an excuse to allow exploitation to continue. Giving to charity should not be a salve to our consciences to allow life to go on just as it did before. It should not allow us to say, I can continue to live as I do because I have put my pound in the charity box. Rather, it should serve as a reminder that poverty and injustice persist, and as a challenge to fight for justice, equality and change. Giving to charity should not be something we do to make ourselves feel better about the suffering we see as inevitable, but be part of our belief that another world is possible.

Our charitable giving this year has been nine months of our time, and yes, I feel that we have made a difference here. On Tuesday when we handed over the programmes of study and planning that we have spent the year developing to the directors of the eight training centres in the Philippines South province; the reception suggested that our efforts have been worthwhile and are appreciated and valued by those for whom it is intended.

I feel we have made a difference here, but I will not go home thinking I have done my part and done enough. I will go home refreshed and renewed to campaign for justice. I will go home reminded that while the Philippines is not entirely innocent of its own failings; above all else our students have been failed by a global trading and financial system that has kept their country locked in poverty. I will go home knowing that my government can do more to solve the problems in the Philippines than theirs can. I will go home knowing that while giving my time and my money will help these students, the greatest gift I can give them is not my pound in a charity box, nor even my English lessons, but believing in and campaigning for radical change on a global scale.

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