Charity starts at home. Charity is giving to the poor. Charity is helping those more unfortunate than us. Throughout our lives, we often stumble upon charity organisations and underprivileged people. But what, really, is charity?
“If we live in a world where everyone only cares about themselves, then it would be a cruel and selfish world. That is not the world that I want to live in.” Timothy Lam
Charity is a concept that has been blurred. Through time, less and less people stop to lend a hand, starting to think cynically before they even think to help.
I was walking passed a homeless person one day and decided to toss some gold coins to ease my conscience. I don’t know what he will do with those coins, or how will he get enough money to fill his belly. But I thought I have done my part, now others must do theirs and chip in to help this poor guy.
Is this charity? Have I done something good?
When I first joined a charity organisation, my friends looked at me in disbelief. “Do they pay you?” they often ask. “Why are you working there?” “How is the money managed?”
I was taken aback. Of course, if I were in their shoes and a friend told me that she’s working for a nonprofit organisation, I might have asked those same things. And I realised that charity, in all its noble vision and mission, has been betrayed by organisations who misuse the faith of the public.
So I tossed the question to 30 of my friends. They are students, consultants, doctors. They are accountants, retail workers, engineers. And their thoughts on charity blow my mind.
“Charity is an exercise, a training, a discipline of shaping our character to become less of ‘me’, but more of ‘us’, as the community.” Willy Tan
“Charity means giving something to those in needs without expectation or wanting something back in return.” Sumi Oetomo
All of my friends believe charity is doing good to others. However, only a third of them explicitly say they practice charity actively, with some sponsoring underprivileged children to get further education.
While the most common perspective of doing charity is by giving money, some of my friends also define charity in terms of having “compassion”, “love”, and “responsibility”. They believe that charity starts at home by doing good to people who are close to us.
Around 40 per cent of them believe that charity goes beyond to just sparing some cash, for example by volunteering with organisations or giving time and energy to help others.
“As an aside, I think a better way to frame giving to the poor is ‘stewardship’ – being responsible with what you are given. From that perspective, giving to the poor is one way we make good use of the opportunities and resources we have.” Jason T. Widjaja
“In my opinion, the nature of love must always reach beyond ourselves. And in terms of charity, the love that we give must be free from selfishness. It is purely a joy to give, and to give more than simply material things, truly because we love others.” Herman Justio
Aside from that, although many of them would love to do something more hands-on, like doing visits or teaching education to illiterate children, sometimes resources and time are their limitation. Dr. Heng Khuen Cheok is one of them. Due to his busy medical schedule, for now he “settle(s) for second best, which is funding the work being done.”
That said, despite the doing good in charity, a striking 30 per cent are skeptical about giving donation to organisations.
With statement like “only a small amount of our money goes directly to the needy”, people tend to decide to give up charity altogether. This is especially true where they don’t get results or statistic report of what their money is doing, or if they find out that their money is used in publications instead of more practical things.
My friend Shaun Lee says he understands that people working for charity organisations may be volunteers, and that he doesn’t “begrudge them of a few of life’s luxuries every now and then as they have sacrificed many of their own.” But what important is if “everything is made transparent.”
A third of them even state they are cautious in choosing the organisations to donate their money, stating that they rather “say no” instead of “not knowing where the money goes”.
But there are some who think otherwise.
Business consultant Jason T. Widjaja talks about the importance of the issue of how much of our money will directly benefit people. Nevertheless, it is a wrong point of view by itself, as it is not supposed to be the foundation on whether or not people donate to charity organisations.
“I have problems with this because this indirectly implies that the people who work in these organisations – who often have no product or services to offer – are not worth your donations.” Jason T. Widjaja
For my then-classmate-now-Master’s student Timothy Lam, he believes that people who are cynical about charity organisations “blame NGOs as a way to mask their own guilt”. He thinks some people may accuse organisations of not using money properly as a way to justify their inaction.
A passionate soul in helping others, Timothy believes that charity is a way of “giving back to society and to the world”, and “making the world a better place for everyone”.
“People who don’t do charity work are missing out big time because you do get enormous satisfaction knowing that you have helped other people. So in a way, charity is a win-win situation. You feel good about yourself, and you also help other people.
“If you can’t change the entire world, you can at least try to change the world of one person.” Timothy Lam
What about you? What does charity mean to you?