I just got back from the seventh annual “St. Jerome’s Feast.” The food was amazing, and in addition to eating, we had the pleasure of listening to the guest speaker for the night, Craig Kielburger. Craig is the founder of an organization called Free the Children, an organization working to end child labour and improve primary education as well. Although only in his twenties, he has already received the Nelson Mandela Human Rights Award, the Order of Canada, the Human Rights Award from the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations, the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of Children, and three Nobel Peace Prize nominations. It was quite an impressive evening.
What always seems to strike me during these types of presentations is the mental picture of all the people who have the guilt trip laid on them, donate their spare change, and then feel vindicated. I get this image in my mind of the people who go back “changed,” only to feel a whole lot better the next day and go on with their daily lives as if it had never occurred. They go back with $10 or $20 less in their wallets, a seemingly sufficient price to pay to have the guilt removed. It’s the binge-purge of our North American society.
Well that’s not what I want. I don’t want simply to give my one-time donation and leave it at that. I mean, I know every dollar, every cent counts, but too often those types of donations go to those charities that keep giving developing countries a bunch of handouts. And that’s not what they need. They need ways to start providing for themselves. And to do that, they need people to teach them. They don’t need everyone in North America to come, but they need people who are supported by other people.
One of the charts Craig showed during his presentation was a set of figures showing annual expenses in North America on “luxury items” – perfume, ocean cruises, etc. – and the equivalent social goal it could achieve. Apparently we spend $15 billion on perfume every year. For a third of that, $5 billion, we could achieve world literacy. Yet millions of people still live being unable to read or write, just so we can smell like a flower. Pitiful, if you ask me. We have so much stuff here in Canada and the U.S. that we don’t even know what to do with it all. We throw away our slightly used clothing or whatever we just don’t feel like eating, and meanwhile, by only changing our lifestyles slightly, we can do so much good.
The only problem is that every time people try to change their lifestyles, they feel like they’re the only one doing it. And one person not buying perfume isn’t going to do much. It’s social epidemics that we need, and somehow it seems as though something like that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. And so, as I sponsor my solitary child over in Haiti, I feel like I’m doing so little, and yet I just have to trust that I’m not the only one. There are a million charities to give your time and money toward, and which one effects the greatest good? Should we find a cure for AIDS first, or should cancer be our first priority? Should we end world poverty, or should we improve world literacy? If there’s a need for it, there’s a charity for it trying to suck your money out of you.
North American society makes me sick. Every time I think about it, it disgusts me just a little bit more. And yet, I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to do about that. I know that this disgust won’t be solved by a simple binge-purge, give-some-money technique. As a Christian, I know that I’m called to do so much more than just pull some spare change out of my wallet and give it to any charity that happens to pull at my heart-strings. But I think the essence of what needs to be done is summed up in what Mother Teresa once said to Craig as he visited her: “Remember, we can do no great things, but we can do small things with great love.” As a Christian, that is our goal – a life of love. Whether we give our time, effort, or our money is not the issue. The truth is that we should give all three with love to those who need it more than we do. And how I’m going to do that, I’m not quite sure, but I can just say that I won’t be sitting on my butt for much longer. I simply won’t allow it.