These two actions mean two very different things. One can do harm while meaning well and vice-versa. This certainly is true of charities and non-government organizations (NGOs).
Canadians gave away $8.19 billion to charities in 2008 (CBC News). Some Canadian charities, however, have come under heavy fire, such as Yele Haiti, for which senior staff members are reported to have pocketed a third of all funds raised, leaving little for the actual programs (Levant).
Some people, upon reading this, might think volunteering abroad is a good alternative to donating to charities. After all, what could be more fulfilling than building a school or a well for a poor village? Ah, herein lies the rub: What happens after construction? The villagers haven’t been trained to maintain or repair the infrastructure. Secondly, we are in fact stealing jobs away from the local economy.
I write from second-hand experience. My mother grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her father was a mechanical engineer stationed there for quite a few years, doing, you guessed it, construction. The actual construction of a well isn’t very time consuming, but what he found was that if it broke, there was no one with the experience to fix it. So he trained local men, which is why he stayed there for so many years.
My mother recently participated in a similar project; she spent a month in Cambodia last year training teachers to work with children with disabilities instead of working with the children herself. This form of aid is rather revolutionary. Indeed, my mother explained to me that some of the difficulties she faced during her time abroad were caused by charitable organizations. After the genocide, several charities and NGOs rushed over to Cambodia to help, which, my mother says, is causing difficulties for the country today. Many of the teachers she worked with were refusing to work. Instead, they kept asking about their money. “When are we getting our money?”, they asked, “Do you get sponsors?” This attitude reflects a habit that can be acquired if there is too much dependence on NGOs and charities – the habit of not working for money but simply expecting organizations to hand it over. Another sustainable organization in Cambodia is trying to have bridges built across the country, but they face the problem of finding a willing workforce.
Still want to make a difference? The best way is probably not what you’d expect, but believe it or not, it’s tourism. By visiting a country and buying from the local restaurants and shops, you are directly contributing to the local economy.
My opinion of charities is shared with Michaëlle Jean, former Governor General of Canada. She aptly described the challenges she and many Haitians faced after the 2010 earthquake in a CBC interview. She said that the government of Haiti is decapitalized since it cannot compete with the NGOs (Shwartz).
To conclude, I leave you with this quote: “You cannot build a sustainable economy on charity.” – Michaëlle Jean.
CBC News. “Charitable Donations down 5.3% in 2008.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada,
16 Nov. 2009. Web. 16 Jan. 2013.
Levant, Ezra. “Warning: Don’t Donate to These Two Corrupt Haiti NGOs.” N.p.,
26 Jan. 2010. Web. 16 Jan. 2013.
Schwartz, Daniel. “Michaëlle Jean: ‘You Cannot Build a Sustainable Economy on Charity’.”
CBC News. CBC/Radio Canada, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 16 Jan. 2013.