Why I don’t give charity online

I used to be very involved in giving to charity, be it through the church or otherwise.  I believe in giving to people I do not know because people that are near and dear to me continue being helped by others/strangers as I live far from them.

However, a few annoying experiences have made me from stop giving online or by swiping my card  with volunteers I find on the street.  Why?  I made a contribution to a humanitarian organization by card several years ago and of course, I had to enter my address which I innocently did.  Well, these guys ‘harassed’ me for several years by sending endless requests through letters and even sent me a penny so that I could send them another contribution.  In order to have them stop, I ignored them, “Returned to Sender” to no avail.  Fortunately, they stopped on their own accord after some years.

I had made an earlier contribution about eleven years ago to a Christian organization because I believed in a project they were doing, and guess what?  They too have harassed me with request upon request and when I moved back to DC after more than five years away, I found a letter that had just been delivered to my office with a prayer cloth.  What?!!  They still have my data in their system.  My life was and continues being fine without their prayer cloths.


“My” prayer cloth?  Who said I accepted it for it to become mine?

I find it a shame that organizations, especially Christian ones, cannot get enough money but want to fleece you out of the little you have – at least that is how it feels when their CEOs get USD hundreds of thousands in salaries annually.  If those people reduced their salaries to a ‘mere’ USD70,000 per year and gave the balance to charity, they organizations would go a long way.  It’s unfortunate that the greed of organizations may make other people stop making donations because they do not want to be harassed, like me.

You just wonder about the Christian organization – why doesn’t it use the prayer cloths to boost its own finances.  They seem to believe that the cloths can correct any problem, so why don’t use them?

Why I don’t like aid

To give aid or not to? Now, that is the question.

Poverty during my childhood

The issue of giving and receiving aid is a very sensitive one for some people. My family hit a rough patch when I was about 12 and that lasted for a couple of years. I would go without food the whole day, walk about eight kilometers round trip to school. The thing that kept me going was that my parents told me (and my siblings, of course) that I had to work hard at school, go to college, get a job and then I would be able to have enough food. There was no aid handed to us by some sponsors from the US, UK or anywhere else. We did not have or need support from outside in order for us to be motivated enough to go to school.

Fast forward many many years later, we suddenly need motivation from sponsors/donors in order for our children to go to school. Why am I so against aid? My answer is a bit long, but bear with me.

Flo’s mom

I was visiting my parents several years ago after being away for a year when I heard some loud voices outside early in the morning.

Flo’s mom: Hey, you are not yet ready? Today is the day!
Sharon’s mom: Give me a few minutes and I will be done.
Flo’s mom: Hurry up! We will be late.
Sharon’s mom (a few minutes later): OK, I am ready. Let’s go!

I would not have paid attention to the conversation except for the fact Flo’s mom said “hurry up”. This is a woman who never does anything that requires expending energy. In short, Flo’s mom is a very lazy woman – something she was well known for in the neighborhood.

Why I do not like aid
Since my interest had been aroused, I asked my mother where these two women were rushing to. She said that poor parents whose children attended school regularly were given mealie meal (corn meal), cooking oil and beans enough to last for about a month. I had heard about this ‘phenomenon’ before, but had never met anyone who was actually paid (that’s how I see it) for having their kids go to school.

My mother also told me that she had been voted onto the school board of the local community school even though she did not have children there. She had declined the position but the parish priest and other board members finally convinced her to take the position. One of the board’s duties was to go through class registers every month, see which children consistently attended school and ‘paid’ their families with dry food stuffs. The board had noticed that some children did not attend school except for the last few days before rations were given out. These children were not given anything and their parents had protested – very loudly, I must add. The board members were not happy with this because the parents knew the rules. The board also knew the families personally and knew that the children had no real reasons for not going to school.

So, to me giving aid in order for children to go to school, something their parents should ensure they do anyway, is encouraging laziness and a sense of entitlement as seen from my mother’s experience. The parents, Flo’s mom in particular, get encouraged not to work hard because they know that their food supply is guaranteed through their children. Who knows, maybe some people may decide to have children just to receive free food as well. I (and countless other children) never needed aid to motivate us to go to school, so why should generations after me need to be paid to go to school? What will happen when this aid dries up? Will children stop going to school?

The above reasons have made me not like aid for the most part. Why should someone have to pay me for improving my own life? Why should some old lady somewhere in Europe knit her fingers off, sell the product and send my childred food every month (figuratively speaking) while I wake up at 10.00 am, eat the food she sent, chat with my neighbors and relax the whole day, go to bed at night and wake up to the same thing tomorrow? Basically, that is what Flo’s mom has done for years. Her laziness is being encouraged and I do not like that at all. I know I do not receive aid, but it just makes me mad to see what some Zambians have been reduced to – glorified beggars. I am mad! They are giving the rest of the Zambians a bad name. We are not too poor to try and fend for ourselves!

Suggested Solutions
I know some families need all the help they can get, especially with the scourge of HIV/AIDS, but the majority of them do not. What is the solution, then?

I believe that one of the solutions is education for the parents. They have to be taught that it is for their children and families’ benefits that the kids go to school. My parents told me constantly in different ways why I needed to go to school – e.g. I could travel the world (and I have done quite a bit of that) and I could have all the food I wanted. It would also help if successful people gave talks at schools about the benefits of hard work so that the children see the results of hard work.

I hope that this dependency syndrome will one day stop in Zambia and people will be like they were years ago – strong people who depended on themselves and not handouts.

Taking lunch to work – not ‘sexy’

I was minding my own business in the elevator one day when I heard an interesting conversation among very young men and women which went as follows:

Young man 1: What do you think of a guy who takes lunch to work?
Young man 2: What? I would never do that.
Young woman 1: Seriously! How can a man take lunch to work?
Young woman 2: It’s not sexy at all!
Young woman 2: I would not date a man that carries lunch to work.

I had to get off the elevator at that point and did not hear the rest of the insightful conversation. A lot of things went through my mind. I asked myself if these kids know that:

a) One can save a lot of money by carrying lunch to work?
b) Home cooked food is tastier?
c) Home cooked food is usually healthier?
d) Some people prefer eating their own food? I know one guy who has at least a million USD in his retirement fund, but still bring lunch almost every day.

I have carried lunch to the office at different times and never thought much whether it is ‘sexy’ to do so or not.

What do you think of these kids’ opinions? Do you think that they were saying these things because they are young or out of ignorance?

Charity begins at home

As far back as I can remember, my parents have helped people around them. This to me, became part of life. I learnt that you have to help people whenever you can. Fast forward many years later when I am working for a big international organization. The organization would have a campaign drive and ask staff members to make donations to their chosen charity on an approved list.

My region, Africa, always had the lowest amount of donations. This happened every year and one year I was one of the organizers for my region. We decided to do a small informal research on why Africa was always at the bottom. The answers we got were all the same. Staff members said they were de facto charitable organizations themselves as they were paying school fees for orphaned nieces and nephews, helped take of their parents’ financial needs, paid for relatives’ chronic medical needs, etc. They said they were already so far stretched already that they could not afford to help any more people. Another thing they said was that their assistance to others was not tabulated for all to see, so it seemed as if they were not doing anything. They further said that their ‘Western colleagues’ helped others once a year, made a lot of noise about it and told everybody what they had done. I found this very interesting, especially the latter part because that is the feeling I have as well, but I know I may be wrong.

One thing I sometimes do not understand it why people from the west seem keen to take up causes in poorer countries, make noise about it and then help in a very public way. Why don’t they first start in their backyards and then go out to e.g. Zambia to help? I have, after all, been told that “Charity begins at home”. Again, I may be wrong since I did not do any research on this, but I think that sometimes people overlook disadvantaged areas in their western countries and rush to help poor countries.

What do you think?

Peer pressure and finances

I joined a new company and as is normal, I got to know a group of women that I socialized with.  I was quite close to one, who I will call Rose, and we talked a lot.  Well, Rose, unlike me, was a trendsetter as far as fashion was concerned.  She was the same grade as I and I always wondered how she managed to buy new clothes all the time. Rose also constantly told me to “love your body because you only live once.” She basically meant that I had to buy nice clothes regularly because I would not manage to do so when I was dead. I always refused and said I could not afford anything more.

One day Rose came running to me and handed me her cell phone which was ringing. She asked me to answer it and tell the caller that she was not in the office and had left her cell phone behind. When I asked why I should do that, Rose said it was a woman who had been ‘harassing’ her for payment for clothes that she had bought on credit. Of course, I refused to answer the call. Rose did not answer the call either. I found it very interesting that Rose always pestered me to ‘love my body’ and yet here she was running away from her clothes supplier. I came to hear of more people that had sold Rose clothes on credit or loaned her money and not been paid.

This interaction with Rose affirmed to me the need not to follow others blindly, be it in financial matters or otherwise. I love my peace too much for such drama.

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