Open your wallet, but mind how you do it

Open-handed: Americans are estimated to have given $449.64 billion to charity in 2019. © Fareshare

Is it wrong to talk about charity? Manchester United star Marcus Rashford is working to save children from hunger, but many people feel uncomfortable about receiving strangers’ help.

As Begin Bom Ohisa was sitting in a South Sudanese market, a little girl standing nearby told him she was hungry. He learnt that she and her brothers had not eaten properly for weeks; when he saw where they lived, he burst into tears. He gave them food, money and new clothes.

When Begin Bom Ohisa wrote an article about the girl he helped, it appeared under the headline, “It’s not about charity, it’s about shared humanity.”

Many would say that this was a false distinction. Sympathy for our fellow humans is what inspires us to acts of charity. But “charity” is a word people today often try to avoid.

Simon O’Connell of Mercy Corps argues that “charity” simply suggests handing out money, whereas it is often more complicated.

Others claim that charity is patronising and that those who give help present themselves as “white saviours”.

Meanwhile, people in need of assistance often feel ashamed about it, even if they have experienced terrible disadvantages.

Marcus Rashford is trying to alter this attitude. "Hold your head up high, and if you need help, go and get help,” he told a TV interviewer yesterday.

Rashford has formed a task force with some of Britain’s biggest supermarkets, businesses and charities to reduce food poverty. He is asking the government to extend the free meals scheme to help a further 1.5 million children.

Is it wrong to talk about charity?

Give and let live

Some say, yes: charity is mainly about rich people easing their consciences by giving money they can easily spare to the less fortunate. It robs the people who receive it of their self-respect.

Others argue that sharing wealth is an acknowledgement that some are luckier than others. We should be happy to give or receive according to our circumstances: you never know when the roles might be reversed.

You Decide

  1. If you could choose three charities to donate money to, which would they be?


  1. Choose a charity that you admire. Design a poster to explain what it does and encourage people to donate money to it.

Some People Say...

“It is more difficult to give money away intelligently than to earn it in the first place.”

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), Scottish-American philanthropist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that the practice of charitable giving has its roots in the world’s leading religions. It is an essential part of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, while Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism also have long traditions of donating alms to the poor. Secular charities first became common in the 18th Century: the Foundling Hospital, started by Thomas Coram in 1741 to care for London’s abandoned orphans, provided an influential model.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around how well charities spend the money given to him. It is a common complaint that too much of it goes on administration, and that aid workers can often be seen driving around in brand-new Land-Rovers and staying in expensive hotels. On top of that there have been scandals such as the one involving Oxfam workers in Haiti, who were accused of sexually exploiting local people after an earthquake in 2010.

Word Watch

South Sudanese
South Sudan is a central African country which has been independent since 2011, but locked in a civil war for most of the years since. Although a peace deal was reached in February, violence has continued. It is one of the youngest nations in the world, with half its population under 18.
False distinction
A claim that things are different when they are fundamentally the same.
Mercy Corps
An international aid organisation originally founded to help refugees in Cambodia.
White saviours
In 2019 the TV presenter Stacey Dooley was criticised for posting a photo of herself holding a Ugandan baby while campaigning for Comic Relief. Her critics said that attention should have been focused on African people instead.

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