Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Social Service (Monetary) - Part 2

Ten years ago, I went to India on a touring trip during my sabbatical. I wanted to go to an Ashram in Rishikesh to relax on the banks of Ganges.  It so happened that the Ashram was hosting a Geeta camp, which I then attended. Amazing camp! I learned so much. At the camp, I met a lady who was running an orphanage for girls of all ages in Dehra Dun.  These girls either were discarded by their families, or ran away from home due to some abuse or other. The lady asked me to contribute to the orphanage to sustain one 12 or 13 year old girl through her education, up to her marriage – so a financial commitment of about 5-7 years.

It was against my philosophy to help out with money, especially if I don’t know where the money is going. But the lady was convincing and she was a friend of a family friend. So I agreed to sponsor two girls (the money was not that much when converting dollars to rupees). I supported them over four years. My experience was mixed: I felt good that I could support some girls’ education and maybe give her a good future; on the other hand, I never knew who I was supporting and what the progress of the girl was.  Over time, I would call the lady but never got a satisfactory answer. Through the family friend, I knew that my money was spent well. It may not have gone directly to the girl, but it did help out in the orphanage.

And that is where my problem is – I need to know exactly where my money is being used.  It could be because my salary is not much and so whatever little I give should have some visible impact. I did not go back to India for the next 5-6 years, so that story came to an end. The sad thing is when I stopped sending the money, the lady never even asked me why I stopped sending the money.

I had a similar problem in Brazil. When I was in Brazil, I had worked with a young couple, who were our translators during our visit. The first time I went there, I was so impressed by their hard work and dedication that I wanted to do something. The man who arranged everything suggested that I pay the couple’s salary since he is not able to pay them too much. I thought – sure I can do that for one year! So I made three payments to him over one year. Two years later, I went back to Brazil for a second service trip. I chatted with the couple to find out if they were getting their salary without revealing any other details. It turned out that the man paid them only half of what I had given for them. Ugh!! When I asked him about it, he said, he needed the money elsewhere in the organization. There was really nothing I could do about it!!

So there….my point seemed to be made again and again.  Money given to organizations like this are never quite used for what you intend them to be used for.

Now I knew for sure that giving money was out of question. But old habits die hard!!

When I went to India recently, I met a young woman, very sweet, very hard working and of very caring nature. Despite the fact that she was poor and struggling in so many aspects of her life, she would always have a smile on her face. I was taken by her honesty and hard-working nature. She would tell me about her life and I could feel her pain!! I could not help myself… I decided to support her - financially. Now I talk to her periodically and see how she is doing – I don’t need a full accounting of my money, but I can tell she is not misusing the money. I have met her three times now and finally I feel comfortable in my financial contribution.

One incident regarding this woman will always stay on my mind. I was talking to her one day and she told me about some health issues she was having and that she needed to get some tests done. I knew she was not going to work and therefore she was losing money. I asked her if she needed more money for the tests, and very cheerfully she replied, “I have lots of money!” I was so amused! I did not send her any money for the tests. And that is the attitude that makes her so special to me.

Will I keep giving money in future? I don't know. I will not like to support this young woman all her life. At one point, her sons should take over and take care of her. So I will stop at that stage.

And then what? I don't know....

My determination is still not to give money to organizations. I have been asked by one or two NGOs to donate money, but I will not give - I need to work with them in order to see how they work. So at this time....they will get only my time!!

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