Katie, my English teacher, asked me to write a short essay on charity. I would never write this out of my own will, possibly because I don’t have any story to be proud of about charity.
I guess, this is because the life is somewhat cruel here in Russia, and I know for sure that the strangers would never help me, had I been in serious trouble. If so, why should I help them? And this egoistic reasoning is mostly about money.
I don’t feel that egoistic when I help a woman to lift a heavy suitcase on a staircase at the railway station. Maybe I do it because I know that if my mom were going there with a hefty suitcase, there might be some gentleman around to help her. When I help women with the suitcases, I feel that I am paying back the humanity the cost of their similar help.
But I never give any money to the beggars. No matter if they pretend to be destitute or if they really are, I don’t care. I am not going to be a beggar, none of the people I know would ever be beggars, so any penny that went to the beggars will never return in some reciprocal action. And it is most likely that the beggar will just go buy more booze or junk. No sympathy towards them.
As for the charity, there are lots of charity funds here in Moscow. They help homeless people, they help dying people to get proper hospice care, they help children to get healed from cancer, they help homeless kids in the orphanages, they help the victims of the natural or humanitarian disasters.
Where my doubt starts, I don’t think that money means help. Well, it gets some help, but this help is hugely overpriced. Where there is a charity fund, there is a fund manager, a bank account, a tax collector (in Russia, tax should be paid by the charity funds). After all these expenses, we come to the following inefficiency.
Say, the kids in an orphanage gets the comedy show from the charity fund. When I donate to a fund, I delegate the choice of the way how exactly the kids get help to the fund. Do the orphans need a comedy show? I guess, what they really need, is good teachers of math and literature. And I don’t think that the orphanage should spend any of donators’ money on the show. Instead, they should look for a comedian who will agree to give a free show – just to make the world a better place. This is what really charity is about.
Say, a poor man gets a cheque to pay for his cancer to be cured. Is it efficient? Well, hardly so. What would be efficient, and what would be a real charity – is when the hospitals start providing the poor all extra time and resources they have, for free. Just because they want to make the world a better place.
When the charity fund pays for the comedy show or the cancer treatment, it also pays unnecessary and overpriced fees for all sort of parasitic people and organisations around. The fund buys some service – the taxes go to the government. And I am sure, every single penny that goes to the government, harms people. The funds pays to the hospital or to the theatre – some money goes to the director, some money goes to the security officer, some money simply disappears, and only a small part of it is really paid for the service.
I always thought, the charity should be direct and targeted. You want to help an orphan? Find one and help him or her directly. You want to help the poor in Ghana? Good. Go to Ghana, and help the people there – knowing their needs for sure. Or find someone you trust, and help them to help the others.
As for targeted charity… Soon after my younger daughter was born, I was talking to our chief accountant, and she told me that all the accounting department of out company helps the maternity house, giving them money and necessary things – like nappies, infant formula, medicines and so on. In the maternity house, there was a floor full of newly born babies who were left by illegal immigrants from Central Asia. They were staying in the maternity house for a couple of months in the hope that the mothers get back to the kids, then they were being transferred to the orphanages. Maternity houses are poorly supplied, normally, when the baby is born, the doctors ask the father or the grandparents to bring the non-emergency supplies to the mother to help with the baby care. And the forsaken kids from Central Asia are deprived of it all. Also, the Russian babies who are left after being born have higher rate of adoption soon after the birth. When the couples look for the kids to adopt they often prioritise the kids who look more alike.
When I heard this story for the first time, I immediately asked our chief accountant to give them $40 and to request the list of the most necessary supplies. We had extra nappies and many other things we could share. The accountant called the maternity house, they told her to bring everything we can find. When I came home we packed two big bags. They were so hefty that I hardly could move them. I took them to the office, the accountant loaded the bags to her car, and took them to the maternity house. When she came back, she told me that the nurses were not very happy with the bags I sent. Previously, people mostly sent them money and added a couple of things. And I sent a truckload of stuff. They faced a problem that they were to find a proper place for my bags, to sort the supplies… They asked not to send that much stuff.
When I heard this, it was the end of my charitable self. I was totally disappointed. Too much stuff, they say? The kids suffer from the lack of everything, they say, and when I send this everything, they complain?
Several times, we sent some cloths of our daughters that is out of use to the local social workers. Last time I came there, they almost declined to take my bag – for the same reason. They said, they were waiting for the inspection, and my bag could be questioned as rubbish. They advised me to bring the cloths not to them, but to the church.
I think my failure was based on my charity being direct but not properly targeted. I made one well-target and utterly direct charity donation. When a lady in the house near-by, who we know because her three kids play with our three kids on the playground, gave birth to her fourth kid, we collected a package of nappies for the newborns and some other stuff for the infants, and presented it to her. But was it charity? Shouldn’t we just call it a human hand?