Sunday, 27 July 2014

Is it Toxic Charity?

Due to the cold fronts that have hit Johannesburg recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about people on the side of the road; “hawkers”... “beggars” etc. The socioeconomic inequality of South Africa is still a major problem. The solution must be out there, somewhere, and I am confident we will reach it as a nation eventually, but we have not discovered it yet. As such, this is an extremely difficult topic to discuss, and I certainly have no definitive answers… so I would just like to put some questions out there, and hopefully it can raise some thinking and discussion.

The first consideration: Is it even our responsibility to give money to these men and women? This is obviously the most important question, and if the answer was to be a resounding “no”, there would be no need to write or read any more on the issue.

Assuming a lack of financial education, is giving them money truly helping? If we give them money, how much money will actually make a difference? There is a concept of “toxic charity” (with a book of the same name that I have yet to read) that states there is a type of giving that can do more harm than good to the recipient. Over the last couple years, I have begun to think that giving food and having a short conversation with the person is better, because we all need food as physical fuel, and human interaction with some encouragement is a necessary emotional fuel. But is that enough? Another consideration is, if we give money to people from “the goodness of our heart”, does it not matter how it is used?  If we believe the money could be used for alcohol or any other intoxicant, is it better not to give at all?

As I write this, I realize that I should do some further reading into research that’s been done on this topic. Everyone has different opinions, and many have become desensitized to “the man on the street” to the point where we indulge in our lunch within our warm car, while shaking our head as if to tell them we have nothing we can give them, as they stand there hungry and shivering. I am guilty of this all too often myself.

As Christians, we want to help people. But what is the best way to help? What is the best way to make a difference?

I encourage you to pray about it and discuss it with your friends. As South Africans, these are conversations we need to be having. If we can unify in finding the right way to help those in need we see everyday, we can start forming solutions to the poverty of this country.

Peace amigos!


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