Friday, July 27, 2012

When the Joy of Giving is ruined

Different Spin 27th July, 2012
Star Metro

During this holy month of Ramadan, charity is very important. Zakat, is the giving of a fixed portion of one’s wealth to charity, generally the poor and needy and is obligatory as one of the pillars of Islam.

Then there is sadaqa, a voluntary charity given above and beyond what is required of zakat. Muslims believe that all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded in Ramadan than in any other month of the year.
Consequently, many will choose this time to give a larger portion, if not all, of the zakat for which they are obligated to give. Many will also use this time to give a larger portion of sadaqa in order to maximise the reward they believe will await them on the Day of Judgement.
I believe that charity is not just encouraged in Islam, but also other religions. Some explain the consequences of being charitable in a karmic way – “you get what you give”, “pay it (good deeds) forward”, “do unto others, what you want done to thyself” and so on.
My point is this. Charity or the act of being charitable is a noble practice of voluntarily giving or helping those in need – but as noble as the virtue is, it is ironically a ‘selfish’ virtue too.
A few weeks back, I read about photographer, Tyler Stableford, who dedicates at least one week every year for non-profit work. Stableford, has made a reputable name for himself as a marketing photographer. In 2009, he and his wife adopted a little boy from Ethiopia through a non-profit humanitarian group called Wide Horizons for Children.
Wide Horizons needed a short film to capture the situation in Ethiopia and especially the plight of the country’s five million orphans, so Stableford volunteered and this short film raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Wide Horizons.
Since then, Stableford has gone on to create other short documentaries in Guatemala.
What sparked my interest was his approach to his charitable acts.
Renowned photographer Stableford gives to charity for 'selfish' reasons too
“For all the altruistic reasons, I work on these projects, I also do it because they bring me so much joy, perspective, gratitude and fulfillment in my life,” he explains solemnly.
He feels that non-profit work is most sustainable when it’s done ‘selfishly’ and is the reason why he continues doing it.
Stableford is so stably spot-on.
I have volunteered and ran a few fundraising campaigns for numerous charities causes because it makes me feel good. Each time I’m running around with that self-perceived ‘halo’ on my head, I am making myself happy, to get my adrenaline pumping helping others and to humble myself with gratitude knowing there are other less fortunate folks around me.
It’s my ‘slap in the face’ wake-up call I need, to stop being a whiny brat and to appreciate what I have. So yes, doing good for others, is ultimately good for me. And see how we (supposedly) earn more ‘brownie points’ during the months of Holy observation like Ramadan, Lent, Thaipusam and so forth? Who doesn’t want the rewards of being good and charitable to others, right? So in total honesty, are we really ‘volunteering’ or are we doing it because we must?
Before I get in too deep – charity should be done all the time. Not just during the holy month but every day. It can be something as simple as giving up your seat to a pregnant passenger on a crowded train ride, or something slightly more time consuming like volunteering in a shelter home or an NGO. Charity can be done anywhere.

However, what irks me is charity that messes with my inner conscience. I’ve heard or read way too many cases of syndicates working to feed on the sympathetic side of humans; using (trafficked?) young kids or a crippled man to beg for money. Just last weekend, I saw a very pretty, young lady with a headscarf asking for donations in an eerily trained soft voice, seeking donations for a shelter home. She didn’t even have any documents to ‘prove’ anything (and even if she had, I’d still be skeptical). When no one was looking (or so she thought), I saw her whip off her headscarf and light up a cigarette while counting her cash. Hmmm.
And how about the man with no walking limbs selling pens right in front of the local bank?
“Sir/Mam, you just came out from the bank, surely you have RM10 to spare to buy my ballpoint pens?”
How can one NOT give in?
If we go back to why I ‘selfishly’ give in to charity, it’s because it makes me feel happy and good inside. But when doubts come in, it doesn’t feel so nice and fuzzy anymore, but we give a ringgit or two anyway — just in case he/she really needs it.
Another thing is transparency.
When folks call me up to help them raise funds for their charity, I have a few questions before I agree to anything. Not because I don’t want to help (brownie points remember!) but I’d rather associate myself with charities that is transparent in their accounts.
 StarMetro columnist and friend Dawn Jeremiah agrees. “As much as I do applaud charity and the people who dedicate themselves in serving the underprivileged, I sometimes wonder on the actual amount that goes to the benefit and to the needy.”
Kak Deeba is cautious when giving donations
Just the other day, singer Adibah Noor tweeted this: @adibahnoor Note: For charity donations, once u r at d ATM,make sure d account name is d name of d individual/home concerned. If not, just walk away.
I’m guessing she has had her share of being duped?
Someone told me that if we do charitable acts to someone who is insincere or the monies go elsewhere besides the benefitors, then let God handle them on Judgement Day.
Oh well. So here’s to a meaningful, warm and fuzzy Ramadan to everyone. Selamat Berpuasa!

Daphne has registered on Malaysia’s Volunteering Network called DoSomethingGood to earn more brownie points and to stay warm and fuzzy. She has lots of red/black ballpoint pens up for grabs, any takers? Tweet her at @daphCLPT.

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