Friday, July 4, 2014

The Street Store: Charity Unplugged

In December 2013, the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF UK) released their latest world survey on giving, volunteering and helping strangers. The 'World Giving Index 2013' ranked South Africa 69 out of 135 countries surveyed. The full report published here  found that South Africans are more likely to give of their time than they are of their money.

So why is it that we hold on tighter to our money than we do to our time, and of what benefit is this to charities who are in much need of both?
Well the simple answer is that as a nation, the infestation of corruption that has filtered into every aspect of our lives starting from our political leadership at the top down to our civil servants and ordinary citizens at the bottom has placed huge negative connotations on anything that relates to money and our dispensing of it. According to the Washington Post, only one-third of all monies donated to charities actually ends up with the poor, the homeless and the destitute. That's their best case scenario.
The bulk of the money, or at the very least 70% of it, goes toward running the charity (think admin, rentals, salaries, advertising etc). Put in Rands and Cents terms, that equates to just 30 cents of every Rand actually ending up with the people who need it most!
That right there is the problem I have with donating money to charities.

Not taking anything away from the really great work that charities do, and taking into account that the vast pool of funds they receive in donations does allow them to charter planes and ships laden with food, medical and other emergency supplies to relief and disaster zones, there is something to be said about seeing the smile upon the face of the person you've just helped out directly.
Gift Of The Givers is a fine example of a charity that has been built on a reputation of focusing on the needy and dismissing the greedy. They have been First Responders to natural disasters both in South Africa and across the world, and rival such giants in the field as the Red Cross and MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres).

Many amongst us misconstrue the word 'Charity' and assume it to mean only 'the giving of money to the poor.'  There's a very good reason why the World Giving Index includes not only financial donations, but also donations of one's time as well as the act of helping a stranger. Some of the poorest countries in the world rank amongst the Top 50 nations on the index, justifiably so because their societies promote social donations of time and selfless help.

Those are the facts and they speak for themselves.
Naysayers would advocate restraint to any and all forms of monetary donations, citing dependency by those less fortunate on those doing the giving. I've read reports by credible journalists and NGO's who speak of the very culture of begging and how easily it can be manipulated by those out to feed their greed instead of a need.  The public ultimately becomes desensitized to the plight of the poor, the homeless and the destitute because there is the very real sense that our donations, although intended for a good cause, may simply be feeding a lifestyle of dependency on charity. The downside to this is that the woman at the robot desperate for a few rands to feed her family or pay her rent or do any one of a hundred things that her very survival depends upon, the very same things we would take for granted on any given day, is simply dismissed with a wave of our hands.

It was a breath of fresh air than to receive an invite to be part of an initiative that aimed to accomplish so many great things under one single humanitarian umbrella.
To be part of a cause that would clothe the homeless.
To restore the dignity and pride of those who have it stripped from them on a daily basis.
To actually see hopelessness and uncertainty be replaced by hope and gratitude on the smiling faces of the homeless.
To being an activator within my community, moving people toward active participation in a common cause.
To be able to achieve all of this without asking anybody to open their wallets, only their hearts and cupboards.

You may have heard of  The Street Store.
Their website found here  explains exactly why they have such a huge fan base. People finally have the opportunity to get involved without ever wondering if their donations enriched any lives. They get to see the answer on the faces of the homeless. This is what I loved most about this initiative. It's not about the money. It's about having people who have been overlooked by society and stripped of all dignity, feel like they are worthy once again. The simple act of  'shopping' for free clothing on the day and being spoken to like a person, being attended to like a gentleman or a lady, being served upon by others just for this one day which they may never experience again, is more uplifting and rewarding to them than all the coins we could fling out our windows as we drive casually by at the robot.

The initiative was a huge success in Cape Town, as it's been in other parts of the world. 19 July see's it finally arriving in Johannesburg, and the response so far has been nothing short of exhilarating!

I chatted to Sumaya Hendricks, the organizer of this event and this is what she had to say.
"There are various elements of the project which I find appealing. Although the 'coolness' of the idea is attractive and draws people to the initiative, there is something much deeper to it. The people who we are going to be helping might be someone we ignored at a robot or perhaps condescendingly looked at as we felt they could do more to help themselves. Yet, at the street store, we are going to give them our time, a smile and treat them with the kind of respect they deserve but don't often get. They will become people in our eyes when often we see and treat them otherwise. So they will be helping us as much as we will be helping them - we have become so immune to poverty and hopefully this will help us to connect to those in need and act as a springboard to do more in our communities."

Remember that word 'Ubuntu'?
I know what I will be doing this Mandela Day.
Do you?

"What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal."
Albert Pike (1809-1891)