1st December is the International Day of Giving- a day dedicated to social responsibility of giving back through Voluntary Welfare Organisations amongst other charities and causes. For 2 years (2013/14), #TreatsOnGivingTuesday has been a tiny dream come true for me in hopes of spreading the spirit of kindness based on the belief in the ripple effect. The idea is simple- to buy an affordable packet of snacks and give it to a stranger as you go about your day, encouraging the kind act to be further paid forward. What began as a “personal goal” on this special day, became a movement of 60 odd people with the creation of a Facebook page and rallying of others who shared the dream of spreading kindness with the power of many.
As a continuity to my hopes of having a small part to play on this special day, today I write in reflection of what the 3-year long Watoto Sponsor-a-Child experience has meant for me:
My story with Watoto began at Halogen’s National Young Leaders’ Award ceremony in 2012, with a thought-provoking sharing by Mr Chris Varney, the National Co-director of World Vision’s Youth Movement. Sights of social injustice had become harrowing memories that necessitated action and his long service for World Vision has become testament to his heart of giving. Perhaps overwhelmed with guilt from my inaction despite being in a privileged position, embarking on sponsoring a child began as a selfish desire to dose the uncomfortable feeling of guilt. From there, the meaning of this Sponsor-A-Child project has continuously evolved over the past 3 years.
The beginning was the most challenging- it took over half a year to decide which organisation to sponsor a child through. The fear of pooling money together monthly only to land it in the pockets of selfish “charities” taking advantage of our desire to give, was real. It was only with months of research, countless email correspondences and corroboration with trusted seniors who had once donated through Watoto that the basis of trust was found. And ever since, the organisation has never once betrayed my trust- only reinforcing it with punctual half-yearly receipts, efficient email correspondence and heartfelt sincerity in maintaining their donors’ trust. When I tell people about sponsoring a child, the most common response is “Wow, how do you know your money is really going to the kid?” The truth is: I don’t, and I never really will. But what’s important is I am as sure as I can be, and I trust the organisation.
I learned somewhere of our temptation to be instantly gratified when giving to charities- we want tangible, efficient results and we want to know that we are doing something. In his TED Talk, David Demberger describes it as ‘wanting to do something that “sounds sexy”‘. We’d rather know that our money is going to “build a well for a village” than to “fund maintenance workers that will upkeep the functionality of water systems”. Or in other cases, we’d rather say our money went to “building a school” than to “paying the teachers working at a school”. Our subconscious hopes of instant gratification in return for monetary donations, compounded by our feeling of entitlement to our privileged position, become reason for hesitation to do whatever is within our capacity to make however small a difference. Sadly, till the day comes that we subdue our illusion of entitlement with regard to our privilege and invest in organisations we trust to assess needs and invest wisely; until we are ready to allow NGOs to make mistakes with our money and trust them to make good mistakes, our “we’ve got to do something about it” will always remain as talk, not action.
Sponsoring a child for me has taught me the power of many and that of little all at the same time: with a mere $1-2 contribution per person every month from a group of sponsors that started with my Y4 classmates, we have sustained our share of donor contribution for 3 years. With the monthly forking out of a small amount and occasional letters exchanged with our Watoto Child, I have time and again been reminded to put my problems in perspective and refreshed the uncomfortable feeling from social injustice. The most magical of this experience has been the emotional connection: a realisation that our Watoto Child, though worlds apart in circumstance, geography and fortune, share a great deal of similarities with me (from ambitions and dreams, to the desire for excellence when given opportunity).
In December 2013, the brainchild of a friend at Halogen Foundation was translated into action with just a few of us who shared her dream. Together on the eve of Christmas Day, we brought bags of edibles carefully chosen and sponsored by volunteers to the doors of elderlies living in one-room flats. There was hesitation, translated into frequently asked questions: Is that what they really want? Do they need this? Are we doing more harm than good? It was only with the perseverance of translating the idea into action that our genuine hopes of giving invoked outpouring of heartfelt gratitude. And only then did we gain assurance. In hindsight, what a waste it would have been if we had let uncertainty impede acts of genuine kindness.
This Giving Tuesday, I write this in awareness of the uncertainty that comes with giving and in reminder of the importance of trust and belief that will succumb the emotional blocks at the root of our hesitation. Let’s give wisely and cautiously, but always, generously.
PS You can find out more about Watoto here or email me at email@example.com