Charity and publicity

There is nothing like an act of charity. Those who offer their services are better, nobler and far more virtuous than those who don’t. In this self-driven world everyone can’t and everyone doesn’t find time to serve the needy. So no matter what their mode of functioning, they take a lead over those who – like me – sit back and do nothing.

What we call NGO-isation is not as bad as we condemn it to be. The presence of some black sheep will not blacken the whole mission of philanthropy. Doctors, bureaucrats, teachers, businessmen donating their time, energy and resources to reach the unreached deserve admiration.

But there is an ugly side of the picture we need to cover sooner the better. It is the cheap – rather brazen – publicity some seek to achieve. We understand the compulsion of transparency and accountability. After all you are not doing something underhand or underground. Social workers must let others know about the kind of social work they do lest they be suspected as frauds. So publicity in some cases becomes unavoidable. But when the very act of generosity is overtaken by a temptation to advertise yourself, the purpose stands defeated. It pains to see these poor orphans, widows being pictured and pasted on walls. If we are helping someone, do we need to show who they are? Being needy is being naked. Before we cover them we expose them and that hurts. It saps the self-esteem of the poor. Their bodies are already stung by poverty, this way we sting their souls. These wall-to-wall hoardings showing people receiving the dole kills the very spirit of the work which otherwise is noble in essence, great in character.

Our Trusts, Circles, Foundations, Centres, – all who do this good work will have to attend to the worse part. I imagine myself being helped and then being pictured while receiving a bag of rice,  a pack of bread or a handful of money as help. For official records we can document the recipients of the relief, but why show them to the world. How traumatizing it is for a child to see his parents feeding on charity. The essence of charity is trust, confidentiality and the secret-bearing. Let’s do it with grace. Who helps whom and how much is not always a story to be told and sold to everyone. Human dignity is wounded beyond repair when human beings are more pitied than helped. It’s concern, not mercy that informs social work. It’s a close, intimate and invisible connect between a giver and a taker. That closeness, intimacy and invisibility shouldn’t become a stage show of philanthropy.

What we can do is not to disclose the names or -if that is a technical compulsion – at least not to put the faces of the needy for public display. There are ways and ways to hide the identity of the people so that their dignity doesn’t die as we help them live.