Charity and publicity

Can we do the first, avoid the second?

There is nothing like an act of charity. Those who offertheir 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 toserve the needy. So no matter what their mode of functioning, they take a leadover those who – like me – sit back and do nothing.

What we call NGO-isation is not as bad as we condemn it tobe. The presence of some black sheep will not blacken the whole mission ofphilanthropy. 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 coversooner the better. It is the cheap – rather brazen – publicity some seek toachieve. We understand the compulsion of transparency and accountability. Afterall you are not doing something underhand or underground. Social workers mustlet others know about the kind of social work they do lest they be suspected asfrauds. So publicity in some cases becomes unavoidable. But when the very actof generosity is overtaken by a temptation to advertise yourself, the purposestands defeated. It pains to see these poor orphans, widows being pictured andpasted 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 peoplereceiving the dole kills the very spirit of the work which otherwise is noblein essence, great in character.

Our Trusts, Circles, Foundations, Centres, – all who do thisgood work will have to attend to the worse part. I imagine myself being helpedand then being pictured while receiving a bag of rice,  a pack of bread or a handful of money ashelp. For official records we can document the recipients of the relief, butwhy show them to the world. How traumatizing it is for a child to see hisparents feeding on charity. The essence of charity is trust, confidentialityand the secret-bearing. Let's do it with grace. Who helps whom and how much isnot always a story to be told and sold to everyone. Human dignity is woundedbeyond repair when human beings are more pitied than helped. It's concern, notmercy that informs social work. It's a close, intimate and invisible connectbetween a giver and a taker. That closeness, intimacy and invisibilityshouldn't become a stage show of philanthropy.

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

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