Friday, June 13, 2008

Mixed 'Motions, Part 2

Shame on me for not blogging for 2 weeks. Shame on me for sitting on my little pile of money to donate, paralyzed by what you could call an excessive angst about getting it wrong.

I'm a big fan of Crunchy Chicken's blog even though I'm not an eco-warrior type, and I felt awful reading about how she'd been duped by an online donation site (registered as a non-profit, to boot) and lost about 1/3 of the money she had raised for a cancer charity. Being an athiest, I can only hope that what goes around comes around. Anyway, my point is that it's just too easy, despite one's best efforts, to find yourself on the wrong side of a scam.

I understand that one of the more popular theories of how to make your donations count is to contribute to one charity. But I view this as a portfolio, so the risk is spread. It really would break my heart to find that a charity I'd given all my donor dollars to was mismanaged, had financial irregularities, etc. But if it's "only" 1/5 of the money I give away, there'd be some comfort in still having 4/5 out there doing what it's supposed to be doing.

And still, that trip to Mexico is weighing on me, as are those heartbreaking reports from Burma. It's really important to me to know that the money and help are getting to the people who really need it, not just the people who are convenient.

I registered for email newsletters from the Nepalese Youth Opportunities Foundation, and got both automated and personal confirmation emails very quickly. Their big campaign to rescue children from bonded servitude is timed for the January labor-contracting "events", so I've got funds earmarked for them in November. I think there's a semi-commitment to keep funding the rescued child until they're out of school, so I won't go nuts with that one. I am, however, tempted to bump up plans to go to Nepal so I can maybe meet the retired Californian lawyer who started all this...she's in her 80s now, who knows how much longer she'll be able to keep up her half-year in Nepal, half-year in the US travel habit. I'll bet she's cool as hell.

Speaking of travel habits, I've started giving thought to my next big trip, planned for November. An interesting dichotomy has arisen: most of the countries I'm considering are not ones I wish to support on a charitable basis. Specifically, I'm thinking India - rather than work on the dire poverty that the majority of their population lives in, their government spends money on a nuclear weapons program in a big ol' pissing contest with Pakistan. Why should I pick up their foolish slack and appease their obligations, what kind of lesson does that teach? And the other one is Egypt - as someone who was living in NYC on 9/11 and watched the towers tumble live and in the streets, I can't forgive the widely-televised glee they demonstrated in the aftermath. I've been putting that destination off for years because I can't reconcile my interest in their ancient culture with my abhorrence of their contemporary one. Wouldn't that make me a hypocrite?

Sigh. I should just cut a check to Doctors Without Borders and call it a day, right?


Katha Pollitt said...

Hi Katie, It's Katha, who donated towels through freecycle to you for making reusable sanitary napkins for goods4girls. How's the sewing project going?
I've been reading your blog with pleasure. you're such a good writer! But now I have a question. If India is off the donations list because the govt is spending its money on weapons instead of poverty, what about the US? Our govt spends more money on weapons and war than the rest of the world combined-- but the people who need the local food pantry still have to eat!
anyway, I hope everything's going well for you,
Many many governments use their wealth in ways that don't help the people.

Katie said...

Hi, Katha.
I'm glad you enjoy my writing - it's about time I "applied" that ol' master's in applied linguistics of mine that's been collecting dust all these years.
I've figured out the sewing machine and am currently experimenting with the different patterns for cloth pads until I find one that I can produce with pride and - more importantly - structural integrity!
As for India and general world poverty issues...I haven't thought the issue all the way through, which is a big part of the reason I started blogging about all a way of organizing my thoughts about the best ways to effect change, be it for poverty, health, natural catastrophes, etc.
To address your specific mention of the US, I think what we consider poverty is so far above what qualifies as poverty in most of the world, that it's simply worse in the grand scheme of things. India in particular, with the advantageous influence of British colonialism during the industrial era along with its current "expanding middle class" phenomenon, should know better. Back when they did their nuclear testing about 8-10 years ago (can't remember exactly), Japan withdrew their established financial assistance to India, and I thought that was a very appropriate response.
There's also a personal charity aspect to food pantries, soup kitchens, India, that would involve getting 25% of the population to help feed 75%, which strikes me as so unfeasible that government spending in this area is necessary, to put it mildly. Here, it's more like 90% of the population taking responsibility for feeding 10% (admittedly, I'm guessing at the numbers)...which is at least in the realm of possibility.
Let me know if you see any obvious flaws in my logic - like I said, this a learning experience for me.