September 24, 2010

Tien Phong Hoang Chau group- My first loan

I have never felt comfortable with the usual in-your-face charity; people who assault you at food courts bearing name tags and certificates and folders of people they claim they represent; unprofessional NGOs who never publish their books to an equally undiscerning public;  a general mistrust that any money given will be misused. I pick up beggars and offer them dinner sometimes, a sandwich or a bowl of noodles.  Once a year I would make some token donation to some retirement home to offset my taxes, or to give away used clothes. My efforts fall somewhere between apathy and numbness.  

My biggest attempt at charity wasn’t charity, but disaster relief; during the asian tsunami of 04/05, when I was coincidentally out of work, I spent 4 unfruitful months at the Singapore YMCA as technical advisor, finally quitting when I found out that their real agenda was some opportunistic mission to spread “the word”.  I was sidelined when I voiced out my dissent. I once volunteered at the JB spastic children’s school, where I worked on a project that took me all over JB taking and assembling photos of road signs, then pasting the photos on placards, but how effective it was I could not know looking into eyes lost somewhere faraway. 

As I started going to places like India for business trips, the sense of helplessness returned. One would get mobbed by dirty & scrawny little streetkids, and if you relent, more and more would show up from the cracks in the pavement – the sensible thing would be that if you can’t help them all, you shouldn’t even start. I started looking for Indian charities to donate to, but felt less compelled when I realised how little impact it was when all you did was to shove food in someone’s mouth.      

I remember when Muhammed Yunus won the Nobel peace prize a few years back I bought his book to find out who he was. His Grameen bank was founded in Bangladesh out of his own pocket (20 something bucks) to finance micro-loans to healthy and willing but otherwise the hardcore poor, a bank whose operating model was so simple that deliquency rates were even lower than normal banks! It’s not charity when all you do is help others help themselves, whole levels of society benefits because of the multiplier effect. 

I hereby pledge that everytime I get solicited for money on the streets, I would refuse, go home, get online, and make a micro-loan of USD25 to a willing entrepreneur.

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