Charity has to begin at home as global aid has major flaws
It's that time of year again when the raffle tickets and requests for aid come pouring through the letterbox. Maybe I am becoming a bit of a Scrooge, but I don't take kindly to wads of tickets or Christmas cards arriving at my door with the request to purchase or post them back.
Nor do I want to support some relatively wealthy friend who is walking across South America in aid of some charity.
Sorry guys, but as far as I am concerned you can pay for your own holidays.
I am similarly unmoved by goods on offer that state that 5pc of the proceeds will go to some worthy cause.
And I get positively angry at the glossy and extremely expensive TV ads and mail shots sent by the more professional charity organisations.
How much of their funding ends up paying for advertising, wages and admin costs and how much gets to the needy?
I often have the same thoughts about LEADER and the Department of Agriculture, but that is for another day.
I do know there are some wonderfully successful projects funding better health and education in poorer countries but it's not always easy to identify them, and one has to query just how much of overseas aid funding actually reaches those who most need it.
The main causes of hunger are war, climate change and overpopulation.
Throughout the world the poorest people have the most children. If I donate to have a borehole sunk in some drought-ridden part of Africa it will of course help provide water but if the consequence is yet more people and livestock to graze the little vegetation available then ultimately this will only extend the desert.
In 1985, the Live Aid concert raised huge funds for famine-struck nations and since then the population of Ethiopia has doubled from 40 million to 80 million. Perhaps that money could have been focused more towards good medical assistance for family planning, better access to education and, ideally, political stability.
With the world's population having passed seven billion, things can only get worse. Ninety-five percent of human population growth is occurring in countries already struggling with poverty, illiteracy and civil unrest. We must help the needy in whatever way we can, but our planet cannot provide us with more food indefinitely and the sooner we face that unpalatable fact the better, or we will all be facing extinction.
It's hard to know where to begin, but one way we can definitely help is to protect the remaining rainforests by only buying timber that is certified as coming from a sustainable source and by also buying Fair Trade products.
We can also help the poor in Ireland. There are excellent charities assisting the genuinely disadvantaged here at home and if I see some unfortunate covered by a cardboard box in a doorway in Dublin, it reminds me to donate to the Simon Community and others that help the homeless.
Many say that the homeless are the cause of their own misfortune and spend whatever money they receive on drugs, but does anyone really choose to sleep outdoors during the winter? The trouble with being genuinely poor is that you are past being able to help yourself and desperately need a bit of assistance.
Christmas can be the loneliest time of the year, especially if you are hard up, old or without friends or relatives, or just living away from home.
The sight of happy families shopping for Christmas must be heartbreaking for anyone who is perhaps missing their friends while working abroad, or maybe just suffering from poverty at home and ashamed to admit it.
An old school pal of mine often relates how he arrived in New York looking for work in December during the late 1960s. He rented a bedsit and said that within two days he had five invitations from complete strangers to spend Christmas with them and their families.
One man even rang him and said that if he wasn't around at their flat that evening to join him and his wife for supper he was coming around to get him.
This is an aspect of American culture that we don't hear much about but illustrates how those New Yorkers, many first generation immigrants, were only too aware what it was like to be alone and broke, and how a little generosity can make a huge difference.
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