Inspired by Betty Londergan's What Gives 365 and the Bible (not necessarily in that order!), I'm giving away $250 a week in 2011.

This is where I'm recording that journey, and I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Friday, April 1, 2011

To Give or Not to Give...to Japan...that is the Question

My eldest daughter came home with yet another form from school. This time, it was an appeal by the school Board on behalf of the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. The Board was giving families an opportunity to make donations that would be funnelled through a couple of different reputable organizations.

I hadn't yet decided where today's international donation would be going, so in the morning rush I gave my daughter a cheque made out to the Mennonite Central Committee's Japan Relief fund and sent the whole brood off to school. I've always had a lot of respect for MCC as an organization and for the people I've known who have worked there. They have a reputation for thoughtful, practical work meeting basic needs and engaging in peace and social justice work. (They also produce yummy international cookbooks). And I do tend to contribute to relief efforts when natural disasters strike.

So why did I feel uneasy? Was it because it seemed odd to me that the school Board was asking for money for this? (Why not other world needs?) Was it because it was highlighting and therefore endorsing the work of a couple of charities? (Why not others?) Or more fundamentally, was it because it's Japan -- wealthy, organized, well-educated, innovative Japan -- with enough resources to look after itself?

Very soon after, my wise friend Matt posted this link on Facebook. It put words to some of my discomfort -- Japan is not even accepting assistance from the vast majority of countries offering it!  Matt's post also  introduced me to a very interesting site called Good Intents. The headline on the site is "Good donors are the key to good aid" and it follows with this:

"Good intentions are not enough for aid to be successful. If assistance is done poorly it can hurt the very people it is supposed to help. Accurate information and sound practices are also crucial to smart aid. This website provides readers with the knowledge, tools, and resources they need to ensure that their donations match their good intentions."

I then went to the MCC site to find out exactly what they are doing with Japan donations. I was chiding myself for not having looked sooner -- they don't even have programs or staff in Japan! -- but they are giving the donations to like-minded organizations working locally there.

So was I wrong to write a cheque to help the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami? I hope not. It was not my most well-researched donation, and I suspect a chunk of it will end up paying for administrative costs for more than one organization along the way. But suffering is desperately difficult, for rich and poor alike. And the urge to respond to that suffering is one that I want to encourage rather than cynically repress, in myself and in my high schooler. So I think it's OK. Not great, but OK.

It's a tough call. What do you think?

(Thanks to all of you who have passed along your ideas for future weeks. Please don't think I'm ignoring you -- we'll get to them in time. Keep the messages coming!)

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