The word Philanthropist makes me nervous. Someone referred to me as that the other day and I looked over my shoulder to see who they were talking about. I am not a philanthropist – I am a worker bee who puts the money those good people donate to good use. I do this in a country where 65% of our children live below the poverty level, where 38% are orphaned, where 900 of their parents or caregivers are infected with HIV daily. And where 500 people die from AIDS every day. It’s a no-brainer.
However, it seems that I am doing it all wrong.
How I know this is I got an email from a woman in Kansas who demanded: “how dare you feed kids in Africa” when there were so many children in the USA who “starve” every day. Why wasn’t I looking to my “own back yard” before I started solving problems on a continent which “is always corrupt and at war”. Where “the women are treated like dogs” and the people are “unable to control themselves sexually”. I was confused for a moment – she could have been describing almost anywhere. But then:
“Wouldn’t it make more sense,” she wanted to know: “to be spending the money on sterilization these people rather than on feeding it (all sic)?” I knew she would never suggest that about Americans or Europeans.
She emailed my private address, rather than either of the two Charities I work with. And I have no idea how she found it. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from Kansas. So she must have been pissed off enough to hunt me down on the web. She wanted to let me know personally that I “had no business ignoring the children of this country (USA) which(sic) allows you to live in luxury and earn a big fat salary.”
I spent 20 minutes prepping a response: carefully outlining how we work, and why we work in SA. And even clarified that my income is 1/30th of what it used to be. I explained that both of us at the Lunchbox Fund are South Africans. So we are indeed feeding in our own backyard. That we would love to feed every child in the world: but the problem was so huge – we could only do what we could with what we had, where we were … right now.
But then I decided I couldn’t be assed, and sent her a one liner instead: “What are you doing to help?” Her response pinged right back: “I am not in the business of charity – you are and you should be ready to take some constructive criticism. I wouldn’t give you a cent of my hard earned wages.”
“Miss Kansas”, I replied: “if you did, I wouldn’t take it from you.”
Yesterday someone posted a comment to the Positive Heroes website about one of our Heroes – a man who has been living openly with the HIV virus for 34 years. The writer (who called himself Fargotennis) was indignant because, by “looking to the dark side for his personal fulfilment”, J had exposed his family “to ridicule and shame”. He told me how he had saved this man’s sister from a beating at a pizza store once, 25 years ago. And despite that – J had selfishly turned his back on the Mormon church. When he could so easily have “devoted his life to spreading the message rather than the plague.”
We also came in for some criticism: “you’re supporting his delusion that he is a Hero,” he continued, “shame on you too.”
I told him I wouldn’t post his comment, was pithy about the decades of anti-stigma work J had been doing and wondered if Fargot might want to explore the reasons he felt compelled to troll the web for dark stories of fallen homosexual Mormons. In closing, I suggested, he might: “look to his heart for the darkness and judgement that lie there”. See, I can get all zealot on your ass too, my brother. I sent the email from my personal account. I don’t hide behind silly names.
I haven’t heard back.
Charity workers burn out early. We have to rely on the kindness of strangers. We live at the end of someone’s agenda. We make hay with hand outs. Swallow hard when people don’t answer emails or return calls. Smile and reschedule when they don’t show for meetings. Understand that promise seldom equals delivery. We’re often subject to weird and wonderful reporting and operational strictures set by donors, policy or government. We take what we have and work to address a need, to create sustainable solutions within the parameters set by each individual intervention.
We have to remind ourselves all the time to keep our chins parallel to the earth: ‘Don’t look down’. Because the little we do know, the little we have seen … has clued us in to the chasm of need that really exists. If we drop our eyeline – we’ll be engulfed.
When I take antibiotics and steroids – especially the crazy strong ones I am taking at the moment – I get emotional. On top of that, I am tired. So my guard is down. My resilience is depleted. Today I need a superman vest, a laser sword, a will of iron, an invisibility cloak. And today I needed another response.
Then I read camparigirl’s Steinbeck quote and remembered this is a week of new for her. I am not Jewish … (nor is she, but her Husband and family are) so I am signing up. It may not be my New Year – but, hey – this seems as good a time as any to start again. To remember the legion of people who work their butts off to make it possible for us to do what we do.
So I put down my computer and turned to an episode of The Big Bang Theory to celebrate. And this is what they were wearing.
(all images in the public domain)