Once upon a time far away, there was this beautiful place. The land was rich with exotic plants and animals as with the seas. It was warm all year round in this beautiful land.
It was a land of contradictory though. It was rich but also poor. In the countryside papayas and bananas would fall to the ground and rot. Goats and cows would graze in the grass field, but many men, women, and children starve because their wallets were empty, which stops them from buying the instant noodles. In the cities, tall glittering building would hide the ugly view of the slums, but the city smell could not fool anyone from the poverty that lingers.
Class distinction was a norm. The small number of the powerful rich people were looked up to, whatever the ways they took to get to their position. The poor powerless laity look up to them with awe. The middle-class dream of experiencing the rich’s luxurious cars, houses, and vacations. But, they are mostly just grateful for their luck; for having a roof over their head, a job to pay the bills and the mortgage, and for having the opportunity to occasionally eat out in fancy places just like the rich that they aspire to be.
In this far away land, a few times a year, the rich would open their doors to the poor to give alms. In this land, there is a common belief that in people’s fortunes, a small amount of it are the rights of the poor. every year, the haves would clean their fortune from money that does not belong to them.
It was on one of those days, when the tragedy struck. The poor and the rich thought the day of giving would be a jolly one. The modest amount that the poor would get could help them rest their worries about food for one or two days. One thought about buying second hand shoes for her son, so he would leave the used sandals at home when going to school. One thought about paying a sixth of the debt to the shop keeper. One would pay the school fees, so that the school would stop harassing her daughter. One was going to buy a bus ticket out of town. Meanwhile, the rich thought that today was the day that they would feel happy and good about themselves; to be able to give to people who are not as lucky as they are.
So many poor, too little space. The jolly day turned tragic. In the end, as there were too many poor people queuing for money, dozens died of being trampled and crushed to death.
The story was fictional. However, the inspiration came from a real tragic event that happened last week. A deadly stampede during a cash-handout actually happened here in Indonesia last week. In a small East Java city, Pasuruan, 21 people died and others were injured, when thousands rushed to get the Rp 30,000 (US$3.30) each cash gift from a local businessman.
When I read the news last week, it felt surreal. The deadly scene described in the newspaper was like one that was taken from a tragic novel. The description felt Dickensian in a way. Then reality hits. It’s true. It happened. The Jakarta Post reported that a man brought home the body of his sister on pedicab. A pang of sadness immediately rushed in.
Every person would feel a tinge of unease and would feel moved to help when seeing others living in poverty. Helping others in need is indeed a noble act and most of religions in the world teach people to give and help the poor.
Saykhon Frikri, the businessmen, intended to help by giving out cash donation. The people who give out small change to the beggars or the street children in the street also intend to help. But are they really helping?
People would say yes, giving little change of say Rp 30,000 or even Rp 5,000 or Rp 1,000, could be categorized as helping out. After all, even though the money only means a cup of coffee, a bag of potato chips or a chocolate bar, it means a lot for the poor, so of course that means helping them out.
The women in Pasuruan walked for kilometers, stood in a queue in scorching heat and knew there will be pushing and shoving to get the money, so certainly Saykhon was helping out as Rp 30,000 means a lot for them that they willingly went through all that.
It’s the least that people can do.
But is it?
I say it’s not. I’m not against people giving money to the poor. Of course it’s noble to give money to a starving beggar. But it’s not enough to lift the poor out of poverty. It needs a more systematical way of helping. The government should be responsible in lifting the quality of education in the country and opening up jobs. But, set that aside, citizens could also help by channeling his/her money to organizations that are working to lift people out of poverty.
In 2007, I wrote a story in The Post about the potential of charity in Jakarta. A research stated that people spend more money for street charity than giving donations to organizations. This is too bad because while street charity helps temporarily, organizations are actually setting up programs to lift people out of poverty.
There are a number of organizations that have good programs and reports, Sampoerna Foundation, Dompet Duafa, and BazisDKI, are among the many. Do some research; give the organizations a call; ask about what kind of programs they have and their accountability.
Giving to organizations does take out that feeling that one gets when giving money straight to the hands that needs it. If you want to keep giving like that, go ahead. But don’t stop there thinking that you’ve done your part in helping people. Put in mind that it needs more than street charity and cash hand outs to make a change.