Hello, I’d like to share my reasons for joining a small independent non-profit organization rather than donating to a large organization .
Around 20 years ago I arrived in Hong Kong, I loved the city from the beginning, so decided to stay, I lived in Hong Kong several years before I started to move around different countries, I lived in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Vietnam, countries that are mostly considered poor countries in Asia.
I was surprised the first time I saw real poverty in Hong Kong, since I was new to the city, very young and absolutely not rich I had to live in the poor people part of town, there were people everywhere, so I searched for a non crowded place to have my takeaway lunch in peace.
I found an alley under a highway bridge where I could find a tranquil spot to eat my takeaway lunch, there was a homeless man living in the alley, sheltering from the rain under the bridge, he had build a cover from cardboard boxes, and used a nearby public toilet as his restroom/bathroom.
Hong Kong is expensive, I saw he was struggling in life and I tried to imagine myself in his shoes, ohh he didn’t have any shoes. I couldn’t imagine how hard it must be to be truely homeless with no job and no prospects for the future, I offered him some money, he rejected and gave me a proud smile and said he will manage.
I was truely confused, if I was him I’d take the cash in an instant and say thanks, however it made me understand some things about how people manage in life.
So, I had a old suitcase at home and had gained some weight so I had several T-shirts and trousers I couldn’t fit anymore, together with some socks and shoes that might fit the guy in the alley, I packed the suitcase with the clothing and shoes together with some food snacks, and left no ID in the case, walked down the alley a couple of days later and “forgot” the case near his makeshift house, a few days later I met him when I passed the alley to eat my lunch in peace, he was wearing a nice pair of shoes and a fresh T-shirt . This was my first meeting with what I call poverty, it gets much worse… Sigh…
When I went to stay in mainland China I saw more poor people than I’d ever seen before, old people and kids collecting garbage, going through it all, and I mean all garbage from every skyscraper around, searching for plastic bottles and aluminum cans, cardboard and any electronics would mean money to them. People talk about sweat shops in China, hard to say it but ther are the “fortunate kids” that gets to sew stripes on sneakers, or the ones that do the hard work of recycling?
It was also in China I started to become aware of all the different scams and scammers trying to make a buck for nothing, fake monks, ladies pretending to eat out of a trashcan, cheap top of the line laptops, real gold etc. there are way too many to mention.
However there are many, real poor people in China, I have visited villages that did not have electricity or a water supply, a lot of the people in the village would never be able to leave as they are “invisible” people, someone born undocumented under the one child policy, their birth was never registered so they can never apply for a passport or have any relations with the government, if a couple of invisible people have a child together, the child won’t have access to a “real” life, education, travel etc. these kids are more likely to end up in a sweatshop or collecting garbage. Can we help these children?
I think every positive effort we make is accepted with gratitude, if I can help just one child to have a better life or education I will be very happy, I do not expect every donation will improve a child’s life dramatically, but sometimes a fresh T-shirt, a pair of shoes and a meal can bring back a rarely seen smile on a child.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, welcome to Cambodia. Cambodia has more poverty than any of the other places I stayed in Asia, here the majority of the people live with no or limited access to power and water supply, during the rainy season many villages are completely cut off from the outside world, no electric, no internet. Some have generators that can be run for a few hours during the day but most rely on gas or firewood to cook with, and most families get by on less than $1 a day.
In Cambodia only the fortunate children get to go to school, grow up and get passports even they must jump through several hoops to be able to travel to most western countries. Here the visa rules for Cambodian travelers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_requirements_for_Cambodian_citizens
Almost every day I’ve seen beggars and homeless people during my travels, it’s made me very conscious about scams and making mistakes, first time I saw “the Milk lady” scam was in Cambodia, I also saw lots of “fake” monks here asking for money, same as in other countries I stayed in, and now I learnt my lesson and don’t donate anything to “fake” beggars or charities.
Glue Boys or Glue Kids are not 70´s rock band’s but a real tragedy that I see much too often in Cambodia, first time I saw them, they were sitting on the concrete wall outside a run-down guesthouse, three little boys, I’d estimate them to be from six or seven years old to maybe 11, one of the boys was breathing into a plastic bag from the supermarket his eyes looked milky and he looked well dizzy, same as the other two children, one was falling asleep on the wall.
A few days later one of the boys asked me for a dollar in the street, I said No, I crossed the street to a street stall and bought a coca cola, opened it so he couldn’t get a refund for it and passed it to him, he said thanks and started drinking the coke, a few days later I saw him again when I was eating dinner in a restaurant he came over again and asked for a dollar, I had half a fried rice left (I also live on a tight budget, it was a huge portion of fried rice) but offered if he wanted it, he said yes so I got a take away box and a spoon, he went to stand on the street and finished the box in no time, gave me a smile and went on his way.
Days later I was passing the hotel when I saw the boy approaching a tourist, I stood back and watched for a second or two, when I saw the tourist passing the boy a $5 bill I stepped in and explained the situation to the tourist, if he gives the boy $5 he will be heading straight to the nearest hardware shop to buy a tin of Epoxy Glue to share with the friends, not as helpful as the tourist expected. When we think we are doing something good sometimes we are actually doing more harm.
I appreciate most charities and causes, it’s nice when people want to do good, but I don’t think all organizations do as much as they can for their actual cause, I think too much is lost due to high administration costs and bureaucracy, but I want to work with the people direct, by keeping it simple, less is lost in translation.
As I said I’m well aware of fakes and scams, I worked as a risk manager and security consultant, and I seen a lot of tricks and fake treats going around in Asia sadly this makes too many real donations go into the wrong Charities or NGO’s pockets.
It’s not good to “randomly” donate to charities, in the worst case it will not make a difference at all or the consequences could be 3 dead Glue Boys found dead in an alley, please think before donating or trying to help, I understand the “good heart feeling” but cash in hand is often not used for good things.
I want to help freeachild.org because I know the money ends up in food, education and smiles for some of the most unfortunate children in the world. If we make no effort, there is no effort; more children will die for meaningless reasons and ignorance. Feed, Educate and produce smiles.
Make a real difference to someone that really appreciates it and will remember.
Written by Max, one of our Team Leaders in Cambodia.