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Charity trips to Fiji? Patronising rubbish.

16 May 2014

In the foyer of the library at University today, I spotted a young lady who was selling cupcakes. Would I buy one. "It's for charity", she added, looking at me hopefully.

Charity? I see. I asked her what she was going to do. "Teach English to children in a village in Fiji and help them build water tanks and paint their school building." No, she wasn't a qualified English teacher, although she did of course have her GCSEs and stuff. Her face fell when I asked her what, then, made her qualified to teach English to other children? She had no answer.

I continued to ask questions about what she would be doing there. After all, she was asking for my money to support her work. I would be happy to give her cash if I agreed with what she was going to do. She said she would be building water tanks so the village had clean water. No, the money raised for not for her because she had already paid for her ticket. The money she was raising was going to the charity.

I suddenly felt really annoyed with her lack of honesty. Because the bottom of her fundraising paper had an official message from the organiser of the whole thing, Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA). It said that the money the volunteer was raising was NOT going to the charity but would be used by the volunteer to fund the cost of their program. I asked the girl again what the money was for. She said the whole thing costs £1200 + flights. She had paid for her flight and was fundraising for the £1200. I countered therefore that the money was not going to charity but it was going to her own pocket to help her pay for this trip. Again, she got flustered. The money was needed by the charity in advance so they could buy equipment to help them teach and build water tanks and so on.

Having sufficiently upset her, I bought a cupcake. Not because I support her 'charity work', but because I felt sorry for her. She was clearly upset by my questioning.

But why should she be upset? Shouldn't people think about what it is they are going to do on these trips? How patronising is it to think that a young person with no experience is not good enough to teach kids in the West, but perfectly fine to teach kids in poor countries? Furthermore, after she is done teaching for a week and leaves, who will continue teaching these children? A real teacher? In which case she was never needed there. Or yet another young person on a very expensive trip who is looking to feel good about themselves by helping 'poor people'? How does that in any way secure a quality education for the children there? Not to mention the question if learning English is the most important thing for children in a very remote village. Some of these village are so remote that they are only reachable by kayak so not much chance of them needing English, other than to be able to speak to those lovely gullible White People who come to have an Authentic Experience.....Building classrooms is very nice. But I feel uneasy about pictures of children sitting at desks that carry the name of the charity organisation. God forbid they ever forget how they got so lucky to even have these desks. Surely the point of charity is that you do it with no strings attached. Not even the requirement to let everyone else know that it was YOU who was so incredibly generous? It was all very annoying that the girl was clearly unprepared for anyone questioning her thoughts behind the whole thing. So convinced was she that surely all charity is good.

But most importantly, she failed to mention (in fact she blatantly lied about it), that the trip would be 5 days of 'charity work' and then 7 days of sailing around the Pacific coral reefs, learning to scuba dive and lie on pristine white beaches. I am quite sure THAT is what the £1200 is for. Not to buy materials for a water tank in a remote village in Fiji.

Now I don't mind being asked to pay for someone's holiday. I think it is quite daring to do that. But at least have the decency to be honest about it.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of an opinion piece I once got from a student with the title: 'How altruistic is our gift?' - main point being: we give to assure our place in heaven and feel good about ourselves. - Titia

BunnyFactor10 said...

I agree that is true for probably everyone. When we give someone a gift, we want them to say thank you. Or be there when they unwrap the gift so we can see their gratitude. I just feel that this kind of charity work is done specifically to make someone feel better about themselves for a couple of days, and then have a holiday in the sun, far away from all that poverty and dirty water. It seems an incongruous combination to me.
But in this particular case, it was the girl's attitude of being surprised anyone would even think to ask remotely probing questions about what exactly she was going to be doing and her motives. And in response to those questions, she lied. Which is not very charitable to say the least.

Anonymous said...

But did you enjoy the cupcake?

BunnyFactor10 said...

No. Too dry. Almost like a lack of water or something.

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