I consider myself altruistic and like to help where I can, when help is needed. Recently, though, I have changed the way I do so. I have stopped supporting charities for a number of reasons and have chosen, instead, to use direct action, either by taking direct action, myself, or by supporting those who do.
What could be wrong with supporting charities? It has to be a good thing, surely. I, like many, used to think so. In fact, years ago, I worked for a charity, myself, and they provided a much-needed service that supported carers. I have no doubts that the vast majority of people who are involved with charities are decent, well-intentioned individuals. However, the move away from being localised and ‘hands-on’ and adopting a more corporate, and business-like approach has, as far as I’m concerned, brought with it a number of potential problems.
I don’t like receiving raffle tickets, (to sell), through the post, without my having requested them, nor do I appreciate being sent unsolicited ‘gifts’ of pens, stickers and other nick-nacks, in exchange for a donation. I’m not keen on the idea of people being signed up to make regular donations to a charity, via direct debit, on their own doorsteps. The people who sign them up generally don’t work directly for the charity concerned but for an independent organisation. Usually, they work on a commission only basis so they are, effectively, sales people; not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se, but I suspect that it is generally assumed that those sales people are supporters of the charity concerned, when that may not necessarily be the case.
I have read disturbing accounts of cures having been discovered for diseases, only to be suppressed by those whose incomes would be threatened, should such a cure become widely available to sufferers. Just imagine, for a moment, if all diseases were to be cured and there was no illness. There is no doubt that pharmaceutical companies are huge, thriving businesses and I have to ask myself whether it is really in their interests to cure those who are afflicted. Of course, the inevitable conclusion is that it is not. It wouldn’t just be the pharmaceutical companies whose livelihood would be threatened, however. Hospital equipment manufacturers, staff who operate the equipment, doctors, nurses and so on, would all be adversely affected. When incidents of a particular disease are increasing, regardless of the amount of time and other resources being spent on apparent prevention and cures, one has to ask why.
I have reached this conclusion as a result of having researched the case of Dr. Stanislav Burzynski. I would recommend watching the films that have been made about his story and decide whether he has, indeed, found a cure for cancer or, as his adversaries would have us believe, that he is nothing more than a conman.
In the past, I have heard of charities whose head offices are extravagantly furnished and, of course, that’s unacceptable when the money could be better spent helping their beneficiaries. At the same time, I wouldn’t expect charity workers to endure
unnecessarily harsh working conditions but fully accept that a reasonable balance needs to be found and maintained.
Recently, I heard some worrying news about Comic Relief and the way their business is conducted. I, along with many others, I’m sure, have always been impressed by the claims that “every penny donated goes to help those in need.” That, of course is as it should be, but there are inevitable running costs and the money to cover them has to come from somewhere. Apparently, money that is donated doesn’t immediately go to the beneficiaries but is invested for a period of time, in order to raise the funds needed to administrate the charity. According to reports I have read, it seems that Comic Relief have chosen to invest in companies that produce or promote alcohol, tobacco and arms. While these pursuits are, no doubt, very lucrative, they are in direct conflict with some of the aims of Comic Relief; to help people who are adversely affected by alcohol, tobacco and war.
Suffice to say that I have lost confidence in those charities that are being run in the ways I have described and I particularly abhor the fact that so many people who are willing to help are, unwittingly, supporting practices that they would not agree with.
On the other side of the coin, I have also encountered, recently, people who have directly supported charitable projects by volunteering, whether it be by travelling abroad or by being directly involved in projects within the UK. Often, there are financial implications for volunteers, who may need to raise funds for air fares, living expenses etc. while they are volunteering their services, and I am happy to help with fundraising when I am in a position to do so.
As it becomes increasingly difficult for people to maintain the most basic of living conditions; food and shelter, food banks are becoming prevalent in the UK and, although it is disgraceful that they should be necessary in this day and age, the numbers of people relying on them is increasing. For most of us, a few tins or packets of food would not be missed and donating to food banks can make the difference between life and death for those people who are less fortunate.
Another form of direct action to ease the suffering of others has captured the hearts of thousands of people within the UK. I am one of many who believe that homelessness in the twenty first century is totally unacceptable, and yet it is a growing problem. I was disgusted when I heard homeless people described as, “what we step over when we are leaving the opera”; a quote attributed to an MP who is, after all, supposed to be representing the people of the UK. I have also often heard that there is ‘no point’ in giving money to the homeless because they’ll only spend it on alcohol or drugs. That may, or may not be true but there is nothing to stop any of us approaching a homeless person on the street and asking if they would like something to eat or drink and, assuming they do, buying a sandwich, a bag of chips or a coffee for them. They are people and deserve to be treated with compassion and dignity.
The Rucksack Project is something I heard about, recently, and it is heart-warming to see that so many people have been touched by it. The idea is to fill a rucksack with essential items for someone who is homeless. These could include thermal underwear, jumpers, hats, gloves, scarves, bottles of water, packets of food, waterproof clothing, toiletries etc. I was lucky enough to find “emergency blankets”, otherwise known as survival blankets, on sale for £4.99 (and, at the time, were part of a buy one, get one free offer). These blankets consist of a large sheet of foil-like material that can conserve heat and mean the difference between life and death for someone who is living on the streets in harsh weather conditions. The rucksacks are taken to distribution centres all over the country, and given to people who are homeless and living on the streets.
The response to the appeal for help with the rucksack project was overwhelming, with thousands of people getting involved, and epitomised the fact that, in spite of the difficulties so many of us are facing in these times of austerity, there is still a basic desire to offer help to those who need it and that direct action is the way to do it.