Claiming our place on the charity map

Trekking to Machu Picchu
Trekking to Machu Picchu

By Jerzy Morkis

Charity begins at home, so the saying goes. Once upon a time that may have been true but worthy causes have been forced to adopt a more cosmopolitan approach.

Many, many years ago at primary school, the minister would lead an appeal to help the ‘black babies’ of some African township.

You’d be shown pictures, told heart-rending stories and then be given an envelope into which you would gladly surrender the money you were keeping for a quarter of Pineapple Chunks.

It raised our awareness of the wider world and how fortunate we were.

But nowadays, you can actually go to that township; raise enough sponsorship through packing bags in a supermarket or washing cars and you can head to Africa and paint that village classroom.

It’s all very worthy, a hands-on way to help others and the experience will undoubtedly be memorable.

And those volunteers really do make a difference, though I’m not sure why it’s better than simply sending the money and paying impoverished locals to do the work.

And let’s not forget the charity treks – apparently an important part in the budget of today’s charities.

Once again raise the required sponsorship and you could be supporting your favourite cause while hiking in the Sahara, in the Himalayas, in Vietnam, Iceland or striding out on the ever popular Inca trail in Peru that leads to Machu Picchu.

This last one is billed as “the charity trek that everyone is chasing”.

Indeed so it would seem to be: it certainly inspired a colleague of mine and she embarked on a mighty fund-raising campaign so she could take part.

At the end of it she was able to hand over a sizeable cheque to her chosen charity, the sum, however, being considerably smaller than the overall cost of taking part in the adventure.

Pointing out that if she had handed over all the cash to the charity, its coffers would be healthier and she wouldn’t have sore feet, I was told I was missing the point.

I still am.

Essentially, it would seem to be an activity holiday with some pre-vacation fund-raising on the side.

The cynical would suggest such charity events are more about the participant than any cause but, in these times, any and all donations are absolutely vital.

In the same way, these house-to-house poly-bag collections are better than nothing though taking your unwanted items directly to a charity shop raises around 50 times more.

Now, since I’m not a cynic, I think it is great that people, particularly young folk, venture out in the world and help charity at the same time, or volunteer their youth and energy for much-needed projects in poverty blackspots.

But we seem to be missing a trick here. Should we not be selling ourselves as a destination for the world’s well-intentioned young.

Sure, we’ve got stuff that needs painted, built or dug, but we can go better than that.

There’s the lonely old dear in the care home who would love someone to talk to; the cancer victim that just needs a hand to hold; the burned-out carer who needs a few hours respite from a loved one lost in Alzheimer’s; the child that needs a hug and has never had one; the unemployed man who needs to know he is still of some worth; the family too ashamed to go to the foodbank; the scared hospital patient with no visitor at her bedside, the baby who, with a little love, has the potential to light up the world... the list can go on and on and on – and it is all on our doorstep.

We just need someone to co-ordinate it all, promote and market it, then the bag-packing and sponsored car-washing can start “to fund my trip to Fife, Scotland”.

Granted, it’s not as exotic as trekking the Great Wall of China or gazing upon Machu Picchu but, if it really is about helping others, we have plenty to offer.