I don’t have a charitable bone in my body. I breeze past the Western backpackers begging in the streets for their next bus fare without a glance. Ignoring the desperate pleas for help from lost English teachers and the moans of starving yoga teachers has become a pastime. You’ll never see the inside of my wallet even if you’re selling honey or sugarcane.
Yet I do have the occasional quiver of compassion for those less fortunate than myself and in a fit of insanity I will display some generosity. Recently having supported the fabulous work of SwimVietnam and the extraordinary work of the Kianh Foundation in the central region of Vietnam with small donations, I was struck by just how difficult it is to get some things to happen.
SwimVietnam, by the way, teaches local youngsters swimming and water survival skills as well as providing Vietnamese with teaching instructions meeting international standards. The Kianh foundation assists young people with handicaps and disabilities in developing both educationally and socially so they can lead more interactive and fulfilling lives.
Helping the disadvantaged is not just about raising money – what do you do beyond that point? There’s the need for office space, organizing and training staff and volunteers, managing budgets, specialized equipment to get, negotiating with local and national authorities, laws to comply with and after all that… meeting the needs of your target group.
“Yeah, we know all that, Stivi! What’s your point?”
Ok, ok… We know it takes money and organization but there’s more to it than that; two things – knowledge and information. For charities and non-government organizations (NGOs) these two are critical. It’s become a lot more than soup kitchens and a roof over your head these days. There’s the input of engineers, builders, lawyers, teachers, psychologists, doctors and dozens of other participants.
But the hardest part, in my opinion, after meeting some of the people involved, is getting some things to happen. How do you get swimming training aids for the kids like floating equipment and specialized medical stuff that can’t be found in Vietnam or are only produced overseas? How do you ship over to Vietnam donated laptops? Yes, you could probably use FEDEX but NGOs need to save money, remember?
In the case of one kid who is deaf and blind, there’s the question of locating and supplying a Vietnamese Braille teacher and Braille school books. I’ve been looking into the subject for a while and not having much luck due to my inability to use Vietnamese well enough to explain what I want and also to find the organizations that might be able to help.
Fortunately the great thing in Vietnam is there’s some Vietnamese person who wants to help and so we’re now trying to track down answers.
Another situation arose when someone from SwimVietnam was trying to get information and ideas for designing activities for children with learning difficulties in the pool. There are not a lot of those kinds of training manuals around the place!
Small issues, you’d think but which can make a big difference. And that’s where all of us come into the picture…
I’m sure there’s someone reading this now who knows a guy who knows a girl who works somewhere whose second sister’s cousin just happens to know how to do, make, get, obtain, buy, train, teach or fix the problem! See? It’s not always about the money. You can do a lot more than you think!
Some of these things seem easy to solve but keep in mind that a lot of work is also done outside the major cities of Vietnam where access to specialized skills and equipment is harder to obtain. Next time you’re at a charity event it’s worth asking the organizers about their situation and is there anything special they need?