charitable about charity

JnJ Spain 2012 057

“When we want to help the poor, we usually offer them charity. Most often we use charity to avoid recognizing the problem and finding the solution for it. Charity becomes a way to shrug off our responsibility. But charity is no solution to poverty. Charity only perpetuates poverty by taking the initiative away from the poor. Charity allows us to go ahead with our own lives without worrying about the lives of the poor. Charity appeases our consciences.”
― Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty

Or not so charitable, as the case may be.

Maybe it’s true, that we hand over some dollars and turn our backs. Maybe we need to do the former, whilst guarding against the latter.

Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water, sees charity a bit differently. He explains on the website:


For me, charity is practical. It’s sometimes easy, more often inconvenient, but always necessary. It’s the ability to use one’s position of influence, relative wealth and power to affect lives for the better. charity is singular and achievable.

There’s a biblical parable about a man beaten near death by robbers. He’s stripped naked and lying roadside. Most people pass him by, but one man stops. He picks him up and bandages his wounds. He puts him on his horse and walks alongside until they reach an inn. He checks him in and throws down his Amex. “Whatever he needs until he gets better.”

Because he could.

The dictionary defines charity as simply the act of giving voluntarily to those in need. It’s taken from the word “caritas,” or simply, love. In Colossians 3, the Bible instructs readers to “put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”

Although I’m still not sure what that means, I love the idea. To wear charity.

If you wear charity, you’re not going to walk away, it’s going to go with you. Your conscience will be constantly reminded, not appeased. Your life will go ahead, with charity on your back, covering your head, constantly reminding you of the lives of the poor.
According to Muhammad Yunus, most people use charity to avoid recognizing the problem and finding the solution for it. Not so for Scott. He saw the problem and set about to be the answer. Rather than taking initiative away from the poor, he is helping to give them the means to live.

Quite possibly Yunus would point out Harrison’s version of charity is different to just throwing money at a problem. And he would be right.

How will you wear charity today? Tomorrow? Next year? In ten years?


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