So, my kids’ school (along with half of the others in the Emirates I think) have joined with a major hotel chain in preparing large shoe box sized packages for workers here in the Gulf. Families are invited to take a box and fill it with items needed by most of the workers. These are things like razors, toothbrushes, combs, a T-shirt, a cap. There’s no food in these boxes, no money or anything like that. It’s just a small box of toiletries that says, “we’re thinking of you and hope this may make life a little more comfortable.” On the day that the boxes were distributed, I had a very interesting discussion with one of the other moms. She mentioned having picked up a box. I shared that I had grabbed two. She went on to tell me that she, however, had some philosophical objections to them.
I have to admit I was a bit befuddled. Could someone have philosophical objections to helping the less fortunate? She went on to tell me how people here aren’t really needy. These folks in the labor camps may not live in luxury, but they aren’t really in need. Apparently, some of her previous postings have been in places with people who are really needy, you know, places like Pakistan and Bangladesh, and… you get the picture. I found her argument interesting. My initial response was that perhaps she wasn’t aware how grim the work camps actually are.
No, no, she assured me that she knows life isn’t easy, but they’re not really in bad shape. Given the articles written on this topic, I’m left wondering if she doesn’t need a trip to visit these folks in their camps. But, lets get beyond that. Because really it did get me thinking about this topic. Who ARE the less fortunate? How can we best help them? After all, I consider these boxes a very small way of teaching the Beans not about charity (the lesson she acknowledged her kids would learn) but about giving thanks for our blessings and remembering that others have less. This doesn’t mean they ARE less, just they have less.
As I was shopping for the contents of the boxes with one of the other Moms yesterday (yes, I can turn even that into a fun morning out), my thoughts finally crystallized. Would it be better to get all of these little personal hygiene items and put them in boxes and send them to the really needy people? After all, that would cost significantly more. And, those boxes that the hotel chain sponsored, would it be better to use plastic ziploc bags instead as the other mom contended? Is it wasteful to give these tokens to these hard-working folks? Could we do better by sending the “charity” far away?
And for me the answer is fairly clear: No. In America for a long, long time we have been caught up in saving the poor all around the world. That’s really taking the splinter out of our neighbors’ eyes while ignoring our own plank. America has poor. Does America have the abject poverty of many third-world countries? Um, yes. Children go hungry in the land of plenty. People are homeless. And for all the good we can (and perhaps should) do abroad, I really don’t think we can ignore the people at home with our charity. I don’t want to see my for-now home follow that bias. In giving to the workers living in the camps, we’re acknowledging that we have need right here in our own back yards.
And you know what else? I’d contend we’re doing more for the people in those poverty-stricken desperately needy places as well. Stay with me here, when I given a box of toiletries (and a shirt and cap) to a worker here, I save him about $20. To me, that’s not much money. To him, that’s ALOT of money. And that money that he saves in not buying those items himself, what do you think he does with that? Does he go buy an ipod? Well, I’d say he more likely sends it home to his family in Bangladesh or India or Pakistan or . So, by saving him money here, we’re giving his family more money there. And let’s be realistic, the people who come and work on construction projects in the UAE are not the creme de la creme of society from developed nations. These are the folks whose opportunities to provide for their families at home are beyond poor. They are people from poverty stricken nations to whom coming to the desert to make $150 a month is a fortune. They think that working 7 day weeks and perhaps 12 hour shifts per day is worth the sacrifice for their families. So are we really trying to say they aren’t less fortunate? Do we truly think these people aren’t needy? And is it not the height of naivety to think that sending talcum powder and deodorant is really going to help the truly poverty-stricken in the third world?
If your passion is to go and help the poorest of the poor, do what Mother Theresa did. Go into the slums of Calcutta and help people. But keep in mind that often the best way to help the poor over there is to help the needy here. Because in our little slice of the world people come from everywhere. Here, the butterfly wings of your help in a labor camp can help send the rain of blessings “over there” where poverty gnaws at empty bellies. And in this world we live in, chances abound for us to help our children see that everyone doesn’t live the life they live. We have so many excellent opportunities to give back and show our children that it is, indeed more blessed to give than to receive. Let’s take those chances with no philosophical objections. Let’s give to the needy here and the poor there. Because I am fairly certain that we have enough blessings to go around, don’t we?