I think I know how Hilde Back feels as a survivor, even though the horrific Holocaust death she evaded makes my wound seem like a shaving nick by comparison. Hilde was a young girl in Nazi Germany who was helped to escape by a stranger. Hilde’s parents were consumed by the Holocaust but she made her way to Sweden where she taught school on a modest salary. In the 1970s, Hilde started sponsoring a bright, but poor Kenyan boy, Chris Mburu, in primary school. Education is free in Kenya but most families can’t afford it so many of Kenya’s best and brightest have to work right out of school, and don’t have a chance at the higher education tantalizingly free for the taking but so far out of reach. Their story was the subject of the award-winning documentary A Small Act. Chris went on to Harvard Law School and is now a human-rights lawyer for the UN. There is a touching scene in the documentary when Chris gives Hilde a ‘Harvard Law School Mom’ sweatshirt.
Hilde probably got by on a meagre salary but she gave what she could; just 15 dollars a month, probably in mute salute to the kind stranger who saved her life so many years before. I wonder if the act of giving became a comfortable monthly ritual; making sure she had stamps and envelopes, writing the cheque, sealing the envelope and posting it. My family makes the act of giving a ritual; on the first day of the month, we log on to www.kiva.org and read Grace the profiles of the entrepreneurs. Then we explain the concept of microfinancing and tell her about the advantage of empowerment over charity to her and suggest she choose female entrepreneurs with kids. She asks questions, look at the faces of the needy people she is about to help and chooses. Grace usually wants to give far above our budget and at bedtime she is still flush with the joy of giving.
The UN estimates that only two percent of the 3 billion dollars that was poured into Haiti by Canada and other donors actually made it to the Haitian government and Haitian-run NGOs. I think many people are leery of donating because they know corruption is endemic. I don’t know how to fight corruption of this astonishing magnitude save donating to aid organizations that have been proven to be honest. Charitynavigator.com rates the efficiency of charities all over the world. Canada’s most efficient charities include hearttoheart.org and Food for the Hungry [fh.org]. Global Greengrants.com follows the Kiva model by channeling donations to small environmental activist groups around the world. And, of course, I would be remiss to not put a plug in for the Greene Family Education Initiative.