"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
As details emerged of the Oxfam sex scandal, I decided to review my support of charities. I’d sponsored children through World Vision, believing that my money went to a designated child. Similarly, I’d sponsored Orbis; the flying eye hospital, because it does direct work.
Unfortunately, what emerged from my research of World Vision was unsettling. Perhaps I was naive, but I hadn’t realised they are an evangelical organisation. Formed in 1950 the charity operated as a missionary service to meet emergency needs in times of crisis. But, like many of the large international charities, it evolved to stray into grey areas.
While World Vision asserts it's not proselytising through charity, it remains committed to the religious cause. Staff take part in daily worship, although they state they are not seeking to recruit. That explanation does not sit well due to the power differential, as affluent aid workers lord it over the needy. In fairness, the World Vision webpage is clear that the charity has a religious agenda. Some donors are comfortable with that. I’m not.
I discovered that World Vision staff were allegedly involved in cases of sexual exploitation of children. World Vision denies these stories in a heavily nuanced reply. It also appears one senior official transferred money to a terrorist organisation. In my discussions with World Vision, this is not rejected. They responded that the matter is before the courts. Say no more.
Another official caught tweeting anti-Semitic messages, faced disciplinary action. My faith in World Vision was slipping.
What finally caused me to cut my links is the deceit of the Child Sponsorship Program. World Vision makes great play of this program in its publicity material. Donors receive a photograph of the sponsored child and a seasonal letter. My wife and I felt this scheme was worthy because we could make a difference for an individual child. Now it appears that the program is a misrepresentation. In 2008 an Australian documentary revealed that the children are not the direct beneficiaries.
Reporters found a sponsored child. She had no idea she was in the World Vision program and wasn’t receiving the schooling that the donor supported. In response, World Vision commented it adopts a community approach. This statement is a tacit admission that the photograph and letters are a marketing ploy. To me, that is disappointing as it misrepresents the situation.
I remain conflicted because my subjective belief is that charity can help. Standing against my view is a tremendous amount of evidence that charity misses the mark and can make things worse. The commitment of funds to some nations props up failing governments with destructive policies. In Tanzania, charity funding drove the collectivisation of farms. Done by seizing land and bringing once flourishing private farms under central control. As a result, output collapsed, with more charity funds needed to avoid starvation.
Next is the question why have these international charities moved away from their founding principles? They’ve become morally compromised organisations, operating with a corporate ruthlessness to exploits donors and taxpayers. Oxfam and others engage in political lobbying as they advocate for the Third World. This campaigning is a murky business. Pushing for debt relief, they seek to absolve failing nations of their responsibilities.
Simultaneously, the high-paid, self-entitled, charity officials lord it up at the top. Content to play the game of conferences, seminars and think-tanks, rather than get their hands dirty in the field. Beyond the compulsory photoshoot with some waif in a distant land, these officials don't venture far. Yet, they love to stoke the guilt of donors. At the same time, they are comfortable supporting governments that fail to provide their citizens with the most basic of services.
Without a doubt, there are many well-meaning and sincere folks working for these large charities. They must be feeling the sting of criticism, although it's not aimed at their earnest activities. The blame lies at the top.
Henceforth, I’ll pick my charities with greater care. I’m leaning towards those that seek to put people on the right road by direct, time-limited help. Micro-financing and initiatives like that aim to get people to stand-up for themselves. That gets my support. The objective should be creating a vibrant, self-sustaining economy.
It's hard not to conclude that Oxfam, World Vision and their kin thrive on poverty. And by open-ended aid, they trap whole populations in a property cycle. Charities headed by slick types, with six-figure salaries and massive PR budgets, trumpet our guilt for not helping the poor. They then feed on the proceeds. I’m no longer going to fund their hypocrisy.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.