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Giving is half the battle

There’s a noticeable uptick in charity stories in the news and on social media. We hear of volunteers doing fundraisers for frontliners, individuals donating for children’s online learning tools, and neighbors tipping their delivery riders with unexpected gifts.To an extent, we need these stories amid the deluge of tragic and frustrating developments we encounter every day now. We need reminders that human kindness still exists, and that we ourselves can practice it. Our sense of humanity is especially crucial—and sometimes life-saving—during an incredibly difficult time like this.

But if uplifting society is what we hope for, personal giving is only half the battle. The other half is building long-term systemic changes, and this part requires accountability from institutions like the government.

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Borrowing the words of technologist and advocate Anil Dash: “Most of what gets shared as heartwarming stories are usually temporary, small-scale responses to systemic failures. I wish we found it just as inspirational to make structural changes to unjust systems, but I don’t know if our culture knows how to tell those stories.”

Filipinos are quite polarized on this. One side says we ought to stop complaining about the government’s failures and just contribute what we can (“Ano ba ang ambag mo?”). The other says private citizens should not bear the responsibility of the government, even if it’s as simple as donating PPE to frontliners.

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I’m with the third camp that believes we can do both. We can freely contribute to small- and large-scale solutions while also speaking up about the shortcomings of our public agencies. (Constructive criticism can also be considered a contribution. It’s a way for our public officials to recognize problems that need to be addressed— if they’re willing to listen, that is.)

It’s not just that we can do both. We need to. Without structural change, our acts of kindness will only flicker for a moment then die out without solving anything.

A pack of relief goods may feed a family for a day or so, but without a just socioeconomic framework to support their livelihood (i.e., accessible education, labor protections, fair wages, financial literacy, etc.), they could quickly go back to financial distress. These are what the “reklamador” people of our time are talking about. These are not empty complaints or mere potshots at the government, but calls to build better long-term conditions for the ordinary Filipino.

Likewise, our calls for systemic reforms must be accompanied by compassionate action for each other. Contrary to what some cynics may say, charity is not wholly useless. Many of us only need small helpful nudges to get back on our feet: A support package to tide us over until our next job, or a functioning laptop to allow our kids to continue schooling remotely.

That said, it’s understandable why some are wary of charitable giving. One painful reason is that human kindness can be used in a twisted way, allowing public leaders to offload their responsibility onto private citizens.

By now, we’re familiar with scenarios where a government office asks for donations, say for calamity relief, despite supposed state funds for such situations— funds which, by the way, citizens also paid for via taxes. (And then later on, we find out that our taxes and donations didn’t actually reach intended beneficiaries, making it doubly questionable.)

Circumstances like these make charity look like a dirty trick employed by the powers-that-be to guilt-trip us into doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And that can make even the best of us lose faith in giving.

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But now is a time when our charity is direly needed. We’re allowed to be skeptical about how our goodwill is being twisted and abused, and we’d be justified in calling that out. But meanwhile, there are people who need help, and we’re capable of providing that help. It would be unfair to deny them that just because we’re skeptical of larger institutions.

This doesn’t need to be a dichotomy. We can give as private individuals and also demand from our leaders. The systemic changes that we call for take time; we need to help each other survive in the meantime.

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[email protected]

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TAGS: charity, Giving, pandemic, Tagupa
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