Boundaries on Giving
From Friday to Saturday, I joined the youth group at St. John’s Lutheran church in Rockville and two other groups in World Vision’s annual “30 hour famine,” a countrywide movement designed to raise awareness about hunger in Third World countries. The goal is to stop eating for 30 hours, from 12 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Saturday. And for a bunch of teenagers, this is one mighty feat.
The trick is to not let thoughts of food slip into your mind. The strategy works pretty well, until about 2 p.m. Saturday when grumpiness sets in and your body starts to shut down. At that point, all you want in the world is some fried chicken and a long nap. But in the real world, those who live in poverty have to push on and may be deprived of food for much longer than 30 hours.
An activity book provided by World Vision had us divide into small tribes. Each was based on an African country. We then lived through tasks poor African children have to accomplish on a daily basis such as transporting water, jumping fences and working out ways to maximize our tribe’s food supply, while spending a limited amount of money. It doesn’t seem like much work on the outside, but molehills turn into mountains when your stomach is empty.
The famine opened my eyes and many others’ across the country to the difficulties hungry and impoverished people face. It is once you are aware when the question becomes, what can I do to fix this? Last year during the famine, we brought in old pairs of jeans and cut them into various patterns. The pieces were then sent to an organization that makes the denim into shoes for those living in poverty in Africa. Though the activity was relatively easy and rewarding, I still felt like it was my job as a Christian kid, well-off in “rich” Montgomery County to do more.
And I continued to feel that way until my English class read a selection from Peter Singer’s essay “The Singer Solution to World Poverty.”
Singer expresses that it is our moral obligation as steady-income Americans to donate to those worse off. I thought, OK, helping the poor is what I’m interested in, what else does this guy have to say? Singer then goes off into a hypothetical example about Bob, and the choice Bob has to either kill a child standing on the tracks of a train, or flip a switch and instead send the train into his life-long investment, his rare and valuable Bugatti car.
“If you still think that it was very wrong of Bob not to throw the switch that would have diverted the train and saved the child’s life, then it is hard to see how you could deny that it is also very wrong not to send money to one of the organizations listed above,” stated Singer.
But to me, it is hard. The fact that Bob had a choice, at that moment, to kill somebody or save a material object is inexcusable. The hypothetical presents a grotesque example of what one aspect of our society has turned into: people controlled by their selfish interest in things. Comparing Bob, however, to the entire American population is inaccurate.
There are those Americans who are the starving and diseased child, praying not to be ignored. There are those struggling to get by on the income they receive, or those who do not have an income at all. Some need to keep their extra cash for savings, for stability in their future. And there is the younger generation that is preparing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for four or more years on higher education.
My generation was born into recession. Our childhood was spent looking at television screens filled with stories of layoffs and sequestration, increased food prices and those scary dips in line graphs showing the fall of the economy. Yet we must still grapple enough savings to pay for college and the various expenses that come with it, because now without a degree you won’t get a job and employment means the escape from poverty. So, no, we don’t really have the luxury of helping our brothers and sisters in Third World countries when we ourselves are struggling. Instead, we call upon those who can afford to give a fraction of their hard earned income to charity and we do not blame anyone for the killing of children.
Although Singer makes it seem like the poor are floating without the support of anyone, many people do regularly donate to charities. America has invested in help such as American Red Cross, the Peace Corps and numerous other organizations to be a safety ring for the impoverished.
As I donate the money I save to charity I realize even though the act is small, the impact it can make on a ill child will last more than 30 hours.
If you have any suggestions as to what charity I or any reader should donate to, please comment.