It's sometimes hard to justify giving money to charity -- especially when you're considering saving for a college fund, paying back credit card debt or dreaming of a much needed vacation. Even the phrase "donate to charity" seems to have taken on a somewhat pretentious title, a myth if you will just like upholding the customary ideal of "owning your own home."
Sure it would be nice to afford to purchase property, travel the world or give hundreds of dollars to charity but they don't need to be done in order to lead a fruitful life. Now I am not saying don't donate to charity, but the interpretation of this idea should be viewed in a more accessible and manageable way. Once society starts to realize that if we decide to rent and not buy, date but never marry or volunteer and work part-time we will still be successful in many ways. As long as we are happy, healthy and only if we are able to give back in some way that suits our needs as well then whether or not we choose to "live the American dream" becomes futile. The dream is what we make of it.
Growing up in a liberal Jewish home, my brothers and I were taught that there is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself for a job well done. At the same time, the notion of a mitzvah which is the Hebrew for "good deed" was instilled in us as young children and it was made clear that helping others in need is important and necessary. The contemporary way of giving money to charity was not the preferred approach in our home, rather, it was spending time with others less fortunate, donating clothes to shelters, bringing canned foods to a food drive or participating in charity events like cooking dinner for the homeless in Toronto.
People give to charity these days for a number of different reasons with even the smallest of donations making a large impact in a community. The scale of poverty is immense and even though we may seem powerless to stop it, any way you choose to help can be a remarkable, significant act in and of itself. Whether you are donating old clothes, giving spare change or contributing your time to support an organization -- the goal for many charities remains the same; to help make the world a better place for everyone in it. However, a charity, big or small relies on your support to continue aiding others in the community.
I read a recent study done by graduates at Harvard's business school titled, "Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior," which explores the ways in which charitable behavior can lead to benefits for the giver. While we all know that giving to others can make you feel good about yourself, this study proved that there are several more subtle ways that giving your time for a cause can benefit your psychological, spiritual and emotional well-being both short and long term.
For me personally, I always felt most rewarded in giving back to charities that supported children. Children are our best resource and hope for the future. I was fortunate enough to be brought up in a free and thriving democracy. Canada is a country, even with all of its blemishes, that offers protection for the vulnerable, where yes, poverty exists but we continue to strive to make things better especially for the children. Many others are not so lucky. For the majority of the world's children, hunger, poverty and a lack of basic human rights is the sad norm. We, who have it better also have a responsibility to help make this world a better place.
There are a few charities that stand not just for their sincere desire to help those less fortunate but by the way in which they began.
Free The Children: A Canadian-born organization that was started by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger (who are from my hometown in Toronto) when Craig was just 12 that helps educate and empower young people around the world, and raises funds to give back to children and families in third world nations with their various programs that focus on re-building villages, getting families clean water, education and food security.
War Child Canada: This incredible organization is headed up by bestselling author Dr. Samantha Nutt, who believes that no child should know war. The organization raises funds across North America with superstars like Alicia Keys and Chantal Kreviazuk to work with war-affected communities to help children reclaim their childhood through access to education, opportunity and justice.
Friends of Koh Rong: This NGO that was started by a Toronto resident while she was traveling overseas on vacation focuses on the importance of education towards students and children in Cambodia. This small yet powerful charity group aims to help the local students work towards a future filled with opportunity rather than becoming subjected to a challenging life on the island.
Charity should not just be about giving away money, rather, one can give away almost anything to anyone in need. I'm not saying don't give -- I'm saying to do your research to find something that has importance and to give with thoughtfulness, true spirit and a genuine desire to help. With the holidays almost here there are hundreds and thousands of charities we can get involved with if the feeling of giving creeps up on you during the season. So whether you decide to fly to Cambodia and build schools, feed the homeless, donate to save children from war zones, or drop off canned goods at a shelter, giving back is in each of us to do and nowadays is relatively easy and painless. From a small non-profit to a large worldwide organization, charities help open our eyes to another world we may never have even known existed.
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