The Challenge of Charity

One thing that has started to plague us and I think plagues many others too is the question of how can we help or even if we should be helping in the first place?

This morning Leah came up to us and said please do not give anything to people who come and ask. We haven’t been (as we have no spare cash this month) but the reasoning went as follows: if we help someone, more and more people will follow causing a real problem for Leah and our other neighbors when the stream of needy becomes too big (as there are hundreds or thousands who need help) and eventually when the real needy are replaced by criminals. There is also a feeling of ‘handouts’ leading to complacency and laziness rather than addressing the underlying problems. Yet there is clearly a large need (especially where children and the destitute are considered) but how should this be addressed?

We’ve had several people contact us via our blog stating their willingness to help with a few offering to match our monthly spending in terms of a donation to a charity of our choice. We’ll now outline some of our own thoughts on what we can do with this money but what we’d love is to hear from some readers (many of whom have grown up or are still living in the context we are in but have infinitely more experience than we do about what forms of charity work and what don’t).

Some thoughts are (and again please feel free to comment and educate us):

  • The Neutral Approach: Give to one or two known charities in the area who we know are doing a good job.
  • The Targeted Approach: Give a whole lot of books to some of the crèches in the area. This will hopefully be to the benefit of the local children even though these are private institutions
  • The Long Term Approach: Support a child or children’s education (but how do you choose who to support? There are so many children and Leah doesn’t have young children.
  • The Networked Approach: Link up people like Elena (see WWYD with organizations that can help
  • The Localised Approach: Support to assist Leah in adding another room to her shack or upgrading the two long drops near our shack (
  • The Individualised Approach: Support one or two individuals who have shown ability but need a helping hand to assist in their economic empowerment
  • The Non Dependency Approach: Not provide any support as this might perpetuate the disempowering charity relationship that seems to already exist in such a marginalized community and further stereotype the haves from the have nots.


The floor is all yours!


  1. Muzi says:

    If I was in your position, my long term approach would be to build a brick and mortar pre-school for the local toddlers to get proper foundation education. Use your platform that you’ve already created to fundraise and let all those willing to open their wallets contribute in building a better future for the local kids. This way your contribution will benefit many souls for many years…

    If not a creche, initiate a job creation project that will empower the locals who are unemployed. From your knowledge what could be outsourced from Mamelodi?

    • dawie says:

      I don’t know if you are writing from SA but you are probably aware that Mamelodi is a microcosm of the problem across the country. It is my belief that people like Julian/Ena be given carte blanche in getting specific projects off the ground. In their case at least one of them specialises in real estate and accordingly has grounding in construction, certainly for erection of a crèche/pre-school. Every R1 – R1m allocated by government to people of their calibre will confidently find its way to the specific target intended, and not be siphoned off elsewhere.

      Good to see the mounting number of hits on this site. Translating it into meaningful dialogue may require a national discussion forum where the weight of opinion forces change.

  2. Lynda Smith says:

    The community must be part of the decision and be involved in how they want to be involved . Then one can work with them to help bring the right people together to make it happen. We can help on training the person if it is a pre- school. Let me know. Transformation must come from community.

  3. Tshephisho says:

    I wuld have to say look at the most transparent needs of the community. If there there is a lack of educational facilities such creches, I would have to agree with Muzi in building one. Or you could also help in renovating such facilities which eith need extension or refurbishment or fixing of structural problems. If the community has a larg population of people who are unemployed and due to that, there is poverty within the area, then I would suggest that perhaps you start a feeding scheme. Looking at the current situation or standing of the community will help you determine or rather narrow down what you can do to help the community with the money. Depending on the funds you recieve you could possibly help the community in more than one specific way.

  4. Sumaya Moosa says:

    My feelings towards how to help always has and always will point directly back to education.
    I believe helping (like you have stated) creches with books etc… will benefit not only the children but everyone else who will be able to use them, in an educational and a recreational manner.

    The way to improve everyone is through basic education. The more one knows, the more one can teach and the cycle will just continue.

    I think it is vitally important that children especially, grasp the concepts of the world and know how to apply them in order to succeed in this dog eat dog world.
    In an ideal world, none of this would be a problem. But it is as it is and we can all only help to the best degree we know how.

    • dawie says:

      SM – Yes, the theme of books and more books is coming up frequently. When an opportunity presents I must write to the Hewitts rather than putting my own spin on the bb. One feature is clear – even though it was something of a struggle financially – my son and daughter have their PhD’s. And it was a result of grabbing the opportunities available to them. They excel in their chosen careers, and their taxed earnings serve to perpetuate the cycle for the next generation of children, students and graduates.

      One point though insofar as it applies to SA: Is the adoption/practice of eleven official languages for a small country regarded as efficient? Seems counter-productive to me.

      Julian/Ena – I presume that admin address is your private email account . . .

    • B says:

      Although education is a long-term investment, and I know very little of SA social politics, I feel that if my interpretations of older blog posts is accurate, then an uneducated white person in SA is viewed more favorably than an educated black person in the workforce. If this is true, then there are other things to work on before education, as it will do little more than just make an angry underclass. If change can’t come from the top down, and instead works from the bottom up, the results are bloody and a national embarrassment.

      • Ena says:

        Hi Sumaya. I don’t necessarily think an uneducated white person in SA is viewed more favourably than an uneducated black person (although there are definitely instances where this is the case): we have a very entrenched affirmative action policy that mandates companies to employ on a demographically balanced basis. However, there is a major skills shortage in this country. Probably the biggest evil of Apartheid was the denial of good education to non-whites. This, although no longer the case, caused a big divide in this country that even now, two decades on, still plays out. I hear what you say though. Change must come from the top down as well as the bottom up.

  5. Charity that does not lead to justice and transformation is just like a band aid on a festering wound. It looks like something good is being done, but underneath things are getting worse.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

    Martin Luther King Jr. once said “‘We’re called to be the Good Samaritan and lift our neighbor out of the ditch.’ But after you lift so many people out of the ditch, you start to say, ‘Maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be transformed.’”

    Shane Claiborne said “Charity has to lead to justice, otherwise we just end up accommodating injustice with our philanthropy and volunteerism. In fact, sometimes charity is a way we quell our guilt but do little to change our lifestyle, much less challenge systemic injustice or take on the principalities and powers.

    As we mature, we get to ask new questions, deeper fundamental questions about poverty and violence — and not just respond to the symptoms. For a while we were giving people food, then we started asking why people are hungry. You know the old give someone a fish and they eat for a day, teach them to fish they eat for their life — and then there is more. You start saying, “Who owns the pond?” “Who polluted the pond?” “Why does a fishing license cost so stinking much?”

  6. Israel says:

    The only way to empower a child is through education, if you can approach companies who are willing are willing to provide bursaries for some of the kids in phomolong who are performing well in school but they lack financial assistance. If you are interested I would like to offer my assistance since I live there, please let me know.0788173560 Israel.

    • Ena says:

      Thank you Israel and everyone else for your comments. I think a key idea here is obviously education. Julian works in that field through Allan Grey Orbis foundation and is arranging a visit to the two high schools in the area. There we hope to identify children with potential and either pay their university application fees (once accepted there are various financial aid options available but often just applying (R300) is too big a financial hurdle to cross) or look at other options of how we can help. Please keep the suggestions flowing…

      • Marcel says:

        I understand the need to want to support a child who has potential, but personally I think the other children who are seen to have ‘less potential’ are the ones who are most in need. Their needs may be different, they may need more of a support structure, they may need the food program (simply too hungry to concentrate, or stay out of school to find ways of supporting themselves and their families, etc), they may just need someone to believe in them and ultimately I think if more time and resources are made available, lives will not feel so hopeless, people will not have to feel that they are born to suffer etc. I think Madelein has a good point with the community center which will address several issues (including the kids who may not be displaying their potential) and thus is a more holistic approach to include and involve the community.

  7. Madelein says:

    I tend to think that in a community with so many needs and so little resources a community center should be built and supported.
    Several goals i.m.o can then be met:
    Adult education programs can be run from the centre
    Comminuty gardens can be planted teaching people about perma culture
    A feeding scheme can be run from there with the other purpose being to teach people cooking skills to make them more employable.
    A creche can be run from the community centre.
    A program of restorative justice can be implemented involving the elders in the community.
    HTH and good luck for the rest of the month!

  8. Patricia says:

    If you give someone money/food you don’t do them any better because it will last for a short term…when you teach someone a skill, you have done them justice because it will last for a long term. You are already doing a great job guys and there is so much one family can do for such a big town. I say go with option 2: the targeted approach. Education is key, and that is what is needed here. God bless you. I hope you have learned as much as you could learn from this experience.(Inspired).

  9. Patricia says:

    Books to the creches.

  10. Marlik says:

    I must say the idea of a creche is very good however we all know the plight of education within areas such as mamelodi where teaching is not the best to be spoken about this is the obvious result of many drop out’s in that there is no system whereby students are encouraged to persuit careers that are life changing (i’v never heard of a career guidance class in black communities) nevertheless as from the creche idea through the schooling period of those children there should be a building erected for extra curriculum or extra classes sort of an activity centre that will keep children guided onto a career path, the lack of such guidance leaves alot of individuals such Rudolph with no sense of direction and ideas of where he can begin to strive towards a fullfilling career even with exemption certificate kept neatly in a family cupboard, i am sure the owner of this blog with such a heart as this, will forever be part of such an initiative in coming back to mamelodi and participating in guiding these children that onced played hide and seek in the dusty streets with their kids and obviously your friends who once enjoyed a street braai/party will be as supportive as they have through your journey and not pointing out something we can all atest that your backgrounds can be a pillar of guidance and strength to many people who you have come into contact while in mamelodi,,, lots of love to your’ll and my prayers are, this realy be an actioned blog not that by the end of 2013 this contribution of change be history and just a story to tell of a “white family in mamelodi” but rather a lesson of contribution to society.

  11. anonymous says:

    Give Grameen-style microloans. It’s a long shot with great returns (and I don’t mean financial). This isn’t charity so there will not be a long line of supplicants at Leah’s door. Each has to present a viable business plan and be approved by their borrowing group who will bear the brunt of individual loan failures as a group. You’d be growing successful business people who will serve as models to the community. Maybe require really successful businesses to return something to the community. One business I can see for sure is a point-to-point bus company to compete with the taxis but of course, this may put some taxis out of business, so is this good or bad? Maybe bankrupt taxi drivers can become bus drivers! Unless SA law prohibits it, another business can be Rent-A-Cat to keep the rats down. Rats are not a problem, rats are an opportunity! Of course, once people start keeping cats, you’d be out of business. Since M looks very rural, how about a business selling chicks? People can buy some chicks, they get eggs and chickens forever if they have a rooster as well. Chickens eat bugs, worms, etc. and may not need store-bought feed. You can start by giving away chicks and can encourage someone to start a business breeding chicks for everyone.

    Do a repair version of our Habitat For Humanity charity. HFH builds new homes for low-income people in the USA. Looks like land is tight in M and houses are already built so why not a repair version of HFH? Small projects like rat-proofing homes, fixing roof leaks, broken windows, insulate bedrooms, pour concrete floors, etc. Negotiate with owners; they and their friends provide labor, you provide experienced labor (carpenters, roofers, etc.) to lead/teach them and parts. Buy supplies in bulk to repair everything in batches be it roofs, windows, whatever. Some people will learn a trade along the way as they repair stuff. This is not charity as they have to work for it. Organize a communal tool shop, check out tools like a library?

    Need to figure out a plan to handle the drug crazies, not to mention making M safer for families and kids. They will somewhere between affect and destroy every small business you will ever start in M. Maybe you should recruit them into working the chicken business. They will have a livelihood then and an economic interest in making the chicken operation safe for everyone. Or is this too risky?

  12. xoli says:

    I also think that education is the way to go. I support books to the creches. However, people who are not readers themselves as adults need training on how to use the books, how to read to the children and so on. I would love to help in that regard. Many schools and creches who receive book donations often to not know what to do with books and often lock them up in cupboard for fear of them being worn out. But books have to be read. They need help to create classroom libraries, making reading and storytelling a habit and an everyday routine. I am also aware of the problem with continuity in schools. Therefore, you would need to work out a strategy that also includss training of foudation phase teachers to which the crches feed to improve their teaching approaches and methods. In the rural classrooms in the Eastern Cape, we are struggling to get continuity into the Intermediate Phase, after having trained foundation phase teachers. There are no books in home languages and in English in Grade 4 classrooms. This is a systemic problem but I believe in building a strong foundation and ECD is a way to go.

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