by Eugene Terence Fletcher
In the 60's a journalist named William Connor wrote a regular column for a tabloid newspaper in the UK, the Daily Mirror, under the pseudonym of Cassandra. Those of you who are old enough to recall him and fortunate enough to have read him, will remember that he could be pretty scathing about people or events with which he was not overly pleased.
I distinctly remember him once writing about a well-known disc-jockey of the time, a man who was hyper-actively involved in money-raising activities for worthy causes. He concluded his piece with the sentence, "He does good deeds with thundering stealth." Ouch! I know I wouldn't have liked to have been on the end of that one. The DJ (who eventually had a Knighthood bestowed on him for his charitable deeds), when interviewed many years after Cassandra had passed on, claimed that he had taken that verbal assault as a compliment! Arise, Sir Dumber.
Continuing with the theme of 'Charity', I pen this article with a certain amount of trepidation. Trepidation, because I know I am bound to upset somebody, somewhere! I expect a huge 'thumbs up' from a few, acrimony from others for heightening their levels of discomfort and, saddest of all, total apathy from the vast majority. 'Charity', as a topic for discussion, seems to suffer from an anathema that manages to push it onto the back-burner of most people's consciousness.
So, why bother? The answer is simple; the few that are actually doing something for our less fortunate AI brothers and sisters in India need our collective awareness to be raised a notch or two. I hope that this article, in some small way, will achieve that aim.
The 6th International Anglo-Indian Reunion was held in Melbourne in January 2004. I have scoured the websites, without much success, for feedback on what was achieved in the way of "positive action" to address the problems that are discussed regularly at various levels of intellect. There are a couple of eminently readable pieces from Margaret Deefholts and Lynne Rebeiro, but these are in the form of personal "Travelogues" and, entertaining though they are, they obviously got 'air-time' too early to include any concrete decisions taken at Conference.
This medium (the NET) probably caters for a very small percentage of AI's who have an interest in what is being done to address the problems of the AI Community in India. But it is a superb medium with which to reach out across the continents and 'touch' people wherever they are. So I feel particularly disappointed that feedback on the '6th International' has been so slow in being promulgated. This might appear to be a criticism: it is not! It is more a statement of a personal frustration, because I would hate for the detractors to be able to say that ". . . more than 3000 Anglos attended a knees-up in Melbourne that was disguised as a Poverty and Ageing Conference . . .", and be proven right!
The one's that actually DO something are probably furious at an implied slight (don't be!), the one's that didn't attend, for whatever reason, are probably feeling quite smug that nothing 'worthwhile' has emerged from the meeting (don't be - smugness doesn't become you!) and the apathetic have long since stopped reading (and that's OK by me, too!). For those that fall into the latter two categories, there really is no room for criticism, smugness or apathy. The problem is here and now, and as Blair Williams put it so succinctly when interviewed by Margaret Deefholts in October 2003:
We have to examine ourselves as individuals and members of a community. There is no one else who will help our community in India. History and our grandchildren (and maybe the "One Great Scorer" who writes against our names) will judge us as being caring and compassionate or as being callous and selfish.
. . . read the full interview here
For the 'Do-ers', I have this to say. You know who you are and we all owe you a massive vote of thanks and our undying gratitude for the unselfish work you do. "This isn't a perfect world . . ." (Jenny Busby of FHCF), but even in an imperfect one it is heartening to know that there are enough 'somebodies' around who care enough to get off their butts and make a difference.
For the 'uncommitted', you can probably find innumerable reasons why you ". . . can't" or "won't . . .", but if you don't, then who is going to? One of the major barriers to contributing to charities seems to be the uncertainty of where the money eventually ends up. I am, however, satisfied that any organization or group of people that undertakes this challenge, that has the initiative to register itself as a charity with its respective IRS, that uses unpaid volunteers ('employs' is not a term that could be applied to these selfless people) to administer the charity 'locally' in India and that continues to actively monitor that process, deserves to be trusted with your hard-earned cash. Of course, the credo "Charity Begins At Home" is often given paramount importance, but ponder this gem by Blair Williams:
My generation, sixty something, is the last that has a hard link to India. Most of our children and grandchildren will no longer have any emotional ties to India, so when we pass on, little or no money is likely to be generated to continue the efforts in India and there will still be ageing AI's needing help.
. . . read the full interview here
As you can see, the problem is HERE and the problem is NOW, and it isn't going to go away just because you choose to ignore it. On the contrary, it is going to get worse! The safety-net of Social Services that the aged and destitute can turn to for help in westernised countries is a fundamental that is unavailable to the same vulnerable AI's in India. Try and imagine the feelings of utter hopelessness and despair that some AI seniors must undergo when they have nobody to turn to for help and assistance. Isn't it heart-wrenching? [. . . hey, you were never promised a 'comfortable' read]
The good news is that organizations already exist that are making a difference to the living conditions of SOME of the poor and destitute AI's in India, but they need your help to reach out to more. Ideally, a single entity that spreads largesse amongst the needy would reassure the doubters as to the efficacy of the use of their contributions, but this is an impossible dream for the moment. Blair Williams' idea for setting up a "Trust Fund" to generate useable income for the future is laudable and visionary, and I wish him every success in the pursuit of his goal. David Samaroo's (or was this an original Harry Mac idea?) "Dollar-A-Month" initiative appears to have much merit to it too, but somehow I seem to have missed the detail on how this is to be implemented. Let me add an idea of my own that only requires participation from you, the individual. Call it "Take-A-Friend-To-Dinner". The next time you take the family for a slap-up meal (or even a burger), or when you magnanimously stand your round of drinks at the bar, golf club, or whatever, add an imaginary guest to the group and put aside that money as a contribution to one of the charities that could put it to much better use! Whatever the form of the contribution, let us all take a conscious decision to actually make one. Blair Williams, again:
We need the involvement of more AI's abroad, to help their less fortunate brethren in India. It does not matter how they do it, whether individually or through a charity, as long as they do it.
. . . read the full interview here
So where do we go from here? I wish I could offer a panacea for the problem; all I know is that, despite the fragmentation of charitable organizations across several continents, they are all pulling in the same direction. And that has to be applauded. But sitting back and letting the 'other guy' do it isn't going to make it magically happen. Each of us needs to do our bit, too. So, contact the organization that appeals to your altruistic instincts, whether it is because of how and whom they help, or whether it is because they are geographically convenient, but take the first step. Your contribution might well equate to loose change that you throw onto your dressing table at night before you climb into your warm and comfortable bed, but it could mean the difference between having a meal, and not having one, for an Anglo-Indian back in India who is literally living 'from-hand-to-mouth'.
Do you care - enough?
First published Anglo-Indian Portal on 23rd April 2004