Examining Standards Charity, Advocacy, Systemic Change

Every day, the media are filled with stories about people and communities who are the victims of violence, environmental disaster, and other crises. Often, the immediate response is the desire to “do” something, to respond to the immediate need. The kind of response is what we call “charity” – the giving of something to meet that immediate need.

From the time we are young, we are taught that charity is good, and it truly is. There are some situations when charity, the giving of something, solves the problem of the recipient. However, when the problem or situation continues to happen, different responses are necessary. If we investigate the causes of a situation, we are often able to see beyond the requirements of that immediate response. The next step is to understand what changes are necessary to prevent the re-occurrence of the problem. Charity is a response; it is not a long term solution.

There is a saying: Give a person a fish; you feed the person for today.
Teach a person to fish; you feed him for many days
And today we would have to add:
Before you fish, check to see if the person has a fishing rod and bait and if a
fishing license is necessary
Check to see if the fishing rights or right to fish have been sold to fish marketers
Check to see if the water is polluted and the fish unhealthy.

The first part of the saying: “give a person a fish” is charity, the meeting of immediate need. The second is a form of advocacy…teaching the person how to do for himself or herself.

The last part, the problems and concerns that might arise, are situations that require systemic change, that is, changing the system that governs and affects the ability of individuals, families and communities to meet their needs.