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Giving Where it Matters

Posted by Anthony on December 16, 2008

By Anthony J. Aschettino

As the holiday season rolls around yet again, many people will use its advent to take stock of how their past year has gone. Sadly for many Americans, this past year has been one wrought with more trials and tribulations than have many for some time now. With an economy in seeming freefall and the job market either frozen or contracting, it is perhaps not a time when one of the biggest holiday traditions of all seems terribly relevant: that of giving to those less fortunate, whether it be food, clothing, or simply money. Indeed it is difficult to ask an individual to donate to charity when it seems that every dollar is needed now at home, or might possibly be needed in the near future due to uncertain job prospects or a myriad of other quandaries that seem to strike the American individual and family with an alarming regularity these days.

One could not find serious fault in anyone who adheres to the timeless maxim that “charity begins at home”, and quite naturally it is an obligation of any person to take care of their own situation first and foremost before seeking to help lift up others from their problems. Fortunately, thanks to the internet, there is a way to make a significant difference in the lives of countless individuals and families around the world from the comfort of one’s own home. There is a website, www.kiva.org, which makes it possible for anyone to engage in the act of micro-lending; that is, for one to lend small amounts of money to entrepreneurs from the developing world so that they can start a new business or improve their current one. This is not a gift. This is not “charity” in the most direct sense of the word, since the loans are repaid over the course of a fixed amount of time. Yet it is precisely that which makes this system so revolutionary in its effect: this is funding business, and the people who accept the loans are not made to feel as if they are a charity case for whom money is simply being thrown at due to a sense of pity.

Signing up for the website is very easy, and with a credit card or PayPal account one can select an amount of money to place as a “credit” which can then be loaned out to any of the numerous parties requesting funding. The minimum donation is twenty-five dollars, and there is no maximum amount. One of the best features is that when the loan is repaid, be it three, six, or however many months hence, the money is returned to one’s account and can then be loaned out again. Thus a one time deposit of even the lowest amount can, after numerous re-loans, end up helping to fund hundreds of dollars worth of projects.

Here in America, we as a people generally live on a level unheard of in most parts of the world. We pay cell phone bills that when all is said and done can run into triple digits per month, drink designer lattes that can cost several dollars (sometimes more than once a day), and can easily spend twenty-five dollars in the course of a week without generally thinking about where the money went. Instead, here in this time of need there is the chance to act as an agent of change for lives that one would otherwise never be able to help due cultural barriers, language, or issues of proximity. These people are not asking for hand-outs: they are asking for a loan so that they can improve their lives and the lives of their families and those who depend on them. There is no more noble act in charity than to aid another who wishes to improve their life; this is not giving fish, nor even teaching how to fish, but rather enabling those who already know how to fish to build their own boats, buy their own fishing reels, and setting out to net their daily catch.

America has a long tradition of being among the most generous countries in the world; despite a perhaps deserved at times image of being a nation of Gordon Gekkos and Paris Hiltons, the United States has poured countless billions of dollars into developing nations that all too often flows under the popular media’s radar. Likewise, when it comes to charitable giving one would be hard pressed to find a state whose population on average gives more than this one. If one has ever wanted to make a difference in the world, here is that chance: buy one less holiday gift, drink one less frappuccino per week, and give that money instead to those who are trying hard to lift themselves up out of poverty. It is a satisfying feeling that will last long after whatever material item that money would otherwise have been spent.

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