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Charity Begins At Home

Photo/ UN O. Monsen : Photo The late Mother Theresa of India, at one of her feeding centers in Calcutta.

Today, September 5 is The International Day of Charity, established by the UN with the objective of sensitizing and mobilizing people, NGOs, and stakeholders all around the world to help others through volunteering and philanthropic activities.

In recognition of the role of charity in alleviating humanitarian crises and human suffering within and among nations, as well as of the efforts of charitable organizations and individuals, including the work of Mother Teresa, the UN General Assembly chose to commemorate September 5, 1997, the anniversary of the passing away of Mother Teresa,) founder of the Order of Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta andrecipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace.”

As Christians and Muslims, we are taught that being charitable and providing for the poor and the needy are incumbent on us, irrespective of our socio-economic status.  It is not only the rich that have to be charitable but the poor have to be charitable as well.

The Women’s Torch has chosen teachings from these two religions which are mostly practised in West Africa to emphasize that giving charity is not only obligatory on the rich but on the poor as well.

Thepoor must understand that the lack of means doesn’t mean one cannot extend charity to another. One may lack money, food or other material things to give but they have the gift of their labour, their time or friendship that they can give to others.

In West Africa we have developed the mindset that the poor have nothing to give.  They have developed a hopelessness and helplessness to the extent that they have created a dependency syndrome that has overwhelmingly dominated our lives and that of our nations.  With a begging bowl inhand people and our nations constantly ask for charity expecting that others should take care of them and that that we should not give anything in return.

The existence of countless starving, poor, hungry and destitute West Africans whose stories dominate the media points to the need for this essential religious teaching to be put into practice. Affluent West Africans should invest their wealth into strengthening our countries instead of investing monies into foreign banks.  Poor West Africans on the other hand should stop seeing the rich as wicked unsympathetic people and use every trick in the book to take from the wealthy.  The different perceptions of each other has led to a polarization of society which is unhealthy and needs to change for the general good.

Giving charity correctly therefore is crucial to both the well-being of the needy as well as the ultimate safety and security of the wealthy. Charity serves as a way of bringing about justice, balance and kindness to every society and community and to contribute to eliminating poverty in communities everywhere. The personal sacrifice of giving one’s possessions, no matter how small, or giving ones time or energy is the true test of a person or nation’s humanity.

It is important to remind readers that both religions Christianity and Islam, understandthat what is given to the poor is a “loan” to God.

Proverbs 19:17 states that: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.”Matthew 25:40 reads:“Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  These two quotes attest to the fact that helping the poor and needy are consistent teachings in both the Old and New Testaments.

The Holy Quran 2:245 teaches that: “Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned.” “Zakat,” the Third Pillar of Islam is obligatory charity.  It is a specific, standardized percentage of one’s extra wealth that must be given to the poor and those in need.

There is also Sadaqa” a voluntary form of charity is also enjoined on Muslims which can be given to anyone.  It can be given in many forms, anywhere and at anytime.  It is however considered better to give charity than receive it. According to Islamic teachings: “The upper hand is better than the lower hand.  Self-reliance is much better than dependency.

As West African populations grow, governments are finding it more difficult to get the resources needed to develop our countries.  This is exacerbated even further by donor fatigue.  There is simply not enough global resources to give to alleviate poverty worldwide and at the same time, develop human settlements facilities and services.  Community participation and self-reliance have now become matters of survival.

Counteracting dependency of individuals and communities and making them self-reliant and independent should be the goal of everyone.  The United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development calls for a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and provides a framework for philanthropic institutions to enable all people to contribute to the betterment of our world under the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

As we frequently say in West Africa: God helps those who help themselves.  On this International Day of Charity, The Women’s Torch calls on all West African particulary women to adhere to the notions of volunteerism and philanthropy in order to promote social bonding and contribute further to an inclusive, resilient and just West Africa.