Beyond the Bake Sale Pt I

Monday April 9, 2018

It Will Only Take One Word to End Cake Sales for Good

If you must have a cake sale to raise money for some deserving charity then can I suggest a slightly different angle? Apart from spending time ensuring the children involved understand what their money is going to and how it is going to be used, you could also encourage them to ask why the situation is so bad that their baking skills are being called on in the first place.

For example, if you are ‘raising money for Africa’ as seems to be so often the case, why is it that a continent with such a wealth of natural resources is home to so many of the world’s poor? How is it that some of the very communities you are trying to help are not only sitting on vast reserves of oil, gas, diamonds and gold (not to mention various substances that go into the making the mobile phone in your pocket) but that the individual children and families you are trying to support are actually involved in mining these minerals? Why are there repeated famines in certain countries? Why are people starving in countries where there is food to go round? If so many of the countries are so poor and wretched, why did the European empires go to war to have their ‘place in the sun’ and possess these same countries not that long ago? Does having these countries poor have its benefits for the rich countries? What would happen if these countries became as ‘developed’ as say the UK or the US?

If you are raising money to help the poor in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or across the Indian sub-continent, what was the role of the British Empire in these countries? Where did these countries come from and how? Did they become British colonies so we could help them out? What did Britain gain from them? Or indeed take from them? How was it that we colonised them and not the other way round? Did the region need charity before the British arrived? If so, where did it come from? If not, why not?

Or what if you are raising money to help the poor of South America? Why are there so many poor in, again, a continent with so many natural resources under their feet? Why are the poor people in that part of the world always dark skinned yet the people who run the businesses and the countries lighter skinned? Is any of the wealth we enjoy as a country due, even if only in part, to the fact that there are so many people who remain poor in that part of the world?

What if you are baking cakes to save endangered animals? Why are they endangered? Who or what is endangering them? Is anything we are doing in our day-to-day lives the very thing that is causing these animals to be endangered? If fish stocks are low due to over fishing who is over-fishing, who is over-profiting, who is losing out and what will the fishermen do if they can’t fish? If elephants and rhinos are in danger due to poaching, who is doing the poaching and why? What would those people do if they didn’t earn money from poaching? Where does the money come from to pay them for their poaching?

If you are raising money due to some great ‘natural disaster’ then how much of a natural disaster is it, really? Is that famine or that flood an ‘Act of God’ or the result of global warming? How come that earthquake left the rich end of town virtually untouched yet devastated the poor end of town? Was Haiti just unfortunate to have had such a bad earthquake in 2010 or were there events that took place years, decades, centuries ago that made the impact of the earthquake so much more severe? Were the predominantly poor and Black people of New Orleans who were most affected by Hurricane Katrina just unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Every disaster, every case of extreme need, every instance of severe human suffering, is the result of some chain of events. While doing what is necessary to help is of course a good thing, as is encouraging a sense of collective responsibility and compassionate citizenship in young people, failing to look beyond the event is neglectful when it comes to educating our young people properly. By matching each act of charity with an attempt to understand how things got to be so bad, we may even begin to break the cycle in years to come. In this way, asking ‘why?’ could be the greatest act of charity we can perform.

This piece first appeared in Independent Thinking by Ian Gilbert, published by the Independent Thinking Press (2013).

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