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May 6, 2010 4:50 PM   Subscribe


 
That's quite a walk to walk.
posted by flippant at 4:52 PM on May 6, 2010


I don't think I could do it but I admire the hell out of anyone who can.
posted by Tashtego at 4:57 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Article fails to say where they live now. Did they buy another $1.6mil house? Are they renting? Are they homeless? DIr they move in with grandparents?
posted by Cranberry at 4:59 PM on May 6, 2010


I heard them interviewed on NPR a while back, really inspiring and humbling.
posted by dolface at 4:59 PM on May 6, 2010


DIr - Did
posted by Cranberry at 4:59 PM on May 6, 2010


“We don’t expect anyone else to sell their house,” Hannah assured the Marymount girls, whose parents might not have appreciated a demand by their offspring to donate eight hundred thousand dollars (half the value of the Salwens’ house) to charity.

Y'know, the difference between an $1.6 million house and an $800K house isn't nearly as big as the difference between a $100,000 house and a $50,000 house.

I guess if they want to impress me they should trade down another few halves.

But I'm sure they're not in it to impress me, so I'll just leave now.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:59 PM on May 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


I guess if they want to impress me they should trade down another few halves.

Belichick? Is that you???
posted by nathancaswell at 5:01 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bye.
posted by fixedgear at 5:01 PM on May 6, 2010


I guess if they want to impress me they should trade down another few halves.

The halves and halve nots.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:05 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Truth: if I saw this link going anywhere other than the NY'er, I would not have followed it, thinking: just another Internet stunt. But the URL told me this was the hook for a neat little bit of reporting.
posted by grobstein at 5:07 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Church gives tithing a bad name. Especially considering the abysmal state of social services in this country (US), I think that all families should be giving 5-10% of their income away. If I can do it on a goddamn grad student's budget, everyone else should be able to spare their due.
posted by The White Hat at 5:07 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Did they buy another $1.6mil house? Are they renting? Are they homeless?

According to the book blurb they bought a smaller house (one without an elevator presumably).
posted by burnmp3s at 5:10 PM on May 6, 2010


Nice. wonderful, even.


Why Ghana? The homeless guy lived in Atlanta, right?


{a mill five gets a house w. an elevator in Atlanta? Damn..
posted by Some1 at 5:11 PM on May 6, 2010


Peter Singer's suggested that people should donate 20% of their income for aid. That said, I'm more impressed by people who give intelligently than by people who give tell it hurts.

I've very little faith in any aid targeted at Africa in particular, just so much corruption. India has otoh really been a leader in optimizing aid deployment, microloans, etc. I'm sure there are aid programs in South American countries with equally good track records.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:15 PM on May 6, 2010


Good for them, in a sense.

Of course, a proper progressive taxation system would stop this type of thing feeling necessary.
posted by knapah at 5:15 PM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hannah said, “Dad, if that man didn’t have such a nice car, then that homeless man could have a meal.” Kevin said, “Yes, but if we didn’t have such a nice car that man could have a meal.”

Thus begins the initiation into specious reasoning.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:23 PM on May 6, 2010


I wonder how much money the book has made?
posted by HuronBob at 5:31 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was the line about the book that caught my attention... an interesting quote from Publisher's Weekly about the "The Power of Half"

"The authors tend to gush over their efforts while discounting the privileged position that allows them to make them ("we think everyone can give one of the three T's: time, talent or treasure"); their unflagging optimism, buttressed by clear self-regard, can also be tiring. "

My preference is always quiet giving....
posted by HuronBob at 5:36 PM on May 6, 2010 [5 favorites]




Hannah said, “Dad, if that man didn’t have such a nice car, then that homeless man could have a meal.” Kevin said, “Yes, but if we didn’t have such a nice car that man could have a meal.”

Thus begins the initiation into specious reasoning.


The correlation between the car the family drives and the homeless guy eating a meal may be somewhat faulty, but only to a point. It's still valuable in making two important points:

1) It's naive to think that there is no connection between a consumerist culture that tells people You Are Entitled To All Your Stuff, and widespread indifference towards poverty and homelessness.
2) How often do we, as individuals, avoid taking real action on larger problems by saying "it's not my fault, it's the guy in the car next to me's fault." cough*climate change*cough

I say kudos to the guy for teaching his child not to duck responsibility, and that she has the ability to actually help someone.
posted by dry white toast at 5:56 PM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Jesus, the judgement here astonishes me. Drop us a line when you give eight hundred grand to anyone, for anything.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:58 PM on May 6, 2010 [21 favorites]


Hannah said, "Dad, if that man didn't have such a nice car, then that homeless man could a meal."

Kevin said, "Foolish child. It may seem like that now, but when you're older you'll understand that the same natural human greed that drives his and my desire to own nice cars is what motivates us to work in an economy which, by balancing labour and wealth against each other through competitive mechanisms, creates the opportunity for that man go stop bumming around and go and get himself a goddam job. In fact, the best thing we could do for him is go out and buy ANOTHER car, turning the wheels of commerce and encouraging job opportunities for him."

Hannah eyes widened, "ANOTHER car? Can it be a Cadillac?"

Kevin laughed. "No."
posted by Wataki at 6:03 PM on May 6, 2010 [13 favorites]


atchafalaya... Yep, it's great to give... but I'm still trying to figure out if this was a donation or an investment.

If I could have read someplace that the net profit from the book was going into feeding the hungry as well, I would think about this in another manner.. until then, I'm going to be a bit skeptical, there is a whole lot of self promotion going on here...

And, no, I haven't given $800k to anyone, but I bet we give a larger percentage of our income than he does... does that count?
posted by HuronBob at 6:10 PM on May 6, 2010


And, no, I haven't given $800k to anyone, but I bet we give a larger percentage of our income than he does... does that count?

Sure it counts, but it isn't a contest. You're both pretty. And admirable.
posted by padraigin at 6:15 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, I'm really surprised by the cynicism in some of the comments, what's the deal? Is it not enough that they gave half the value of their home away? Should it have been more, or is it that they had a $1.6M home and are therefore wealthy enough to afford it?

Anyone care to explain?

From where I'm standing they made a conscious decision to take a significant lifestyle hit, spent a bunch of time researching the best way their contribution could benefit others, and then actually did it.

I'd be very surprised if any of us have done anything even close (and would genuinely love to hear about if anyone has).
posted by dolface at 6:18 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


ya know... I'm feeling a bit hypocritical, having said that quiet giving is best and then making that last remark.... some thinking to do... be back later..
posted by HuronBob at 6:20 PM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


FYI, you have to sell, literally now, bitches, literally, like TONS (tonnes) of books (bookes) to make $800,000 (10 quid).

So I don't think they did it for the money, honestly. It's kind of the opposite of a sure thing. Sorry for calling you bitches, but not so sorry that I'm going to go erase it or nothin'.
posted by Mister_A at 6:20 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much the house is worth now that the bubble has burst - it was sold in mid-2007.
posted by meowzilla at 6:23 PM on May 6, 2010


I went to school with these kids!

That's really all I have to add. (Oh, and my cynical self says this will serve her well next fall for college applications.)
posted by iktomi at 6:27 PM on May 6, 2010


The OP's link makes it sound like an already generous family went over the top with generosity based on their teenager's scolding. Weirdly, the Parade piece linked to by availablelight describes a much more interesting transformation for the family. In the Parade article, they didn't already work at soup kitchens and donate lots of money to charity, they started doing that in order to understand need. In the Parade story, a well-off family was growing apart due to living far apart from each other in the echoey-vaulted-ceilinged rooms of their McMansion, and they decided to do something about it --- then they started researching and volunteering in a way that helped them understand the vast haves/havenots divide, and working together to effect what they hope to be lasting change, and now they enjoy closer relationships as a result of the experience and scaling down. It's not just a story about what they did with the money, but it's also a story of the benefits of scaling down and living a simpler life.

It's not often that Parade tells a more nuanced story than the New Yorker, but I hope the Parade story is closer to the truth.
posted by headnsouth at 6:28 PM on May 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


FYI, you have to sell, literally now, bitches, literally, like TONS (tonnes) of books (bookes) to make $800,000 (10 quid).

So I don't think they did it for the money, honestly. It's kind of the opposite of a sure thing. Sorry for calling you bitches, but not so sorry that I'm going to go erase it or nothin'.


I'd like to echo these sentiments, except not apologize for the "bitches" part.
posted by grobstein at 6:30 PM on May 6, 2010


The part about how their old house had an elevator cracked me up, because the house we just sold in California had an elevator. The previous owner had lived in it her entire adult life and wanted to live in it as long as possible, so as she got older, she had an elevator installed so she could easily move from the walkout basement to the main floor, and not have to deal with the half-flight up to the front door or the full flight between main floor and basement. She had a little wagon that she'd use to bring groceries and stuff back and forth.

Now, to us that elevator was a feature, not a bug, even though we didn't have it connected. It acted as a sound booth for recording music, and the kids loved playing in it, and I liked to pretend it was a Tardis, and we brooded our baby chicks in there until they were big enough to move outside. But when we put the house on the market it was strongly suggested that we have it taken out.

So, and I think this is how this story is relevant to the thread: we donated the elevator.
posted by padraigin at 6:30 PM on May 6, 2010


"So, and I think this is how this story is relevant to the thread: we donated the elevator."

Sounds like you got the shaft.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 6:32 PM on May 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


From where I'm standing they made a conscious decision to take a significant lifestyle hit,

It's true, the family ping-pong table is now in a large hallway on the way to the tv room, rather than in a room of its own.

(my first post in the thread was not cynical!)
posted by headnsouth at 6:34 PM on May 6, 2010


Note, the Parade article ends with "Adapted from "The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back" by Kevin and Hannah Salwen. To be published by Houghton "

So, basically, it was written by Salwen, is the way I'm reading that.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that they did this, I just want to hold my "OMG how wonderfuls" until I see how it all washes out after the book and movie deals...
posted by HuronBob at 6:38 PM on May 6, 2010


I wonder how much the house is worth now that the bubble has burst - it was sold in mid-2007.

Pretty sure this is the one. (Note "handicap features".) It may have appreciated. In general, historic homes are less volatile in relation to the overall housing market, which is driven by grass-new suburbs and flimsy McMansions.
posted by dhartung at 6:45 PM on May 6, 2010


By the way, the elevator is actually photo #5. It's practically antique.

Oddly, I got a cartoon with a weirdly appropriate caption (if you change the meaning). Though I suppose "Christ, what an asshole" would fit some opinions....
posted by dhartung at 6:54 PM on May 6, 2010


I definitely think that the cynicism that says this family isn't really so generous, they're just doing it for the money, is wrong. There's no doubt that the family is made up of some very virtuous people, and they deserve credit for that. But still, it's a modern version of noblesse oblige, and nothing really changes because of it.

In general, promoting the illusion that we can solve the world's problems through individual action implicitly means that large-scale collective action is ruled out. We don't want to tell other people how to live, that's why voluntary action is attractive. If we believe that social injustice is really unjust, like a crime, then it requires a collective, mandatory response to right that wrong. But as good capitalists, we believe that poverty is an unfortunate circumstance that really can't be prevented, so a voluntary humanitarian response is called for. There are winners and losers in global capitalism, and as winners, we should be gracious and generous. But for that to happen, the losers should still stay losers.

But, this instance seems helpful in piercing this illusion. When pushing individual action, people are pretty vague on what exactly to do, it's just stuff like "One person can change the world!" But when you have a concrete example of what would realistically have to happen for individual action to work, like everyone voluntarily giving up a very large proportion of their net worth, it becomes suddenly apparent that this is impossible. No amount of awareness-raising is up to the task of addressing global poverty.

So the story about the wife's friend is almost a metaphor. She must have realized that she would always feel less virtuous, more selfish in the presence of Mrs. Salwen - she would have had to sell her own house to restore parity to the friendship, but she knew she could never do that, so the friendship ended. In the same way, a one-in-a-million act of charity exposes the truth that it's not a plausible way for humanity to address poverty at a large scale.

In other words, this human potential movement ideal only functions if it's sort of hazy and distant. As soon as it becomes actual, rather than regarding this as a sign that we're finally making progress, it's immediately obvious that this dream only works as a dream.
posted by AlsoMike at 7:16 PM on May 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


There are some ancient records that indicate that once upon a time a certain religious sect made a habit of just this sort of thing. They are still around, but among most of them the fervor for such radical living has died down quite a bit.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
--Acts 4:32-35
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:17 PM on May 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Jesus, the judgement here astonishes me. Drop us a line when you give eight hundred grand to anyone, for anything.

If more people had that much, more people would probably give. The problem is that the most giving people are usually rather poor.
posted by Malice at 7:35 PM on May 6, 2010


I guess if they want to impress me they should trade down another few halves.

Your standards are too high. It's always easy to talk about how much money you would give away when it's someone else's, but we're all rich compared to somebody.

These people have given away a damn sight more - proportionally - to charity than I certainly ever have, and probably ever will.

I've very little faith knowledge in any aid targeted at Africa in particular

Let me help you there; here's a good first step to learning a little more about aid before making sweeping, wrong, generalisations about it. I realise you're not in the US, but charity navigator assesses many international charities that are active in Africa, and their methodology - whilst not perfect - is quite solid.

Forgive the strident tone, but ignorant cynicism about aid really fires me up. It's all too often used as an excuse to avoid giving and helps promulgate untrue, negative stereotypes about aid, its donors, and its recipients. For me, it's too serious to be glib about.
posted by smoke at 7:36 PM on May 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


You know, if that story is true, those parents impress the hell out of me.... being called on the carpet by their kids, and actually listening to what they're saying. How many of us would do the same?

At the same time, I'd love for them to actually track what that money did. Big sums like that can easily vanish. You can get enormous leverage with a tiny bit of cash in the right place, but a LOT of cash can sometimes have little effect, or even bad repercussions. (like, say, building a piece of infrastructure that the local economy can't afford to maintain, but they try anyway, and impoverish themselves even further.) More than anything else, what's needed with this kind of donation is someone on the other end with real intelligence and a connection to the community that they're trying to serve, and it would be most instructive to find out what that $800,000 actually accomplished. Was it just spent on consumption, leaving no trace behind? If it went into infrastructure, what kind was it, and how much of a maintenance load has been incurred? Was it lent or given to local people, and if so, what did they do with it?

Basically, we've only gotten a part of the story, and I'm interested in finding out more. Giving the money is the easy part. Managing the donation, actually getting leverage with it, is the part that's challenging.
posted by Malor at 8:21 PM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here's a better first step on deciding where to give - evidence-based charity. It's not what they say they do, it's what they actually do that makes a difference. And finding it out is almost impossible. Most charities don't really do what they say they do. Sites like CharityNavigator are nearly useless in that regard, fancy numbers that don't tell you much in truth. You need objective outside investigators to examine in depth what is happening inside a charity, and other than GiveWell, there are not many people doing that.
posted by stbalbach at 8:35 PM on May 6, 2010


a) I wouldn't use Givewell to wipe my arse.

b) Most charities don't really do what they say they do.

That's just not fucking true, god damn it - and it's exactly what I was talking about before. You just can't throw shit like that out there without even attempting to reference it.

To be a registered charity in the developed world, you have to satisfy a lot of strict criteria, and not meeting it is breaking the law, typically fraud. You can end up in jail, or with massive fines. It's a serious business, and serious people ensure charities are the real deal, eg:

Australian Taxation Office
Canada Revenue Agency
Charity Commission for England and Wales
United States Internal Revenue Service

This is not to say you can't disagree with a charity, or the way they do things, but to claim they are largely frauds is wrong, almost breath-takingly ignorant, and damaging. A ten minute search through charity navigator, and the charity in question's website and annual reports is typically more than enough to determine what they do with their money, and how.

Ha, to think I was apologising for being strident before. But honestly, if you're gonna make ridiculous calls like that, I'm gonna keep spanking them. Charities, on the whole, are good. They do good things that governments are too lazy, tight or uncaring or unable to do, they generally do them well, efficiently, and really cheaply. They save lives, make lives better, and work towards a vision of the world - both future and current - that I find laudable. And if we all gave more to charities the world would be a better place.

None of the above means that every charity is brilliant, but tell you what; once you've worked in the sector, donated some serious money, done some due diligence, and met some of the people whose lives have been changed, come back to me to about the dodgy ones and we'll see what we can do.
posted by smoke at 9:09 PM on May 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was waiting for a givewell link.

This is pretty impressive, I think more from the family walking the walk than from it putting them in any real hurt. But, still, I think overall it's cool.

Wish I had that kind of success, though, which might be what's fueling the judgment here...I know I kinda had a skeptical and "must be nice" initial reaction, but I can recognize my own failing in this case, for once.
posted by maxwelton at 9:32 PM on May 6, 2010


Givewell? You linked to fucking Givewell? Sob.

Scum sucking pigs who capitalize on the misery of others for their own enrichment like Holden Karnofsky of Givewell ought to be sealed in a drum with rabid weasels, tossed into a sewer, and floated out on the next tide.

Those hedge-fund weasels figured there was a good buck to be made in the charity racket, and wouldn't let a tiny thing like zero experience or expertise in the area stand in the way of their getting some of it. That they're still out there skimming off dollars is proof positive that Barnum was right.

Fom their 'mistakes' page...

Because we are a startup organization working in areas we have little experience with, it is particularly important that we constantly recognize and learn from our shortcomings. We make this log public so as to be up front with any potential supporters about ways in which we need to improve.



* Major issues
o 12/2007: overaggressive and inappropriate marketing
o 5/2008-12/22/2008: failed to track website traffic/statistics
o 6/2008-9/2008: business plan over-focused on marketing, under-focused on research
o 6/2007: poorly constructed "causes" led to suboptimal grant allocation
o 6/2007-11/2007: set overly ambitious deadlines for completing our research
o 6/2007-5/2008: research process relied excessively on open-ended grant applications
* Smaller issues
o 8/1/2009-12/31/2009: Grant process insufficiently clear with applicants about our plans to publish materials
o 5/20/09-8/27/09 and 10/25/2009-11/11/2009: careless with updates to website; broke email update signup form
o 5/2009-8/2009: excessive time spent on policies and procedures
o 1/2009-3/2009: poor research strategy
o 1/2008-9/2008: paying insufficient attention to professional development and support
o 6/2008: overly aggressive time estimates
o 2/2008-5/2008: premature hiring
o 12/2007-present: website not sufficiently engaging, has generated too little substantive feedback
o 12/2007-5/2008: research process should have incorporated more and earlier discussions with charities' staff members


Basically they decided to call themselves experts, and spent a stack of money on administration , salaries and offices without contacting a single charity or actually doing anything. This is precisely the kind of thing that an operation like Charity Navigator helps a prudent contributor avoid.

Me? I support Doctors Without Borders, The Red Cross, Amnesty International, World Vision, Greenpeace, and Partners In Health , since I learned about them here because I can afford it, and I sure as shit don't need a parasite like Karnofsky offering his entirely unqualified stamp of approval to know it's the right thing to do.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:40 PM on May 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


You know, if that story is true, those parents impress the hell out of me.... being called on the carpet by their kids, and actually listening to what they're saying. How many of us would do the same?

Word. Kids that age have such a strong sense of social justice and fair play and I think that it's pretty awesome that the parents listened to them and made what is really a very rational decision to help others within the resources they had available to them.
posted by fshgrl at 12:22 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I work in Africa with World Vision, I see - on a pretty much daily basis - children both in city slums and in mud huts far afield dying of malnutrition, malaria, HIV, and a slew of diseases from lack of water sanitation.

When I see them, I'm sometimes lead to think of people like those at Givewell and I know - I just know, deep down inside of me - that they will be getting extra-special super-hot cells, when they get to hell.

I didn't see anything in the article about whether this family just gave it straight to villages in Ghana (I doubt?) or worked with some organization, or multiple ones? Did I miss it somewhere?
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:42 AM on May 7, 2010


From a CNN article:
They spent six months researching charity organizations before deciding on the Hunger Project, an organization dedicated to helping end world hunger through people helping themselves.

Hunger Project Vice President John Coonrod said the family met with organizers in New York and notified them months later that the charity was the winner.

When the Salwen house sells, the money will be channeled through The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta over a six-year period and end up in Ghana, Coonrod said.

"This will underwrite a process in more than 30 villages to enable people to meet all of their basic needs on a sustainable basis," he said. "They will be able to grow enough food, to build clinics and schools, and the villagers will be doing the lion's share of the work."

Coonrod said he'd never heard of a family donating in this way.
posted by Houstonian at 4:03 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, people. Most of us aren't fit to stand in their shit. (That was a damn fine house. No way would I have sold it -- truths.)

Also, AlsoMike. Why can't you donate to charities while simultaneously supporting progressive politicans & legislation at the local, state & national level? It doesn't have to be either/or. Give to MSF & vote for the congressman who wants to cut the military budget and increase funding for college education, or something like that. Do both.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:53 AM on May 7, 2010


I predict this trending, only recently we had "saladspinners into centrifuges" - this is not necessarily a bad thing, if done effectively (along with full on PR campaign, tell all book, and look how charitable/good/nice we are)

in fact, if it continues, it might even knock me off my cynicism pedestal.

but I reserve judgement for the now, with an eye towards 'greenwashing'
posted by infini at 5:15 AM on May 7, 2010


here's one of my problems with organized charitable giving, especially in 6+-figure amounts: i liken it to giving someone an elephant. an elephant is a very cool animal, but it's not exactly what most people need. regardless, i'm giving you an elephant.

now you have an elephant & what the hell do you do with it? it barely fits in your backyard, and you're responsible for feeding it and housing it and exercising it and jesus christ! you should see the vet bills! but of course, you couldn't afford to buy the elephant in the first place, let alone maintain the elephant. being a compassionate society, we can't let the elephant starve, can we? so we set up a fund--with taxpayer money--to house & feed & exercise & maintain the elephant. because we don't have the expertise locally--and god knows you just can't let any yahoo tend an elephant--we need to fly in elephant specialists from all over, who are paid handsomely & who become part of the community--until the elephant leaves or dies or is otherwise unavailable. when the elephant goes, so do the elephant experts, on to the next place where people are willing to pay them lots of money to look after their elephants.

and when the elephants & the elephant experts depart, you, naturally, now have an elephantarium, complete with massive elephant houses, and elephant arena, a food silo, and nifty elephant toys. but you have no elephants. and you can't afford to buy any elephants. pretty soon you have to let the janitorial staff go--they're the only ones who actually came from the community in the first place--because there's no money to maintain the buildings & grounds. and then the entire elephant area begins to decay, until it looks like part of detroit.

kudos to the salwens for actually doing their homework & for giving the money to a cause that encompasses areas of need, but what they've helped to fund are 'two epicenters -- each containing a meeting place, a bank for microloans, a food-storage facility, and a health clinic.' all they're missing is the elephant.
posted by msconduct at 5:36 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


or as I heard someone say with respect to opening a chain of profitable yet affordable private sector health clinics across rural india - "we tell our investors that we aim to become the McDonalds of health care for poor villagers"
posted by infini at 5:59 AM on May 7, 2010


“What kind of ass clown works his tail off, and busts his hump getting a decent education, only to listen to his kid suggest they give away the house?” one wrote.

Only the best kind, sir. Only the best kind. Thanks for this link. It restores a bit of my faith in humanity.

A couple of days later, Hannah and Kevin reflected on the difficulties of explaining what they’d done. If they got too evangelical, they might sound as if they were judging people for not doing the same; but if they said they didn’t expect other people to sell their house, that could sound as if they thought nobody else was as good as they were.

“When I tell people, I try so hard not to come off as boasty,” Hannah says. “I want people to feel, like, ‘That’s actually cool. I want to do something like that in my family.’ ”


I think this is a very insightful thought to put into the article. It is hard to do something positive to set a good example, then talk to others to encourage them to do something positive as well, without coming off as boorish. The fact that the family is conscious of this is pretty impressive to me.
posted by Doohickie at 6:00 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Hunger Project.
posted by Floydd at 6:27 AM on May 7, 2010


So you would prefer disorganised charitable giving - especially in six figures, Msconduct? What's your alternative here, outside of the zoo?

What exactly are you trying to say? Your metaphor incredibly tortured, and moreover, wrong. Here's where it's wrong: but it's not exactly what most people need.. See, the vast majority of aid in developing countries isn't like an elephant, because it's something that people desperately need. Protein bars to stop them from dying, mosquito nets to prevent malaria. Loans so they can afford to buy seeds for next season's crop.

Maybe - Maybe - some kind of macroeconomic reform a la world bank would fit your exaggerated analogy, but of course that's not necessarily charity, per se.

Why do people make such confident, blithe assertions about aid when they clearly know _nothing_ about it? It genuinely confuses me, especially since the information is so easy to find and access. Is it to assuage their own guilt over not giving enough? Is it a rationalisation of the selfishness that lets them enjoy an xbox or a nice dinner instead of saving someone's life (note: I enjoyed a nice dinner myself tonight, I do not feel the need to disparage charities)? Is spin that they've picked up from some freakish right wing source? Or simply genuine ignorance? Or what?

Repeated for emphasis: the number one problem with charities is they don't get enough funding and volunteers. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
posted by smoke at 6:31 AM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]




each containing a meeting place, a bank for microloans, a food-storage facility, and a health clinic.' all they're missing is the elephant.

God knows what poor villagers would do with a health clinic or a food storage facility.
posted by electroboy at 6:49 AM on May 7, 2010


is there mention of staffing each of these with appropriately trained people, and would they be locals or imported elephant experts on a 12 month hardship contract?
posted by infini at 6:50 AM on May 7, 2010


What color is it going to be? What hours will it be open? Can I store my tortured metaphor there?
posted by electroboy at 6:59 AM on May 7, 2010


sorry to get your underwear in a bunch, smoke, which was not my intent. and you're almost right: i don't know very much about aid in africa. that doesn't mean i haven't seen it in action right here in the good old u.s. of a. and i would submit that anyone who would vehemently defend all charitable institutions as actually being charitable is either terribly naive or grossly uninformed. and perhaps i'm tainted because i live in katrinaville, where our legislators (and possibly yours) set up dummy charities to line their own pockets, where huge chunks of federal dollars are going to contracting companies not to the people doing work, where people with little to no damage were pushing to the head of red cross lines, etc., etc., etc. or maybe it's because i KNOW people who've gone to haiti to help but things were so chaotic that they essentially ended up getting a paid vacation. or because i KNOW people who have worked in Gulf Coast hurricane relief who have to separate winter coats & heavy sweaters out of piles of clothes that some generous soul up north couldn't be bothered separating when they rid their closets of their old clothes to 'help the poor hurricane victims.'

i don't doubt that the road to lost of charities is paved with good intentions, and that actual good works are being performed by real-live people who have nothing but the best of intentions and whose hearts are nowhere if not in the right place. however ... i also have no doubt that these charities are run by people who sometimes, just sometimes, have their own best interests at heart. and that sometimes, just sometimes, those interests don't necessarily jibe with the interests of the target demographic. and i also know that sometimes 'giving to charity' has more to do with selfish than with selfless.

do i know what the solution is? obviously not. if i did, i'd probably start a non-profit and put the practice to work. because i don't know the answers, i do what i can when i can and where i see need. direct to to the source. if that's not being part of the solution in your definition, too damn bad.
posted by msconduct at 7:18 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


should say 'the road to LOTS of charities ...'
posted by msconduct at 7:24 AM on May 7, 2010


electroboy: i'm plenty sure that the villagers can use a clinic & a financial institution & the rest. but if i read the articles correctly, what the salwens paid for was a building that will house those things. someone else is going to pay for the actual operation. and once built, those things do not automatically--if ever--become self-sustaining. they require a continued influx of money (and trained personnel) to keep those doors open. so essentially, yeah; the salwens bought the elephant.

from my tortured metaphoric position, it occurs to me that along with a clinic, there needs to be some sort of education for medical personnel*. it's ok if they don't turn out plastic surgeons and heart transplant doctors or even degreed medical personnel at all; if they have LOCAL people who can be trained in at least basic healthcare who can fulfill some of these critical positions until they can turn out a few doctors, they'd be better off. or at least in my confident, blithe assertive world. and of course, they also need some kind of sustainable agriculture for that food storage facility and industry; because if people can't feed themselves you have mass starvation & whoops! no one to go to the clinic. and if you don't have some sort of actual industry with some sort of barter or earning ability, you can't afford to go to the clinic. unless, of course, there was never any intention of the clinic being self-sustaining, which the alternative would be to either close it or keep it operating indefinitely as a charitable institution.

i'll all about local, sustainable systems, whether that system is in africa or downtown atlanta.

* and maybe that's part of the answer, too: get educational institutions to throw in with some on-the-job teaching programs to help people in need become competent in those areas of need.
posted by msconduct at 8:08 AM on May 7, 2010


"No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had."

Just as I suspected. They're a bunch of goddamn pinko commies.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:49 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


but if i read the articles correctly, what the salwens paid for was a building that will house those things.

And my point is that you can't claim to have anywhere near a complete picture of how their aid is going to be applied from a fucking magazine article. Your points about sustainability aren't incorrect, but don't you think either the Salwens (who seem like reasonably bright people) or the agencies they're working through have considered them?
posted by electroboy at 9:00 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I second msconduct's excellent and reasonably accurate unless there's a miracle read of what happens in the field most of the time. ever thought there's people who've seen this first hand who don't even need to RTFA here on the blue ?
posted by infini at 9:08 AM on May 7, 2010


Of course, why would you need actual information to form a conclusion.
posted by electroboy at 9:55 AM on May 7, 2010


Houstonian linked to the CNN article which makes it clear this was not a plop down, lump sum donation, which many people are criticizing, even though that's NOT WHAT THEY DID. Cited again for emphasis:

When the Salwen house sells, the money will be channeled through The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta over a six-year period and end up in Ghana, Coonrod said.

"This will underwrite a process in more than 30 villages to enable people to meet all of their basic needs on a sustainable basis," he said. "They will be able to grow enough food, to build clinics and schools, and the villagers will be doing the lion's share of the work."

posted by whimsicalnymph at 9:58 AM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


International aid in Africa is problematic. First, realize that "aid" is the number one business in W. Africa (I'll speak to what I know, but I would assume this applies across Africa). I recently returned from Kidal, Mali -- a city inundated by aid, with one of the highest euro/dollar per person than any other region in Mali. Yet, it also remains one of the poorest regions.

We talk about corruption, but that's treating it like it's a problem that can be solved. This is simply how business, and financial transactions, are done in Africa. Take a little piece here and there, it's your chance to profit, overcharge on a contract, get a kickback, give the job to your cousin or wife's brother -- because you might have money, but you have an incredibly large family who really does need the money. So there's greed too, sure, and soon all the Ministers and Chef's of the projects, which are really just a word for business, have mansions and chauffeurs, host big "meetings" which are essentially big parties of ass kissing and goat eating, while a family en bush, not 20 kilometers away hasn't had meat in weeks, the kids are sick, and the babies are malnourished.

The expat workers, they're good because they don't steal. They also get paid incredibly high salaries, astronomical relative to the local population, such that you really shouldn't ever share with a local how much you make, especially if you're a "volunteer" and making the standard 800 euros a month with free housing that comes with the title.

Everyone involved in the process realizes the criminal ineptitude. They also realize the inevitability. How could it work any other way? It's something that good intentioned foreigners and every African asks themselves when they look at the massive amount of money being poured into their country and the trickle that arrives to the poorest.

This is the real challenge in aid -- not low cost filter straws or solar energy cookers, but how to get the money to where it's supposed to go.
posted by iamck at 10:03 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


iamck

I looked at the pipeline once, from "Foundation" through "NGOs/on the ground organizations" to "end user" (i.e. the 'needy') as a systems design challenge --> essentially its bottlenecks, "leakage" (which you describe so well), administrative costs as well as the high cost of maintaining expats in the field. They're exploring other ways to funnel money directly, such as direct to end user cash payouts, now far easier in many locations due to mobile money services. But that system still needs an overhaul and an infusion of "ROI/accountability" mentality that most "charity works" either dont' have or don't welcome (many times not the corrupt locals so much as do gooders affronted at the temerity to ask for a ROI or impact of their donations)
posted by infini at 11:29 AM on May 7, 2010


thanks for that first-hand info, iamck. you've explained it quite eloquently. i would suspect that the 2nd sentence in the 2nd paragraph could be amended to 'This is simply how business, and financial transactions, are done in Africa.' it jibes with what my vacation-in-haiti friends told me, that part of the problem with their trip was that aid workers depended on the locals language barriers, lay of the land, that sort of thing & before any work could be done, palms--many palms--had to be greased, skimming money off the top when it had barely entered the country.

i'm curious, too, as to whether any studies have been done on the long-term effects of relief operations. from what i've seen in new orleans, an entire faux economy is created. government workers & contractors who are paid MUCH more than the locals inject a tremendous amount of money into the local market system. this drives up prices substantially, especially for those basic necessities that are in short supply. little things like housing and food. in new orleans, for example, rents doubled. it was no problem for contractors who were making hazard pay on top of $1k/month per diems, but for the locals who wanted to come home, even those who had jobs to come back to, they were priced out of the market. their living expenses increased substantially while their incomes dropped (sometimes to nothing), and these were the very people being targeted for aid.

again: i have no doubt that most, if not all of the people who are involved in giving have good intentions; my doubt is with the system in which that giving operates.
posted by msconduct at 4:11 PM on May 7, 2010


Why can't you donate to charities while simultaneously supporting progressive politicans & legislation at the local, state & national level?

In theory you can, and I'm not saying that you shouldn't give to charity. The only thing I'm taking issue with is the promotion of a particular kind of charitable ideology. It's not that giving to charity is bad, it's that we're solicited to give on the grounds that we can solve poverty, hunger or whatever, just by taking individual actions and leaving the global capitalist system intact, so accepting these terms excludes even moderate social democratic reforms.

There's a reason red states give more to charity than blue states do. We shouldn't take this as a sign they are more compassionate, any more than we should conclude that Pakistanis are more compassionate than Norwegians because the former avenge the murder of their family members much more often.
posted by AlsoMike at 9:27 PM on May 7, 2010


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