There’s been a lot of less-than-charitable hoo-ha in the press recently, much of it justified. The behaviour of some aid workers and their managers is indefensible. It is hardly surprising that their donors are withdrawing support. It will raise huge questions next time there is a disaster - we need the organisational know-how of the big agencies to deal with floods and earthquakes.
But I’ve observed, in my travels in some of the world’s most impoverished countries, that many of the big changes in people’s lives are made by the tiny charities.
For instance, the Chitepani Trust, begun about twenty years ago to help the residents of a small village in the Himalayas, has - in that time - given every home a toilet and biogas for cooking, made sure the small health centre is stocked with basic medications and provided additional support for villagers with special health needs, and supported students and teachers in the village school. It is a small project - and has changed lives.
The Mandala Trust, slightly bigger, seeks out small projects that have grown from local efforts to meet local needs: it helps with funds and occasionally with expertise, but its basic tenet is to enable people to manage their own project.
In Malawi I came across a school, reliant on tourist money, but it has grown from a ‘classroom’ under a tree to an institution with buildings and a uniform and children who can learn to read and count who might otherwise be illiterate.
But we don’t need to look to the developing world to find small projects that make a significant contribution to people’s lives. With councils unable to meet even their basic obligations it is now down to the likes of you and me to keep the social show on the road.
Is there a community centre near you? Who runs it? And how is it funded? My guess - it’s a small charity, and is run by a small group of overworked volunteers who manage to provide everything from yoga-for-young-mums to support groups for the elderly.
What about an environmental group, cleaning up local waste ground or keeping the footpaths clear?
Do your children play football? Go swimming? Go to Woodcraft? Attend a project for children with specific needs? None of them are free, but almost all are run by volunteers - and many of them are charities and rely on donations.
And so - while the behaviour is a few in the big charities is abhorrent (and I don’t suppose the small ones are all whiter than white) - it’s essential that we don’t let that colour our view of the charitable world in general. The vast majority are run by committed, hard-working people and they need our support. It’s the least we can do, given the lives that they change.
And if you help run a small charity, please feel free to put all possible links in a comment.