by Katie Delp
“We’re supposed to bring bottled water in to school. The class that brings the most wins a prize!” my eight-year old son declares as pulls a flyer from his backpack and waves it in front of me. “People in Flint, Michigan have bad water, and we have to send them water,” he continues.
I scan the flyer, aware of my rising cynicism regarding this school project. What a wasteful, ineffective use of donations. Do people in Flint even want bottled water? They need to take showers and wash dishes. Water bottles are in no way a solution to this city's crisis. This is toxic charity at its best. I stop myself from verbalizing these thoughts in front of my son, and instead mumble something about getting some bottled water later.
Later, he asks me, “What is really happening in Flint? Why is their water so bad?”
I try to explain the effects lead has on the development of children and why those in power have been slow to respond appropriately to this crisis. I sum up my monologue with a deflated “it’s complicated.”
My son’s response is simply, “We should get some water bottles tomorrow.”
Here at FCS, we are considered leaders in the movement towards responsible charity. We write about these topics and train churches to look deeper into their charity models. We encourage them to move to more dignifying and effective models. As an organization, we constantly limit our one-way giving, and we encourage others to do the same.
I don’t explain all of this to my son. His young heart has compassion for other children who need water. Sending them clean water is the logical response. I want to raise caring and generous kids, which sometimes means letting them give freely without the burden of the effectiveness of their gift.
And while I may put aside my charity principles so my child can practice compassion in an immediate, tangible way, I am still conflicted. How can we help our neighbors in Flint in meaningful, effective ways? If everyone is giving without any accountability to finding solutions, is anything really being done? How can we adults seek answers that take broader circumstances and real need into account?
I know that part of the journey towards smart charity is asking questions and considering new perspectives.
I also know that tomorrow morning, I’ll be helping my son lug a case of bottled water into his school.
Image credit: Steven Depolo