The Malta Independent 27 April 2017, Thursday

Charity should not substitute the Welfare State

Gejtu Vella Tuesday, 18 April 2017, 08:09 Last update: about 9 days ago

With time in hand I decided to follow Xarabank,but this only lasted a couple of minutes. I could not watch the traumas that people face, either directly or indirectly.  The consequences of such difficult situations are too complex and trigger various emotions in my inner self.   I simply could not sit on my comfy sofa at home drinking black coffee and watch as if I was watching a heart-breaking movie. In my conscience I felt that watching such tragic situations is like committing a sin if I do not pledge to do something about such occurrences which,unfortunately, areon the increase.

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Let me tell you why. Last Friday’s night Xarabank team, led by anchor hostPeppi Azzopardi, organised another charity telethon during which it was reported that a bumper sum of €1.32 million was raised in three hours.  The funds will go to the Puttinu Cares Foundation, which helps local families cover costs related to receiving vital medical treatment in the UK.  Indeed, the staggering amount of euros collected is exceptional and the organizers deserve nothing but words of praise for their tireless efforts.  The same goes for those who made a small donation and to those who made more generous donations in exchange for a free advert on the most viewed TVM programme.   The efforts of the medical professionals, who on a daily basis voluntarily give up their time to assist others, are equally laudable.  Our society is greatly indebted towards these people.  I hope I have mentioned all those who were involved, if I failed, please accept my apologies.           

I write here with heavy heart, but I am resolute tostrive to influence as many people as possible to shift this responsibility from charity to the ministry of social solidarity.  I have very little means to influence the powers that be; but nonetheless, I will continue to put pen to paper until this very socially unjust issue is addressed adequately.  I intend topush political parties to put people first while drafting their electoral programmes. Making the quantum leap is necessary and I expect all political parties,now gearingup for the coming general election, to take this issue seriously.

The issues under the magnifying glass during the run up to the election will be wide-ranging. I have no doubt that Government will boast about a booming economy and lowunemployment figures. The Opposition will harp on the many alleged cases of corruption.   The smaller parties will focus on sectoral issues, some of which are of national importance nonetheless, but which may be perceived as too avant-garde for our society to takeon at this stage. Some may come to fruition and main-stream in twenty years’ time.

But I want to focus on the distinction between charity and solidarity. Charity is something you mete outto those less fortunate than yourself. It is founded on a fundamental assumption that there are those who are above and those who are below. Charity can even be used as a weapon, to force division amongst people. When given in a patronising way, to highlight the differences between the haves and the have-nots, charity can be divisive and demeaning.

Let me be clear. I am not, absolutely not, questioning the motives of the humble and hard-working people at Puttinu Cares Foundation. They do great work and have achieved what our welfare system has failed to achieve. And precisely this is my concern.

Over a span of time, the distinction between solidarity and charity has vanished. I acknowledge that there are no black and white answers between the two.   But there is one aspect that I feel is significant.That separation encourages a “them” and “us” mentality, no matter how well-meaning the purpose of the organisation is.

I know from a very close distance the trauma that people face when a member of the family is hit by cancer or other serious or rare conditions.  The world is turned upside-down and nothing will remain the same once the medical professionals’ opinion sinksin and accepted.  Life style patterns are shattered and family funds are squashed.  Nothing remains the same, at least for a while. Some survive the trauma and their lives return to normality; others, unfortunately, will continue to experience a free-fall and ultimately succumb.       

Fortunately, notwithstanding that we often cross swords on many issues, and at times even trivialities, we live in a tightly-knit society that is capable to stand up whenever an appeal for generosity is made. We are an altruistic society, but this is not enough.   

Adequate changes which directly impinge on the quality of life of people are needed.  It is bad enough when individuals, at times of very tender age, are hit by serious health conditions. But empathy is not enough.  Only concrete actions can partly alleviate the hardship which patients and their families face and endure throughout the treatment process.

What concerns me here is the reluctance of successive governments to take charge and lead the way.  While governments have at timessquandered public funds on lame projects, useless reports, persons of trust and other irrelevant issues, as yet, none of the political parties has committed to make adequate provisions in the financial budget to help people stricken with such tragic circumstances.

I strongly believe that solidarity and charity are recognizable by their own admission.  Solidarity is a right, while charity is Xarabank.

 

gvella@melita.com

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