The warmth of charity


19 Apr 2022

Our charitable responses to the injustices around us should come from a place of love and care.

Towards the end of her life, as a resident of Maranatha aged care at Batehaven, Mum had an unexpected visitor.

Doug and his wife Jean had lived across the street from us at Cowra. Many years before, Jean’s last pregnancy was complicated. Her doctor wanted to admit her to hospital for some weeks before the baby was due. Jean did not have the health cover to allow for this. She told Mum, then just a receptionist at Cowra Hospital. Somehow, Mum arranged for Jean to be hospitalised at no cost. Julie was born safely and both mother and baby were well. So many years later, with Julie now married and herself a mother, Doug came back to thank Mum again.

Quiet, caring responses to need like this would seem to be the essence of charity, or just plain love.

Acts of compassion

Since the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan have prohibited girls from playing sport, and have stated ‘music is forbidden in Islam’ there have been some amazing acts of kindness and compassion. A diverse group of present and former athletes, advocates and lawyers including Craig Foster helped Afghan athletes, including Paralympians, escape after the fall of Kabul.

Fifty athletes and close family members have been accepted by Australia and 70 members of the Afghan national women’s soccer team, coaches and family members have been evacuated here.

From Canada, Farkhunda Muhtaj, captain of Afghan women’s soccer, arranged the flight from Mazar-i-Sharif to asylum in Portugal for the Afghan women’s youth soccer team and family members.

Most recently, the Afghan women’s soccer development team was assisted by New York rabbi Moshe Margaretten who prompted Kim Kardashian West to pay for the flight from Pakistan to England. Players were sponsored by Leeds United. One hundred and three people were on the flight, with 35 players, coaches and close family members. Many of these people were poor and from regional areas.

Evacuation efforts

All 272 children and adults associated with the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, including the internationally acclaimed all-women Zohra orchestra, master musicians, teachers and family members have now been evacuated to Qatar, and plans are underway to rebuild the school in Portugal.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and conductor Daniel Barenboim supported the evacuation efforts of US lawmakers, philanthropists, diplomats, veterans and pro bono lawyers. There were five successful airlifts. Qatar provided aircraft, diplomatic assistance and temporary accommodation. Portugal has granted ANIM community members group asylum.

Many young girls who were part of some rescues could choose only one family member to accompany them into life in another country. In doing so, they knew they might never see their parents and other siblings again. They left them in a country facing a winter of extreme poverty and hunger and with hospitals without medical supplies.

Canada has doubled its intake of Afghan refugees to 40,000. Great Britain has 20,000 places. In Australia, more than 100,000 such people have vied for an initial intake of 3000. We are better than this.

A recent newspaper photograph showed a young Afghan couple, recently reunited. Though married, the husband had waited two years for his spousal visa when Kabul fell. He fled to Pakistan and was finally able to reach Australia. Their relief, joy and contentment radiated from the picture.

Friendship of equals

Charity can get a bad name, as in ‘as cold as charity’. In the 1950s and 1960s, women’s wages were paltry. Despite this, many hid their poverty. Mum sometimes wondered if drivers who passed her as she walked to work in all weathers thought that she was out for her constitutional. Since she did this for more than 20 years, someone might have twigged that she didn’t have a car and offered her a lift.

Later developments in parish life, such as family groups and ministers who brought the Eucharist to the housebound, were a friendship of equals. Mum’s friendships with some of these ministers endured to the end of her life.

The pandemic has left more people than ever without the bare essentials of life. Rarely have so many people relied on donated food. Foodbanks in capital cities have been a lifeline for many groups trying to help those in need. To Australia’s shame, foreign workers and overseas students were not given welfare support during the many lockdowns. Many lived in constant fear of homelessness, relying on soup kitchens and food parcels to survive.

The Addi Road Food Pantry in Marrickville packed and distributed food boxes across south-western Sydney. During lockdown, police and armed forces assisted in the delivery of food and essential supplies to families in isolation.

Human rights

We all need to look around, see and respond to the poverty and homelessness that exists everywhere. We need to challenge state and federal governments to increase social housing and affordable housing and lift welfare payments above the poverty line.

Safe, secure, affordable housing and an adequate food supply are basic human rights.

This article first appeared in the autumn 2022 edition of Madonna magazine.

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