Friday, February 20, 2009

Sweet Charity

"Outrageous" repeats Clever Lawyer, her wedding-ring flashing in the sun as she flicked her chocolate locks out of her face. "Just outrageous. It was my word of the day."

"So what did they say?"

"They told me that, if that was my attitude, I shouldn't bother coming to the next meeting." Her face hints at the world of frustration she is feeling. At the moment, my friend Clever Lawyer is in a world of shit at her high-end law firm. And it all comes down to the question of charity. HighEnd LawFirm is having a charity gig, and has appointed a committee to allocate the funds to deserving recipients. There are so many of these out there that several long meetings have been neccessary in order to whittle down the list to something manageable. For the most part, the committee agreed on the merits of charities coming their way - until this one.

"It was a charity that organises wheelchair sports", says Clever Lawyer, "and I didn't have a problem until I read what $50 will buy."

Fifty dollars, it turns out, will buy one player, from one team, bottled water for an entire sporting season. This is where Clever Lawyer got her back up. In front of her were brochures from charities that feed the starving, house the homeless, provide basic medical supplies for women giving birth in villages without running water. Here were horrible diseases that needed a cure, here were political prisoners being tortured and disappeared. And here were a bunch of people who needed bottled water in order to play sport ?

In a fatigued aside, Clever Lawyer sarcastically mutters, "And it's not as though bottled water is one of the biggest rorts of our time, is it?" She has a point - we are lucky enough to live in a place where potable water comes out of the tap, with the added bonus that it is cheap and doesn't hamper the world with yet another disposable plastic bottle. Clever Lawyer asks the charity committee if it wouldn't perhaps be reasonable for sports players to refill drink bottles from the tap, rather than drinking $50 worth of charity-funded bottled water in a season.

Deadly silence descends. One committee member, high on her own self-righteousness, asks:

"So - because they're disabled, they don't deserve bottled water?"

Clever Lawyer, a handful of charity fliers in each hand, desperately tries to explain that she thinks they could find a charity with a more pressing need for the money. Maybe it's her use of the word "outrageous" - or maybe not, but she is shot down from every angle. Political correctness reigns supreme, and she leaves the meeting feeling demoralised, her head pounding from the lashings of political correctness which doesn't allow her to admit that feeding a famine victim, providing childhood vaccinations, housing a homeless person or saving an endangered species is more important than supporting sporting endeavours (complete with bottled water) for a group of wheelchair-bound Australians who, despite their disabilites, have homes to go to, food to eat, clean water to drink, and healthcare provided by the state.

Now, neither she, I, or anyone else I know would claim that disabled athletes don't deserve support. Their experiences of marginalisation from society are probably at least as painful as the conditions which rendered them disabled, and any scheme which assists them to participate in a team sport is laudable. But it's a question of priorities. Charity funds are finite, and the fact remains that they are urgently required for more pressing problems both here and overseas. All the politically-correct posturing in the world won't change the fact that spending $50 on bottled water for one player, in one team, during one season, is money that is, quite literally, being pissed away for no actual benefit.

And, in answer to Clever Lawyer's query - $50 constitutes about one-twentieth of the money required to dig a well in a developing country, supplying an entire village with clean water. Stack that up against 20 team-sports players drinking expensive water that they could get for free out of a tap, and the contrast is exactly what Clever Lawyer dubbed it: outrageous.

Are some charities more deserving than others?
Do you think it is in bad-taste to spend charity funds on bottled water for sport?
What is the best/worst use of charitable funds you know of?

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