By Andrew Cates, CEO SOS Children UK
Personally, I have just got back from a holiday in Cornwall with the family. I feel better for the break partly because my last experience before leaving was a frustrating one. BBC World Service noticed our appeal for Pakistan and had invited me to contribute to a live radio discussion about whether people were put off helping Pakistan flood victims because of extremism there. On paper we were good people to ask, with a lot of experience of fundraising for terroritories with "political issues" like Gaza, Zimbabwe, Somalia or even Sudan (remember Mohammed the teddy bear?). However, in a completely understandable way, the BBC had invited more "experts" to contribute than they had time for and I never got the opportunity to speak. The reason why it was frustrating however was not because I wanted to be included (I guess air time is rarely bad for a charity) so much as I felt I had something important to say.
A view from several of the phone-in callers was very negative about individuals giving to help flood victims. A list of boilerplate objections started... Government corruption, theft of donations, funding extremists, causing dependency and "charity begining at home". Behind the bold cliches it was easy to see where one caller was coming from; if they start responding to people who needed their help then how could they stop? Taking the plunge and giving something was just a little bit too brave for them. Stopping giving may be more uncomfortable than saying "no" to the first request for help. Certainly some people who get on the mailing lists of some of the big mailing house charities must end up rather regretting giving in the first place.
I think I have characterised SOS Children before as a "thoughtful person's charity" and I tend to assume it is because of the kind of issues bithely listed that thoughtful people are attracted to us. We generally run our own operations (rather than hand over money to governments or others), we know what happens to all the money we spend, we are conscious about dependency and with every project we plan from the outset how we foresee eventual independence. And many of our donors feel they give eye-watering amounts in UK tax, to the point where whatever the issue is for children here, lack of funds is not a central part of it.
But what I wanted to say was not about the objections being answerable. I wanted to say something about the people who live in Pakistan and why we should regard them as worthy recipients of our help. SOS Children has a big organisation in Pakistan, our SOS mothers care for more than a thousand orphaned children and there are many thousands more helped by our programs across eight locations. We are so established as to have had not one but two sets of commemorative stamps issued in our honour and we played a central role as custodian of all unaccompanied children after the 2005 earthquake. We do not however spend much of our time talking about our work there because most years (fifteen out of the last twenty) SOS Pakistan raises enough funds from the Pakistan people to pay for our entire operation there. It is very deeply cultural in Pakistan not to ask for help but that they should help "poor people ("fuqara") " who cannot make ends meet but do not ask for help out of modesty and self respect. You have to admire the attitude.
The people who live in Pakistan, who know our work and see our work, value it highly and generally pay for it entirely. Even now pretty much the only children in Pakistan we are looking for sponsors for are Kashmir earthquake orphans from 2005. And those people, traditional supporters are the people who are suddenly finding themselves without home, food, sanitation and in need of help themselves. However tired we may be of another African famine appeal, this need for help is clearly different. People like us who normally are there helping others this time are in need of help because a million tonnes of cereal crops are underwater. Thoughtful givers are responding.