08 Jan. 2007
SETI League
PriUPS Project


A Charitable $2lemma

We are a society that values its children.  Even that redoubtable bastion of capitalism, The Wall Street Journal, implied that they are valuable by pointing out that teenagers serve a purpose, i.e., shoveling snow.  It will come as little surprise to most that the only way to get teenagers is to start them out as children.  (Regrettably, it doesn't work in the opposite direction.)  We are a generous society as well.  We not only value our own children, we value children in general, even if they are not related to us and live far away.  And, as I discovered one day while I wasn't watching television, we have put a price on their head. 

I don't watch enough teevee, but I am exposed to it.  On New Year's Eve my housemate and I were occupying orthogonal couches and, as I predicted, were having a relatively quiet, mildly celebratory time.  She was assembling a large jigsaw puzzle; I was catching up on my reading.  There were hours to go before the earth passed the arbitrary point in its orbit that marked the beginning of a "new year" in our time zone.  The teevee was on, only as a susurrus to me, but with the occasional ability to call attention to itself when, for example, there was a nice on-screen explosion.

For the non-watcher, the most interesting things on television are the commercial interruptions.  Almost every commercial I glimpse is a first for me, and so I am worn down neither by familiarity nor repetition.  Teevee has changed a lot since the old days, when I watched the Monkees and Mary Tyler Moore.  The commercials are ever so much more interesting and the subject matter, at least to me, is often stunning and bizarre.  I know this isn't news to people who have been watching continually, because they have come upon it gradually, but I retain the ability to shake my head and mutter my conviction of disbelief.  Thus went my New Year's Eve.  Read read read read look up Huh?!? read read read.  During one of the looks-up, I caught a bit of a PSA offering to let me support a child.  This was not a surprise.  I have long been aware of the existence of organization or agencies or NGOs whose task it is to collect money from the people in rich countries and use it to support children in those less fortunate.  The pitch, as I remember it, and as was verified by my few glimpses at the screen is:  You send us $24 per month, which will feed and clothe and educate this child, somewhere, and we, the agency, will periodically send encouraging notes about his progress.  The child will send you a note, too, every so often.

As I pointed out in an earlier blogitem, we all have our own charities.  Although I once helped to send a cow to a poor person, I had no great interest in making monthly payments to "my" child, most likely one on a different continent.  I formed a vague impression of the glimpsed bits of the PSA and went back to my reading.  So the matter rested for a few hours.  So did I, in fact.  I will admit to some nappage during the approach to midnight.  Perhaps it was punctuated by a few nice explosions but I don't remember for sure.

And it would have continued to rest and perhaps this blogitem would have been a new broccoli rating scale or some such, were it not for another "child installment plan" ad that came on later.  Again it was glimpses:  the malnourished child, the ramshackle village, the letter to the sponsor, until the very end, when this exemplar-child was offered for only $22 per month!  My commercial instincts sprung into action.  (Fortunately they did not affect the integrity of the jigsaw puzzle, or there would be little springing of any kind in my immediate future.)  One child was $24 per month, the other was $22 per month!  I suddenly regretted my lack of diligence and concentration when subliminally registering the offers.  I mentally compared them as best I could:

  Child A Child B
Continent Never heard Don't remember
Age range Young Young
Letter home frequency Occasionally Once in a while
Degree of poverty Extreme Excessive
Appearance of exemplar child Cute and winsome Winsome and cute
Name and reputation of support organization Don't know No idea
Cost for support $24/Month $22/Month

If I had any plan to support one of these children (A or B), you can see that, other than the one numerical comparison, I had little to go on.  Would I, ceteris paribus, go for the cheaper one and save a couple of bucks per month?  Or select Child A, feeling that I was doing extra "good" by my additional smidgen of support?  Or, perhaps ceteris were not paribus.  Perhaps child A was receiving dollops of peanut butter as part of his diet?  Surely worth more!  I decided to do some research.

No, I did not try to determine the names of the organizations in question and the nature of their programs.  That's not research, that's work.  Since I was perplexed as to what I should have done if I had, in fact, planned to do anything, my research comprised asking other people what they would do if they were facing the same situation.  Since this occurred to me while I was at the gymnasium, I put two of their young, upstanding employees to the question:  "How would you decide whether to spend $22 per month or $24 per month?"  I should emphasize that these two folk are chronologically much closer to youth than I, and so could be expected to consider the question with somewhat less detachment and with better analytical skills.  So they did:

Rob:  (Paraphrasing—It's hard to take written notes in the pool) "I would contact the organizations and find out what exactly their programs consist of.  I would also try to find out how much of the money actually supports the children."

Cassie:  (In effect) "What he said."

I was pleased with both answers!  Schooling has not been wasted on them, and they embody the same skepticism that I would if I were planning to donate money instead of the occasional farm animal.  Of course this doesn't elucidate any facts with respect to the two programs, but I am pleased to report that I have renewed confidence in the stewardship of the eleemosynary world of this new year.

NP:  "Fountains of Light (live)" - Starcastle

© 2007
Richard Factor

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