One of the most thoughtful Christmas gifts we received this year was a gift card from our kids for Alternative Gifts International. How this works is that instead of getting a traditional present, the giver gives you a gift card for whatever amount he or she chooses, which you can then "redeem" by choosing to give that amount to a charity of your choice.
In a society where we often get far more stuff than we could ever use or need, getting a donation in your name is definitely more meaningful than say, getting yet another pair of socks. This organisation is pretty good - it pledges that at least 90% of your gift will go to the beneficiary and there are many beneficiaries to choose from, depending on what cause you prefer to support.
Since we're big believers of education (duh) and we prefer to first support countries closer to home, we chose to help kids in Myanmar stay in school.
I imagine that organisations like this one tend to see the bulk of giving at the year-end season, what with the Christmas celebrations and all. But what about the other times of the year?
The strange thing is that over the past few years, I've gotten so used to seeing him there that I have subconsciously, come to look out for him. On the rare occasion he's not there, I get a niggling worry at the back of my head that something has happened to him and I hope he's alright. Then when I see him again the next time like a faithful sentinel, I feel happy, like the world is right again.
It's irrational, I know. What I give him is an insignificant token and he doesn't know me, nor me him. Yet I've come to think of him fondly as the SingHealth uncle and it feels like I've adopted him somehow.
If I may attempt to explain my feelings, I think it's because for most of us, charity is a faceless group of people or an organisation. Even though many Singaporeans complain that not enough is being done for the less fortunate, whether it's for the elderly, handicapped, special needs kids, I find it disturbing that often, we expect either the government or others to look after this lot. Worse than inaction, some folks even wash their hands of the entire issue, as shown in the HDB dwellers who protested over having the old folks home built near their flats. Not my problem, not in my back yard.
When we put a face to charity, however, as in the case of my SingHealth uncle, we can't help but have a different perspective. When we realise that the needy is an actual person who could be our grandma, our uncle, our neighbour, it becomes very difficult to simply walk on by. Giving is no longer a chore or a duty, it is something we feel compelled to do. I can say, in all honesty, when I give to my SingHealth uncle, I'm more blessed by him than vice versa.
As we do our New Year resolutions and reflect on how good God has been to us throughout the year, may we not have to find a reason or a season for giving. I hope you will open your hearts to people in need and give generously - whether in cash, kind or service. And may you be richly blessed.
A very happy 2013 to everyone.