September 5th: International Day of Charity

Charity contributes to the promotion of dialogue, solidarity and mutual understanding among people. Poverty persists in all countries of the world, regardless of their economic, social and cultural situation, particularly in the majority world. (Source: UN)

On International Day of Charity, we are looking at the famous phrase “Charity begins at home”. This phrase dates back to an 1843 Charles Dickens novel in which character Martin Chuzzlewit declares “Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door”.

Ironically just four years later, the Native American Choctaws committed a generous act of charity and international solidarity. Their act of kindness (which we shall discuss in more detail later on) towards the people of Ireland puts an emphasis on the concept of ‘global citizenship’. The idea of global citizenship is that one’s identity exceeds geographical or political borders and that the human community is interdependent and ‘humankind is essentially one’. We are all part of a global community and by saying “Charity begins at home” , “home” is in fact, this global community.

Yet ‘Charity begins at home’ has become an everyday phrase that is casually and dangerously dropped into conversation about migrants, refugees and overseas development. Yes, charity naturally begins at home – we look after our family, friends, communities…but does it really end there? Also, how does one define ‘home’? If you are from Kinsale, Cork, Ireland…is Kinsale home? Cork? Ireland? Even Europe? Where do we draw the line?

In more recent times, there have been calls for all government expenditure overseas to cease until we have “sorted our own problems” because charity begins at home. However, just a fraction of government spending is actually spent overseas – a number that is reducing every year. The commitment Ireland has made to overseas development to spend 0.7% of our Gross National Income (GNI) on Overseas Development Aid, by 2015, still only amounts to 70 cents in every €100.

Volunteers in Freedom Park, South Africa in their newly refurbished kitchen which provides food for over 200 Orphaned and Vulnerable Children daily

Volunteers in Freedom Park, South Africa in their newly refurbished kitchen which provides food for over 200 Orphaned and Vulnerable Children daily with the support of the Irish public

In an OECD review of Ireland’s Aid Expenditure, they noted that it was “largely positive”, stating that the country “punches above its weight on global development issues” and “has a talent” for building networks and alliances to support development. Ireland performed well in targeting how and where aid was spent by “reaching those who needed it most and managing the money allocated by ensuring that it did not slip away into corruption”.

The report states that Irish aid policy aims to combat poverty and hunger and this approach was “rooted” in the public support, which made it a major strength of the aid programme. The Irish community are contributing to huge changes all over the world. We have seen first hand the power that communities have to be the change. The Irish community have contributed generously towards the communities that SERVE works alongside overseas for the past 11 years. SERVE volunteers have worked in partnership with these same communities, sharing knowledge, skills and experience. Communities become even stronger and more powerful when it includes the entire community, so let’s look at the global community – When all the members of the global community come together for a united cause, the power becomes limitless and the possibilities are endless!

Sculpture in Midleton, Cork is a 'thank you' to the Choctaw Native Americans

Sculpture in Midleton, Cork is a ‘thank you’ to the Choctaw Native Americans

Recently, a beautiful sculpture was erected in Midleton, Cork as a ‘thank you’ to the Native American Choctaws. Just thirteen years before the Great Irish Famine, the Choctaws were forced by the American army at gunpoint, to march across snow and scale mountains. They were displaced from their land in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, and were forced to walk 500 miles to Oklahoma. There was no food or shelter for them at each of the stop points. Over 2,500 Choctaw people died from starvation and disease on this journey. The journey became known as the Trail of Tears.

On March 23 1847, the Indians of the Choctaw nation raised money for the Irish people. Moved by the news of starvation and famine in Ireland, a group of Choctaw gathered in Scullyville, Oklahoma to fundraise. Only 16 years had passed since the Choctaw themselves had faced hunger and death on the Trail of Tears. The Choctaw identified with the Irish when they heard a story almost mirroring their own, coming from across the ocean. Individuals made donations totalling $170 (about €18,400 today) in 1847 to send to assist the Irish people.

The most outstanding aspect of these events is that while the Native American Choctaws experienced their own dark past, they put this aside to focus on their fellow human beings who were experiencing poverty and hunger in Ireland.
As the plaque on Dublin’s Mansion House that honours the Choctaw contribution reads:

“Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout the world today who die of hunger and hunger related illness in a world of plenty”.

On International Day of Charity, we would encourage everyone to demonstrate their global citizenship and be the change in their global community.