Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Power of Half by Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen

Hannah was 14 when, riding in the car with her father, she saw a homeless man on one side of the road and a man in a Mercedes next to them. Struck by this discrepancy, Hannah begins a conversation with her family about her desire to do something, something that would really make a difference. As a family, the Salwens decide to sell their large house, and donate half the money to charity, using the other half to purchase a new place to live. This begins their journey to stop taking and start giving which takes them all the way to Ghana.

I found this fascinating. Honestly, I was less interested in the family's personal story and more interested in learning all sorts of things I didn't know or had never thought about when it comes to giving money and doing charitable acts. The Salwens go to multiple organizations to try and find the one they want to partner with. They've decided they want to give their money to help alleviate poverty in Africa. Millions and millions of dollars have already gone to this cause, so why hasn't it worked? What usually happens is that communities in Africa are given things. Schools, water pumps, food. This seems like a good thing, but is in no way a long term solution. If you give people food, when the food runs out they're in the same place they were before. If you build them a water pump, but don't teach anyone how to maintain it, what happens when the pump breaks? Giving is what we're told is charitable and good, but actually, in many cases, is detrimental and doesn't help at all. Whole communities come to rely on hand-out and don't take the intuitive to help themselves at all.

The organization the family chose to work with is The Hunger Project, which, rather than giving things to a community, works to empower the people to do the work themselves. The Hunger Project supplies education and helps with funding, but the community does all the work. When the Salwens went to Ghana to see one of the villages their money would be helping, they expected they would be reading to children and helping to build things, but they didn't. That wasn't their job. They were there to support people, not do it for them. It's such a different way of looking at things. We want to do something to make a different, we want to help people, but are we really helping at all? I had never thought about things that way. I've always thought doing something was better than just giving money to charity, but, well, it isn't always.

It was certainly in interesting read. Don't feel like you have to sell your house or anything. Kevin Salwen makes that clear, which I appreciated. The family was living in a 2 million dollar mansion with more space than they needed, not everyone can downsize like that. And don't feel badly if you can't, that wasn't the point. It's doing whatever you can, and whatever you're comfortable with, but making a sacrifice to help other people can really make a difference.

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