An ex-colleague and new friend told me over lunch (it’s that time of the year when old and new friends tend to gather to break bread, like homing pigeons) on Friday that she was always heartened by how the young expats (in Dow Jones, Bridge and other news wire services where she used to work) reacted to disasters.
Like the December 2006 tsunami. Most wanted to take leave to go physically to help, she said.
I understand that feeling. I was caught up with that altruistic rush too by the Boxing Day tsunami that hit Phuket (among other places): because I know Phuket reasonably well and a couple in my condo just missed being swept away by the tidal waves by minutes.
Hence when i heard over 93.8 Live pleading for toys — any kind, old or new — for children in Sri Lanka affected by the same tsunami, my instinct was to drive home rightaway and empty it of all the soft toys I could lay my hands on. Not that many — just Kermit the frog, a couple of soft hand puppets and three furless teddy bears.
Stuffing them into a large carrier bag, I high-tailed to the designated collection point in a Sri Lankan temple off Serangoon Road, driven by one intention: get the toys to the kids, asap.
It was only after I arrived and found a crowd of confused donors armed with bags of clothes, food and what not plus equally confused volunteers, that I began to doubt the wisdom of my spontaneous, unreflective action. This is especially when i couldn’t find anyone who knew anything about collecting toys.
Still, the volunteers accepted Kermit et al, promising that they would locate the right channel for them.
I left, uneasy, as Kermit et al formed part of my “household”. I had parted with them with high hopes of doing good, believing that some child across the ocean, left homeless and perhaps orphaned, needed the sort of comfort that only toys could give to kids.
The reception at the temple didn’t convinced me that I had triggered any good that would end in a cascade of comfort to some kid on some distant shore.
To this day, I don’t know whether Kermit n friends ever left our island or whether they had ended up in a recycling bin in Singapore!
That I think is the trouble when people, fired with compassion and good intentions, just rush off to where disasters have truck, without considering the practical benefits, if any, that they bring.
The Haiti disaster unfolding be4 our eyes is one instance. There’s such a cacophony decrying the slowness and parsimony of aid. The vocal critics don’t know, or don’t want to know, that Haiti is not yr average Chicago, with all the necessary infrastructure and materials to handle aid and people pouring in to help.
By creating a climate of hysteria will not deliver the aid one jot sooner than possible thru the natural bottlenecks that a disadvantaged country like Haiti suffers from.
Instead, the constant cries on all media will only make the victims feel abandoned, when they aren’t, and panic them into irrational action, which they probably are alreay proned to be, shocked, scarred and scared as they are by the devastation that has suddenly befallen them.
This is why it makes me so mad to read on the Internet young Singaporeans sliming our government for pledging just USD50K for Haitian relief.
How much more should be enough at this stage, when everything is still sixes and sevens in Haiti?
Yes, it would make some of us feel great if SG should say “we pledge USD500million” but I think we would all be feeling anything but great, if in the next breath SG says this money will come out of what’s been ear-marked for the 2010 Budget goodies for Singaporeans.
Yes, dear Sparklette, it’s good to mouth “I just don’t think there is any justifiable limit you should/can put to saving lives” but the reality is, there are unlimited lives to save and every country, including Uncle Sam, has limited resources.
Rather than just criticise, the people sector should put their wallets where their mouths are. Or at least use their blogs to point to how else they can help the Haitians, just like Mr Brown has done.
But don’t call for soft toys, OK?