Do you ever give donations to charitable organisations; orphanages, places of worship, animal sanctuaries, community safety organisations, education initiatives, anti-corruption groups – that kind of thing?
If you do, then you make up a small but vital part of the pool of over 80% of South Africans who give generously in support of these critical efforts.
I say without fear of contradiction that this country would be in dire straits if it weren’t for our NGO’s. We have literally tens of thousands of non-profit organisations doing truly superb work with very little support except that which you and I (or our companies) might give to them.
My wife and I have run an NGO for many years now. We start and administer homes for abandoned and orphaned babies and we have teams who work for us. Some of these homes now operate under the auspices of their own NGO’s, which is brilliant. Others – like the Baby Home in Durban North, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Hammarsdale Child Care Centre run under our NGO. All our advocacy work and other projects involves orphans and vulnerable children along with the creation of the kind of South Africa we all wish to live in.
We are a very small NGO in the bigger picture, but last time I checked it cost us about R140k a month to operate. This is mostly taken up by rent and salaries (carers, house-parents and management – i.e. us. We employ 13 people in total). We are scrupulously honest, even going to the extent of publishing our annual report and financials on our website.
However, many very generous people and organisations are unwilling to give monetary donations preferring to donate consumables; nappies, formula, medicines etc. Some like to give hardware – cots, blankets, clothes. Others like to dump their old rubbish on us but that’s for another time.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. We are hugely grateful for all the (non-manky) consumables and hardware we get given. We depend on this. But we also – like every other NGO in operation – rely on money to operate. We must pay a qualified person to mix that formula up and feed it to a baby, change her nappy and lull her to sleep. It doesn’t just happen. And we choose to pay our carers and house mothers above the going rate. It is a priority of our NGO to pay poverty-busting salaries and give 13th cheques and significant increases. How else will we play our part in addressing inequality?
And this brings me to my final point. NGO staff and management should ultimately be paid according to their education and years of experience – not according to the fact that they work in a non-profit organisation. NGO employees should be paid like their counterparts in for-profit companies. Yes, we are very passionate – but passion does not pay the rent. Now, we acknowledge that we cannot pay these kinds of salaries because we do not have a culture of deep respect for NGO’s that allows this to happen. For my part I have always relied on multiple sources of income for me and my family.
All this humble NGOér requests is that you put aside past experiences where your generosity may have been abused and know that NGO’s need hard cash donations to survive. Our promise is that we will steward those funds wisely and carefully and we will always be accountable to you the donor.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter
If you happen to visit us anytime from June onwards, you will notice that our house is more of a Christmas workshop than a home.
You see, my wife Cathy is Santa’s undisputed elf of the century! If Christmas was to be cancelled for whatever reason, my wife would immediately cease to exist. This is at once very charming and deeply concerning; concerning because in my wife’s world, literally every person we have ever met gets a Christmas gift.
So, you can just imagine the shock and horror for her when people say things like; “Christmas has become too commercial! We should be giving presence rather than presents,” or “we should be avoiding gifts like toys and games and rather give our children something more useful like annual membership to the local botanical gardens.”
There is a growing movement to put Christ back into Christmas and that is all good and well. But in practise, what does that mean? Whether you believe in Christ as the saviour of mankind or not, what would you imagine He would want his birthday party to look like? Now, before we get all religious about this, let’s remember that His first miracle was to create a vast quantity of very good wine at a wedding. So, Jesus was not the pious nerd that we have made Him out to be.
As far as I can tell, He would want us to give both presence and presents. And the latter is not a money thing; gifts come in all shapes, sizes and prices; Cathy makes a lot of her own presents and decorations. You see, theologically speaking, Christmas and generosity are inseparable. So why use this celebration to teach our kids about being frugal or practical? Surely, this is the time when we teach them about selfless giving and generosity?
If we examine our motivation for giving less at Christmas, might it reveal some meanness in us? I know it does in me. I watch Cathy’s gift giving and my blood pressure skyrockets just about as fast as our credit card bill. But then, I see the look of joy and amazement as her and Lolly hand out the carefully chosen and wrapped gifts to school security guards, cleaners and cooks (those who are most often forgotten) and I think this is probably the kind of birthday Jesus would have loved.
Having given the presents, how do we give ourselves in terms of our presence? I recently came across some suggestions from an American Lawyer by the name of Howard W Hunter. Apologies to Mr Hunter for tweaking this in the interests of space and our local context:
“This Christmas mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Replace negativity with hope. Give a soft answer. Encourage a young person. Keep a promise. Let go of a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Reach out to someone who doesn’t look or sound like you. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Give people your time and attention. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.”
Christmas is an invitation for us to move outside of ourselves and our comfort zones and into a world that is desperate for people to extend a kind word, a gentle touch or a helping or giving hand.
Finally, you will notice that Hunter doesn’t say we should stop anything; on the contrary. He suggests we start doing small things that bring heaven to earth. This is a world in which charity – kindness and generosity – should begin at home, but not end there.
So, from me and my family to you and yours, may you have the most glorious and abundant Christmas ever.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.
As I awoke on boxing day morning and the sad news of George Michael’s passing hit social media, I began to consider the validity of the “enough-of-2016-roll-on-2017” lament.
I do not believe that one year is any better or worse than another on any kid of grand scale; a year is simply a measure of time in which both good and bad occurs depending on which side of the fence you are on. But it could obviously not escape me that we had lost a great many wonderful people in 2016; Prince, Leonard Cohn, Mohammed Ali, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher and of course George Michael to name a few. We would all agree that these deaths were tragic for the world, as of course were the many deaths of innocent people in murders, suicide bombings and wars. But not all of us would agree for example that Donald Trump’s election was a bad thing. Many would say that this alone made 2016 a fabulous year. Good and bad is a very relative thing.
This got me thinking: is there a way to ensure that 2017 is a “good year” for us personally or are we simply at the mercy of the fates? Is such a guarantee of happiness possible for human beings or is it indeed true that the only things in life that are certain are death and taxes?
As far as I know, there is no formula for ensuring that good things will happen. However, there is a great deal of research and common wisdom that gives us techniques and disciplines that can safeguard joy, even in the face of bad stuff happening.
Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky tells us that around half of our levels of joy or happiness are determined by unchangeable factors such as genes or our personality. The other half is determined by our circumstances (over which we have limited control), and our attitudes and actions over which we have a great deal of control.
So, this suggests that we can at least contribute to 2017 being a joyful year by watching our attitudes and actions. What does this mean in practise? Lyubomirsky’s research confirms with hard data what many learned folk – including all the great spiritual leaders of history – have been telling us for centuries; that there are essentially 3 factors to increasing joy or happiness: the first is our ability to reframe our current situation or circumstances in a more positive light; the second is our ability to express gratitude and the third is our ability or capacity for kindness and generosity. I think two and three are self-explanatory although tough for many of us; we can all accept that grateful, generous people are happier and we know this because it feels so darn good to be grateful and generous.
But how do we reframe our current situation in a more positive light, especially when it is bad? From reading the thoughts of such thinkers as the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others, there seem to be two ways we can do this without slipping into denial. The first is to actively place oneself in the shoes of other people who are suffering worse than we are, and assist them in whatever way we can. As we do this our negative situation does not change but our perception of it does. Suddenly our lot is not so bad. We move from the victim position (from which no joy or creativity can flow) to the creator position, as we seek ways to alleviate the suffering of others. Joy is produced in the other and joy follows in us as an inevitable by-product. Every time we move towards others, we move away from self-centredness and joy can rise.
The second way of reframing our situation is arguably simpler than the first, but it challenges us very deeply. Contrary to what our culture would tell us, we must choose to view life through rose-tinted spectacles or “see the glass half full” if you prefer. Now, this is not to say that we should ignore the bad. It just says we should look at the bad in the light of the good. It also says we should choose to see good first – in every situation and in every person; the bad will always be there and it is in our nature to seek this out. We need to intentionally re-wire our brains on this one and as we do we will begin to experience awe and wonder again – both components of joy. Perhaps the best place to begin our re-wiring process is in our thoughts and opinions of our country, so deeply negative and mostly lacking all joy.
A deep awareness seems to be stirring globally; an awareness that we urgently need to move beyond ourselves to a place of radical gratitude, generosity and positivity. In short, we need to heed a deep call to love. If this is how we choose to do 2017, then it is going to be a fantastic year.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.