Businesses don’t care about Japan Day

From ‘No charity from stores’, 18 March 2011, Voices, Today

(Aleteia Gray): WE HELD a fund-raising event called Japan Day at my children’s school yesterday. I had offered to help organise a stall and thought I would ask for some donations in kind from businesses in our area, to be sold at the fund-raiser.

…To my dismay, when I turned up with my humble pamphlet and donation box at many of the outlets at the shopping centre asking for any kind of donations – be it packets of sweets, soft drinks or even a free coffee – they were quick to tell me no, or that I should come back later or contact their head office.

I got quite cross. I decided to send an email to the supermarket’s head office – and ended up with a donation of 24 bottles of drinking water. The other companies I approached did not even bother replying to my email or phone calls.

In contrast, I was very pleasantly surprised by the manager of a sports store who gave us some apparel to sell. He saw how frustrated I was when I tried asking for a voucher for a free latte from the coffee shop. His sense of duty spoke louder than bureaucracy.

I understand that businesses are run for profit but companies need to acknowledge their social responsibility and offer a helping hand in unfortunate times like this.

The world is an awful lot bigger than Singapore and we never know what position we might find ourselves in tomorrow, so let us all be charitable.

It would have saved Ms Gray here all the trouble in the world (which we know is awful lot bigger than us) if she simply left the donation box at her stall and pasted a Japan flag on it. Or just sell stuff that she bought out of the goodwill of her own heart, inflate the selling price, and donate the profits to the tsunami cause; A win-win situation because shops don’t have to be obligated to donate proceeds of purchases, and tsunami Samaritans can continue to surf the tidal wave of outpouring sympathy along with other suddenly altruistic Singaporeans. Singaporeans who otherwise wouldn’t think twice about shrugging off students canvassing for Flag Day, blind buskers, or old ladies selling tissue paper at hawker centres. Singaporeans who are more engrossed watching Channel News Asia on radiation contamination than the President’s Star Charity over the weekend. Needy Singaporeans are probably wishing that they were struck by a tsunami themselves as we speak.

Did the writer actually intend to sell free vouchers at a fund raiser? Does it even make sense for kids, or anyone for that matter, to pay for vouchers entitling you to free stuff? It’s a terribly inefficient, mindbogglingly roundabout way of doing things, and if you’ve a charitable enough heart, you’d be more than willing to grovel for funds directly from your own school  instead of going around harassing shopkeepers, whose only ‘duty’ here is to support their own families first and foremost, before worrying about the plight of the Japanese people thousands of miles away. Such strong words  like ‘responsibility’, ‘duty’ and (strangely) ‘bureaucracy’ coming out of a person relentlessly projecting her righteous convictions onto others is an insult to philanthropy itself. If the Japanese knew they were receiving aid from an overbearing charity bully who pummels harmless shopkeepers into submission with a cudgel of curmudgeonly compassion, they would probably reject her donations as if it were Yakuza protection money.

And isn’t it a tad hypocritical berating about  ‘social responsibility’ when she’s peddling 24 plastic mineral water bottles which are likely to end up in a landfill leaching toxins, more so in the context of an environmentally conscious society like Japan? It’s like donating beef jerky to Indian disaster victims. If one is really serious about  ‘paying it forward’ for the Japanese people, craft something out of scrap with your own bare hands, an ethic that the Japanese would relate to,  and auction it, not make enemies of people who, for all you know,  are already donating more money to Japan than your puny charity voucher garage sale will ever reap. Of course, there’s a simpler reason why people are not donating; a learned wariness of scamming that occurred even during the wake of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake (Warning, 24 Oct 1923), proof that times of suffering are also the ripest for unsavory characters capitalising on frail human sentimentalities. The world may seem an awful lot bigger to the complainant, but her understanding of the human condition is as awfully simple as it can possibly get.




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