Time to be more strategic - and empathetic - in helping the needy

In a viral Facebook post, hundreds of instant noodle packets and more than 50 bottles of soy sauce were among the donated goods that were stacked to the brim in the one-room rental flat of a 78-year-old man.
In a viral Facebook post, hundreds of instant noodle packets and more than 50 bottles of soy sauce were among the donated goods that were stacked to the brim in the one-room rental flat of a 78-year-old man.PHOTOS: FION PHUA/FACEBOOK

The case of the 78-year-old man who had a kitchen full of unused bottles of soya sauce gives valuable insights into the inadvertent nuisance that giving without empathy can lead to (Donated food gone to waste sparks debate on efforts of volunteers, Sept 8).

Though it is heartening to see that people do care about volunteering, it is time that such activities are undertaken with a strategic intent.

Often, volunteer groups do not set guidelines or any form of restrictions when it comes to donations.

This, as I understand, is more to encourage donors than due to a lack of intent.

Efforts at the grassroots level could be needed in order to shift the focus from the collection and distribution of donations to the real needs of the beneficiaries.

Conversations with the beneficiaries, house visits and lifestyle observations could help towards this end.

As donors, it would be worthwhile for us to see a beneficiary as a real person and to ponder on how our donations might be used or wasted.

For instance, in the case of the beneficiary cited in the article, if the volunteers had recognised that an appointment with the plumber and payment towards plumbing services would solve the immediate problems at his home, this could have been conveyed to potential donors or volunteers.

As donors, it would be worthwhile for us to see a beneficiary as a real person and also to ponder on how our donations might be used or wasted.

An interesting comment was put forth in the article that donors do not trust the low-income groups to make wise choices and, hence, would prefer to donate in kind.

If this is true, then efforts should be made towards conveying the correct scenario to potential donors, and inviting them to understand the real issues of the beneficiaries rather than leave it to donors to give indiscriminately.

This would also help in increasing the sense of purpose among donors.

Sudeepa Nair

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2019, with the headline 'Time to be more strategic - and empathetic - in helping the needy'. Subscribe