The Undeserving Poor (2008)

Dear friends,

I would like to write for a moment about a cause that is something of a thorn in my side, causing disproportionate levels of irritation which thenceafter affect all rational thought processes. And yes, I can make words so long as they’re more or less logical.

My mother cancelled her credit card this morning in order to cancel my donations to an Iraqi emergency fund, to Amnesty International and to the UNHCR Emergency Response Team. She has permitted my donations to World Vision so I may continue to sponsor a child. These past few weeks, perhaps a month and a half or so, I have more or less limited my spending on unnecessary crap that it no more than a passing impulse. I remember learning in Intro to Welfare that the average Australian family spends some $500 on food a week or something similar while the average family in [a particular developing nation] spent about $1.36. I remember that upon learning this my blood went cold and I have not eaten a chocolate bar since, knowing it could feed a family for a week.

I’ve always been a compassionate person for reasons I’m still trying to understand, but since I got a casual job at Coles I’ve had an income. About $135 a week or so, I justified I could easily afford to donate to a few causes who needed the money infinitely more than I did (because all my money did was sit in a bank account- ‘just in case’- while people around the world are dying). My mother holds different views, claiming "charity starts at home" and that she still has bills to pay and that she’d like to retire. Aside from paying for the donations and my Taekwondo lessons myself, I asked her how much money she’d like me to give her in order to help her out. She said "It’s never enough".

So as I see it, I could pour as much money as I could into my mother’s bank so she could continue to pay off bills and buy appliances she doesn’t know how to use and, even if she doesn’t have anything to buy she likes having money just to know she has it. Or I could give rations to people who haven’t eaten for three weeks as they flee guerilla wars, I can campaign and fight for an end to torture and death, I can provide a family an entire means of income by sacrificing only a small percentage of my own. The good I can do is potentially limitless. But of course, money is money, and we all know how Asians are when it comes to thrift.

So she’s cancelled the credit card. For weeks she’s asked me to cancel the donations, and the whole argument has made me so frustrated I’ve yelled at her and said Fine, I’ll cancel everything. And yes, this would probably mean a lot of people would die, or struggle with poverty, but I just don’t care sometimes. And it doesn’t help when Amnesty and World Vision send me emails and newsletters telling me about all the good I’m doing, because then I’m obliged to continue my support if not increase it. I’m torn. And it angers me.

The other element to this war is Coles, my source of income. I went from working 12 hours a week during uni to 8 hours a week when the new boss started making wage cuts. Then my hours got halved again to 4 whenever they felt like it, and while I enjoyed the free time, I actually wanted some money, you know? So I called them on Monday asking if I could work throughout the week. They said they’d call me back and let me know. When they called I wasn’t home, but Elias (my brother legally changed his name, by the way) informed me my remaining 4 hours for this week had been scrapped. So, at best, I have anywhere between $50-100 a week and at worst, $0. Without a continuous source of income, my savings are limited and it comes as a small shock to know that I can’t just spend money whenever I feel like it anymore. Granted, I didn’t spend a whole lot even when I could, but now I can’t afford to. So I’ll look for another job. And then, I guess I’ll save up a few thousand dollars. And if I’m still angry at Mum, I’ll join the 500 club ($500 a year to Edmund Rice Camps For Kids Western Australia) and do bulk donations.

I don’t know why I wrote all this out. I guess it’s just been bothering me and I haven’t been able to really talk about it. I don’t expect to find a solution, but it’s nice to get it all out of my head and lay it out on the table. If I like I can come back and review it later, but at least it’s on record. ‘kay. Time to keep throwing out Amnesty newsletters and shutting the pages on orphans who have just lost their house in a monsoon. God damnit.

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