Saturday, December 28, 2013

Let them eat mud-cakes

They say charity begins at home. Families and communities should care for their own, before other families and communities. We all tend to do that, both individually and as a community.

From cans on shop counters collecting coins for sick children in hospitals in Miami, to excessively generous medical coverage for Civil Servants and their families, Caymanians in particular are extraordinarily well cared for.

Nobody goes hungry in Cayman for more than a day. Schoolchildren receive free hot breakfasts and lunches, if their parents can’t afford to feed them, or can’t be bothered. Nobody goes homeless, even when their homes are destroyed. Then, the destroyed homes are repaired or replaced free of charge.

Families are not as diligent as they once were, in looking after their poor; but that’s a worldwide phenomenon. Sometimes, individuals who have done well from Cayman’s boom turn their backs on their less fortunate relatives, and let charities pick up the slack.

Because Cayman is a rich little place, what we regard as life’s necessities are luxuries in other places. We tend to overlook just how lucky we are, and how unlucky much of the rest of the world is. Collectively, we don’t like to see pictures of extreme poverty, and don’t want to hear about it or even know about it. We are much more comfortable with charity that begins and ends at home.

Most of Cayman’s businesses have annual budgets for donations, and many of us individuals have too. But all the budgets are overwhelmingly in favour of domestic charities, with very little set aside for anywhere beyond our shores. Foreigners in dire poverty? Huh. Let them eat mud-cakes!

The poorest of our Caribbean neighbours do eat mud-cakes, actually. Mud-cakes don’t keep children alive, but they do keep them from feeling hunger. Many children in Haiti starve to death with full stomachs, while we collect money for our local athletes to play games overseas, and for school trips up north, and for local church-building, etc.

It’s natural to favour local charities, and we shouldn’t despise it. It’s a basic tribal instinct, and we are all captives of our instincts. Caymanians support Caymanian charities; Britons support British charities. That’s how the world works. Rich Haitians support Haitian charities, up to a point.

It would be a noble thing, if we as a community were to cut back our donations to local charities and divert as much as we can to needier folk overseas. But it’s not going to happen, and it’s not realistic to expect that it will. It’s not realistic to expect that we will increase our personal charity budgets, either.

However, what we could do is withhold some of our donations from some of the less essential local “good causes”, and support some of the more serious good causes outside Cayman.

We could go a bit lighter on school trips to Disneyworld and a bit heavier on clothes and medicines for Jamaica and Haiti. A bit lighter on Christmas presents for mildly deprived local children and a bit heavier on food for desperately poor foreign children who have nothing to eat but mud.

The Haitians aren’t going anywhere; they won’t suddenly stop starving, after two hundred years of it. By next Christmas they will still be in trouble even without another earthquake or hurricane. But they are our Caribbean brothers, and we are supposed to be our brothers’ keepers.