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Ask the Kielburgers

Can't all fundraising be directed to worldwide issues? Add to ...

THE QUESTION

Almost every week there’s a walkathon or some other “-athon” for a disease or cause. But the bigger “disease” of poverty, hunger and disaster affects far more people in the world. Can’t we mobilize all of the fundraisers for one year to worldwide issues?

THE ANSWER

It would be incredible if we could unite the entire human race around one cause, as in the famed commercial jingle from the 1970s. Except instead of buying the world a Coke, this time we’d end global hunger and poverty.

But that’s not the issue most Canadians would pick. We were recently at an event in Calgary listening to Samantha Nutt, the founder of War Child Canada: According to her research, only about 5 per cent of Canadian donations each year go to support international charities.

So we understand the gist of your question, but we respectfully disagree with focusing on just a handful of worldwide issues. We must have sufficient compassion to assist the most vulnerable both at home and abroad.

This winter, we were shocked by news of the horrific conditions at the Attawapiskat First Nation in Northern Ontario – families lacking running water and using buckets as latrines, people living in tents and many homes missing insulation and proper heating as temperatures plummet to -15.

We strongly believe that “charity begins at home.” We make personal donations to domestic causes that are deeply meaningful to us, including mental illness, homeless youth and supporting aboriginal Canadians.

Yet, charity cannot end at city or national borders, especially when one billion people – 30 Canadas – have no access to safe drinking water, one billion go to bed hungry every night and four million die of malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS every year.

Just last week the world learned that close to half of children under age 5 in India suffer from malnutrition. We know how cheaply we can save a life overseas and that a concerted global effort could eliminate the most extreme effects of poverty with very little collective sacrifice on our part.

Giving to charity is an intensely personal choice with no right or wrong answer, but our personal mantra focuses half of our efforts to support Canadian causes and half to international issues. When we host the We Day celebrations for 70,000 young Canadians annually, the only entry fee is one local action and one global action of service – volunteering, fundraising or just doing a good deed in the community.

You have to find your own balance among local, national and international charities. Consider a conversation with your family or loved ones. The good news is that since giving is intensely personal, it’s often easy to unite family and friends around your personal cause. Thankfully small groups of passionate volunteers ensure that oft-forgotten causes, such as rare diseases, are never without a network of support.

Worldwide movements are difficult to organize, but sometimes magic happens. Just think of the group of guys who, over beers in an Australian pub a few years ago, decided to grow mustaches to raise awareness of prostate cancer. “Movember” is now an international phenomenon and the most excited many guys have been about fundraising since the hot-dog-eating contest for new football jerseys in high school.

The key, we believe, is not to pit one cause against the other, but to encourage more giving over all.

Craig and Marc Kielburger co-founded Free the Children. Follow Craig at facebook.com/craigkielburger and @craigkielburger on Twitter. Send questions to Livebetter@globeandmail.com.

 

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