By Michael Lashley
First, the good news. There is a general perception that Canada ranks reasonably well in the international ratings of caring, charitable and giving countries.
Our not-for-profit sector occupies a significant segment of our economy, when compared with that of other countries. I am personally pleased with the large number of individual initiatives, government programs, religious groups and community organizations that support this sector.
Now, the bad news. For many years, I have been finding it difficult to answer the fundamental questions raised by Ms. Rachel Gray, executive director of The Stop Community Food Centre: What’s the tipping point for essential social change?
What does it take for our society to decide that we must act now to tackle the seriously needy situation of our vulnerable people and communities? How much longer are we going to let those challenges fester, while periodic outbursts of protest, violence and crime keep signaling to us that Toronto (and Ontario, and Canada) cannot keep tolerating poverty, homelessness, child poverty, youth marginalization, unemployment and the spreading numbers of ethno-social ghettoes in our midst?
That discomfort has led me to listen to the other similar questions that people ask themselves. When we consider helping those in need, where should we place our priority: in our own family or in our community, in our own country or in foreign countries?
The response should not be: How can we help others if we cannot even attend to our own needs?
Though there is also a certain percentage of persons who are indifferent to the unfortunate situation of others, the consensus is that we are all in this together and that we can make progress if we take action jointly.
In that context, there can be no doubt that our first responsibility is to ourselves and our respective families. Charity does begin at home. But none of us should find peace of conscience in restricting ourselves to the family unit, or even to our extended family.
The key to success in this regard lies in finding a balance among three further levels of activity: in a local community, at the national level and at the international level.
This concept of balance is the one that guides me and that I keep recommending to one and all. In the specific case of Canada, we can expand our giving to any local community of our choice, based of geographic, religious, cultural, or ethnic affinity; on common interests; or on sharing our technical skills.
Giving of ourselves and our time, not just our money, is key to achieving many of the most valuable goals in life: a sense of purpose, the gratification that comes from seeing oneself as relevant to the basic needs and to the broader successes of others, opportunities for life-long learning and a life full of ongoing and new experiences and relationships.
Moving on to the national level, my recommendation to all Canadian residents who do not yet have a preferred activity, is to advocate for a structured and long-term strategy to address the needs of our aboriginal peoples. Not because the UN is calling us out on our major shortcomings in this field but rather because all of us share in the responsibility to ensure that this segment of our population enjoys all the rights and benefits guaranteed to them under our Constitution, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the various treaties and agreements entered into between their forefathers and ours.
Having dealt with those two levels, local and national, I am pleased to endorse one of the hundreds of international causes that deserve our active support: the needs of the people of Haiti.
To make a meaningful impact in this noble cause, I commend for your attention the valuable work of Pierspective Entreaide Humanitaire under the able leadership of Haiti’s Honorary Consul in Toronto, Dr. Eric Pierre.