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Opinions of Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

The Unique Gifts For the Holidays

: Try volunteerism, Time, Emotional Support or Small Act of kindness.

Philanthropy Is A Dead Art In Ghana. We’re in Giving Season So what are you giving?

Every school year my 16 yr-old daughter raises money for a cause she believes in. She also volunteers in a nursing home in the summer by running errands for the elderly residents. She is not the only one who believes in giving back to society and the community.

It’s nothing new on this side of the Atlantic. In America people spend time and money for worthy causes all the time. Some even go all the way to send a message and prove a point or two by contributing heavily to a cause they strongly believe in.

Giving is about “stepping outside of your own life, long enough to make an emotional connection with someone else”. It gives life a greater meaning when we shift from our self-preoccupation and make others’ needs the important part of our existence.

Giving is an emotional act, but some people take things up a whole level.

Listen to this and it’s God’s honest truth: According to the news report, the late, billionaire hotelier and real estate mogul, Mrs. Leona Helmsley of New York City was very big on philanthropy. Before her death she secretly left $ 8 billion of her real estate fortune for the care of dogs, after she has already given her own dog, “Trouble,” $12 million. Yes, it wasn’t a typographical mistake. I meant ‘billions’ with a capital ‘B’. Basically, she wanted all her estate to be used on the care and welfare of dogs.

Now, giving animals $8 billion may sound a bit too personal as far as gift giving goes, but that could well bear her personal experience with people and dogs. It also symbolized a personal statement.

Dogs bite, but they don’t bad-mouth people and won’t complain and whine about every damn thing. I don’t know about you but I have the feeling that Mrs Helmsley was mistreated, bad-mouthed and disrespected by humankind so that she didn’t want to have anything to do with people--period!

The American culture of giving is very contagious, but we Ghanaians in the States or Diaspora and back home have inoculated ourselves against it. Therefore we don’t encourage our kids to get involved with a cause which could make them grow closer to learn more about Ghana and its communities. When we lend a hand it mostly affects the family members back home, who hardly appreciate it because they feel and think it’s our “obligation” to help out.

Words have power. There was news in the media a few years ago about a wealthy man who went into one of the schools in the Bronx which had the poorest graduation rate in the city. It had the record of the most pregnant students than any other school in the country. So to make a long story short , this man went into the school and promised every student in the senior class that if they complete high school, he would pay for their four year education ,free of charge. The students hearing his promise ,took it literally and from there they made up their minds to study hard .After four years it was reported that, except three students who decided not to go to collage, each one of them went straight to college . A Few of them even went further into graduate schools.

Nevertheless, the spirit of giving to a cause is very more popular among Americans than Africans. This has nothing to do with one’s socio-economic status. Unfortunately, only a few Ghanaians have a knack for philanthropy beyond religious or local causes. But the need to step up to the plate by contributing our services and, or money for education, poverty, healthcare and other social services in Ghana is imperative now ever than ever.

The Ghana publishing industry and print media complain all the time that Ghanaian readership is very low and keeps shrinking. I wonder how many charity foundations they have set up to educate underprivileged kids and engage Ghanaians to read, so as to enable them to increase their readership and bottom-line.

Unfortunately, the more financially –secure among us who we expect to give back a lot to the country have turned their backs on Ghana. They just keep taking from the system without replacing it. It’s not even different among the academia and educated ones. They are the ones who have the highest educational attainment among all groups, and probably obtained their education under the government free scholarship system in Ghana. Yet they are not interested in educational philanthropy.

We have so many children with birth defects, eye problems and other childhood diseases that are crying out for help. Most blindness is preventable, if only we want and care to help.

Yes, I know Ghanaians have dependency syndrome. Therefore they always expect more when you try to help. But, that shouldn’t prevent those of us who can afford to open up our hearts and purse strings to reach out to the less unfortunate ones among us.

When I talk about “Gift” I’m not just talking about the gift of money alone. The gift of service is an alternative gift giving endeavor that we can do.

A study has found that volunteerism can increase longevity. According to the study, the elderly people who volunteered for more than four hours a week were 40 percent less likely to die during the study period.

The effects of giving on mental and physical changes on health baffle scientists. But, they say people with altruism have lower levels of stress hormones. They say the benefits of volunteerism are similar to the results of vigorous exercise or meditation. However, they say the act of altruism is by having a direct contact with other people. So the best gift does not necessarily involve money. It’s through volunteerism, giving an emotional support or small act of kindness to someone.

Restoring a blind person’s sight, training a local health worker, and being a teacher for a day at your local school in your home town or village can go a long way. Donating your time to help kids to learn how to read, sponsor tours for kids to see interesting places in Ghana ,can be a very rewarding experience for you and the kids .There are many kids in our villages and towns, who have never seen an airport, let alone an airplane. I know so many kids in my town who have never seen an ocean.

So you don’t necessarily have to contribute money to make a difference. Using your expertise to provide services to make a difference in someone’s life or enhance your community back home is also considered a gift giving. . The benefits of giving Services and donating your time are very enormous. Beside the desire to give back to one’s community, donating time gives an opportunity for one to network, learn new skills such as event management and leadership.

The next time you go back to your old neighborhood or community walk around and find out from the kids who are less fortunate. You don’t have to give them anything, just invite them to your house and encourage them to talk about their future plans .You will be amazed to find out they also have dreams and aspirations like the kids who grow up in the developed world. Just show some interest in their dreams and they will open up to you. From there you won’t have to search for what you can do to make a difference in their lives.

We have been taking, and taking from the system all the time so let’s give a little to put a smile on someone’s face.

Undoubtedly, navigating and balancing the competing needs of our families against the crucial lifeline to causes for the poor women and children back home in Ghana may well be the biggest challenges facing those who have the heart and urge to embark on philanthropic sprit in this season of giving. But the heart-warming experience of giving to the poor among us is something you don’t want to deprive yourself and your kids from experiencing.

Just do it, your life will never be the same!

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi (the Voice of reason) NJ, USA