Itinerant labourers hard at work carrying bricks at a factory in the Kathmandu Valley.

The most common question I am asked about the work I do in developing countries is, “Does it really make a difference?”

Is it worth giving money to that charity? Does the money get to the people that really need it? Is it really going to make any difference teaching photography for a few days? What if collecting all those donations and sending them in a container actually cuts out local industry? Is a hand out really a hand up?

These are just some of the questions I am frequently asked, and ones I’ve asked myself. I have read about terrible acts of charity and have even witnessed them myself. But my simple response is always yes and I usually turn to Mother Teresa at this point:

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Just as no one would deny Mother Teresa’s work as being just a drop, no one that has seen the smile on a child’s face from a remote part of Nepal who is using a camera for the first time, or seen the joy of a middle aged woman in India working out how to turn a camera on, can deny a project to teach photography doesn’t make a difference.

Here are five ways I’ve seen charitable work make a difference:

Human rights

Perhaps acts of kindness delay the inevitable – starvation, poverty, abuse, unemployment, neglect, frustration – but maybe they don’t either and change is possible. While it’s impossible to know the outcome of every small act of charity, it is important to remember the freedoms we enjoy every day to eat, sleep, go to school, get legal representation, marry, have children etc are not enjoyed everywhere around the world. And that’s not right.

Watermelon seller in Yangon, Myanmar.

A woman with children seeking an income for her family in Yangon, Myanmar. It may be a different way of earning money, but the desire to provide for one’s family is no different. Do we help her to feel better about ourselves and share the wealth we have? Possibly. But we should also help her because she’s a human being and it’s the right thing to do.

There are 30 rights inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These relate to education, shelter, food, clothing, freedoms, legal appeals, religion, property, thought, work, peaceful assembly and so on. Giving someone food, clothing, the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings safely, to help them learn a new skill are invaluable and to me that’s an imperative I have to do something. This was summed up beautifully by Robert Kennedy:

We can perhaps remember, even if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers; that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as we do, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

Skills are passed on / resources are shared

Last year I wrote this post for Blog Action Day about the “Power of We”:

Everywhere I have left cameras people have also promised to teach and help others that come through those centres if I can’t return as often as I would like. To me this sums up the philosophy of education here and what the two traveling students recognised as well – education is not about me, it’s about us, the power of we.

Suman (left) and Karishma (right) in action.

Suman (left) was a great photographer with natural abilities to spot and frame a shot. It was good to see him helping others during photography classes at the Children’s Welfare Centre, Kathmandu as part of Cameras for Asia.

While describing the experience of Cameras for Asia, a project by which donated cameras are given to centres in Asia and photographic skills taught, I have seen a remarkable propensity in developing countries for passing on skills and sharing resources. Here are some examples:

– HIV positive families in India were loaned a vegetable cart from which to sell their vegetables and so feed their families. When they paid back the cost of the cart, it went into purchasing carts for other families.
– Orphan children were rescued from the streets of Kathmandu in Nepal and given an education. They have become siblings and family to other abandoned children.
– Nomads in Mongolia were lent animals to redevelop their herds after a devastating winter wiped out their stocks. They help each other with herding and husbandry. When their animals produce offspring they pay back the loan of the animal and that goes to another family.
– Farmers on volcanoes in Indonesia lost their herds in a volcanic explosion. They were given a few cows and now manage them jointly, sharing the milk and offspring.

Do small things with great love

This quote from Mother Teresa is simply a way of saying we don’t have to be endowed with fine words or platforms like Martin Luther King or Malala Yousafzei to make a difference. And the things we do don’t necessarily have to change the world. I remembered this quote when I was scrubbing soiled clothing in one of her homes in Kolkata wondering what on earth the merit really was in that demeaning job. But actually washing those items meant a sick, dying person received a clean set of clothes that day. It was a small job but I could do it with love.

This woman had a broken leg and had lost her house in an earthquake. There was a team from a Jakarta church there removing rubble, one brick at a time, so she could

This woman had a broken leg and had lost her house in an earthquake. There was a team from a Jakarta church there removing rubble, one brick at a time, so she had better access to her new living space and could at some point rebuild again. It was hardly awe inspiring work but it was making a difference for this woman one brick at a time.

The difference made doesn’t have to be internationally either. In the last two weeks I have attended an array of events in Brisbane about issues related to Human Rights:
– the Freedom Art exhibition pioneered by local Brisbane artists to raise money and awareness for organisations that rescue vulnerable children
– a fundraiser for widows and orphans in Gujurat, India
– a board meeting for a children’s charity in Nepal
– the World Vision screening of Girl Rising about the struggle of nine girls around the world to get an education

I’ve listed these simply to demonstrate what small events and forums are available locally to get involved. Last Friday was the Day of the Girl. This week is anti poverty week. There’s a new book out called “I am Malala” about the story of the Pakistani school girl shot by the Taliban on her way home from class. There are events, books, movies and people to engage with. Do small things but do them with great love.

Excuses just stop you from doing something

Could money spent on a trip overseas to spend time with orphans be better invested? Possibly. Would it be better to send money so clothes and resources can be bought locally rather then sending in items that cut out the local market? Most likely. There are lots of reasons not to be involved, but there are also lots of reasons to be involved. Read up on bad ways aid is given if you have concerns and seek another avenue, but just get involved. Don’t let it be an excuse.

Their excitement was infectious.

Their excitement was infectious. We were just taking a truck to the local market in Yangon, Myanmar to take photos. They sat there grinning ear to ear, barely contained in their seats on the long, bumpy, hot ride. I was so uncomfortable too but seeing their faces made it so enjoyable for me. Will these kids be able to become photographers in Myanmar one day? Hopefully, but in the meantime it gives them a creative outlet, a different way of seeing the world, to learn a new skill, see more of the world… Could this time and money be spent differently? Sure, but the personal experience for these kids is invaluable and can not be replaced.

Make a difference and break the cycle
Human rights issues are often part of a cycle. If someone is poor they are unable to seek a good education, so they don’t get good jobs and remain poor. Support a child’s right to receive education, or more importantly a girl’s, and you can help a country increase their GDP, reduce health issues and even help mortality (many women, particularly girls, die in childbirth).


This post is part of Blog Action Day.

What is Blog Action Day?
Founded in 2007, Blog Action Day brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day. Past topics have included Water, Climate Change, Poverty, Food and the Power of We, with over 25,000 blogs taking part since 2007.


Last year I penned a post on the “Power of We” for Gale. Other recent pieces about human rights include these pieces:
– a column on Girls’ Right to education for Gale
In pictures: Celebrating the Day of the Girl – photos of girls around the world
– Visited Planet photojournalism Facebook posts on anti poverty week [1 each day of the week]
The Day of the Girl – internationally recognised day for girls this year focusing on education
Film review: Girl Rising – World Vision screening of a film about the desire of nine girls around the world to seek an education
– “I am Malala” review [pending] – new book by Malala Yousafazei who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for her promotion of education for girls


Feel free to email Jo at admin@visitedplanet.com with your comments/thoughts/photo aspirations. See and learn more at www.visitedplanet.com

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