This article shows how service of the poor should be at the heart of any organization that claims to be a charitable trust. If not, we should have another look at the very purpose of these institutions.
The mere word ‘charitable’ denotes service of the poor and the mere fact that we have chosen to form a charitable society or trust shows that we have opted to serve the poor through such a charitable society or trust. If we have opted to serve the poor, then all the properties and funds that we hold are also meant for the same purpose. Thus service of the poor becomes the reason and purpose of the very existence of any charitable society or trust. Understood thus, the statement that all that the Church owns is the property of our Lord Jesus Christ and the patrimony of His poor makes sense.
Need of Radical Questioning
Our charitable societies and trusts are involved in very many activities, like running parishes, schools, colleges, hospitals, social service centres, youth animation centres, community centres, research centres, rural training programmes, etc. All the institutions that run such activities also hold properties and funds meant to support these activities. If all these institutions with their properties, funds and various activities are meant for the poor, then definitely they should have made some impact on the lives of the poor. By impact, we mean effecting a positive change in their lives. Thus, we can say that all our institutions exist to bring about a positive change in the lives of the poor around us. If not, we should relook at the purpose of the existence of these entities.
Any positive change in the lives of the poor is possible to the extent that the poor have access to our institutions and their programmes. Giving such an access would mean having a preferential option for the poor. Here are some of the ways in which we can concretely show our preferential option for the poor:
Twelve Steps that Benefit the Poor
- When our charitable trust was begun, it was begun with the specific purpose of serving the poor. But over the years it is possible that the trust has lost this original purpose due to the pressure of maintaining a standard in order to compete with the fast-changing environment. Hence, we can now re-examine the priorities and activities of our institutions and re-focus our attention in providing sufficient opportunities for the poor to get the benefit of our charitable activities.
- One of the concrete ways in which we can show our commitment to the poor is to choose those activities that would directly benefit the poor. Thus the choice of the activity matters a lot, but that is not enough. Even the choice of the place for such activities matters. Thus a school of a medium standard near the rural or slum dwellers will benefit them a lot more than a high-fi school well established in a posh area of the city.
- Having decided on the choice and place of the activities the next important step would be to allocate a budget, for, if there are no funds, nothing much can be done for the benefit of the poor. There may be many willing to serve the poor, but due to lack of funds they are not able to do anything in this regard. Here is where the allotment of funds matters.
- Serving the poor does not mean much if we try to look for the poor in some far away location. We have heard the saying that charity begins at home. Hence, it would make much sense if we first attend to the poor within the campus, namely our own employees, students of the school or patients of the hospital. This makes it an obligation for us to pay decent salaries to our employees, salaries that would be reasonably sufficient to take care of the members of their families and their basic needs, such as, education, health, food, shelter, etc. Concern for the poor can also be concretely expressed through our concern for the employees in times of need for some salary advance, loan, etc.
- Similarly it makes us to be on the lookout for the poor in our institutions and help them with scholarships or fee concessions in their school, college or hospital fees.
- Option for the poor would also mean having preferential option for the poor in admissions, in employment and in the choice of the beneficiaries of all our activities. It would mean giving job opportunities to the poor on a priority basis. Here we should seriously consider the jobless and the poor for the contract works, like maintenance, gardening, other labour work, etc.
- The other area through which we can express our option for the poor, unlike the rest of the world, is to narrow the gap between the rich and poor of our institutions. This can be shown by raising the salary of those attached to the lower grades of the pay scale, which can be done by paying them all uniform allowances across the grades of the pay scale system.
- Having a reservation policy for the poor can be another concrete way of showing our preferential option for the poor so that they also become beneficiaries of our charitable activities.
- The other area of concern for the poor can be in our marketing. Every institution has to do a lot of marketing for its daily provisions and other needs. If the poor are our concern, then we would certainly do the purchases from shops run by the poor, be it vegetables, groceries, stationery, clothing, construction materials,
- Our option for the poor should also mean that we lead a life of the poor, both in our personal and community life. It would also mean opting for simplicity that will have an apostolic witness value in our institutions.
- Our option for the poor would also mean making the facilities of our institutions, like the playground, hall, classroom, etc., available to the poor and the underprivileged. It would also mean organizing some programmes for them like games, sports, cultural programmes, camps, seminars, etc., which would be educative and motivating.
- Another concrete way of reaching out the poor is by adoption for a long term. It can be adopting a village or a school in a remote area or a backward village that may need our intervention or at least some poor families which may need our support for education or health. The institution as a whole may opt to reach out to the selected group through their periodic visits, regular activities like coaching, financial support for the education of the children, financial help to repair the houses or the community centre, school building, etc.
The last can be a very important and concrete way of getting our institution and all its people like the staff, students, management, etc., involved on a regular basis. This is a direct approach and it will certainly bring about a positive change in the lives of those people. Such an institutional approach will have not only a long term impact on the beneficiaries but also on the donors, i.e., the institution as a whole. Here, our Lord’s saying “whatever you do unto the least, you do unto me” will become very real, concrete and perceptible.
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Fr Alex Gnanapragasam SJ