Witnessing suffering

By Daniel Holz | January 21, 2010 10:01 am

While we’re on the topic of charities, it seems appropriate to note that this is a particularly opportune time to donate to an exceedingly worthwhile charity: Doctors Without Borders. They are doing amazing work around the world, and the current tragedy in Haiti is no exception.

port-au-prince exodus (Maggie Steber for NYT)Note that Doctors Without Borders (more generally known as Médecins Sans Frontières) is not the same as Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde; now called HealthRight). It’s somewhat ironic, but the Doctors couldn’t agree about how to go about saving the world. So MDM split off in 1980 (and is roughly 1/40th the size). The critical issue was the degree to which “witnessing” was a part of their mission. On the one hand, if you want to be able to go anywhere that you’re needed, it’s wise to be explicitly apolitical. Your goal is simply to help the sick and relieve suffering. On the other hand, if you witness atrocities, it seems incumbent upon you to tell the world what has happened. If you are on the ground in the midst of genocide, is it really appropriate to stay silent? Both groups “bear witness” to atrocities, but MSF is more conservative, while MDM is more aggressive.

I think strong arguments can be made for both approaches, and I don’t think you can go wrong supporting either organization. As always, it makes sense to check out any intended recipient of largess on Charity Navigator. Both organizations get essentially identical, stellar scores (implying that the vast majority [~90%] of what you donate goes to people in need, and not to fatten the pay of executives, or into the pockets of Madison Avenue).

Haiti is a tragedy of epic proportions. Here is a way to help.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Rights, Humanity
  • http://www.7duniverse.com Samuel A. (Sam) Cox

    Very appropriate thread…thanks for the links!

  • Pompei

    According to Wikipedia, some 20,000 people were buried/killed in Pompei. It puts the magnitude of the disaster in stark relief to realize that Haiti = Pompei x 10 or perhaps x 15 by the time its over. (if we ignore Herculanum in the comparison).

    Pass it on.
    Give again.

  • bigjohn756

    How are things going nowadays in Mississippi and Louisiana? Is all the debris cleaned up? Has everyone got a decent place to stay and enough to eat?

    I have no idea, do you? Katrina is no longer newsworthy so it is gone from everyone’s mind. I seriously doubt that the situation is very good for many of those people. Why not donate to Katrina recovery along with your contribution to the needs in Haiti?

  • Derek

    I sometimes wonder if that one metric, % of donations that goes to the needy, is so clever. It seems to make good sense because it assumes if the money doesn’t go directly to the needy it must “fatten the pay of executives, or into the pockets of Madison Avenue.” But if Haiti has taught us anything it’s that all the generosity in the world (literally) doesn’t mean much if the supplies can’t get to where they are needed. And that takes infrastructure. Seems that any charitable person can create a charity with no overhead, but also with no ability to get aid where it’s needed. Infrastructure costs money. I’d rather give to an organization that passes on 70% of my donation but has the trucks and helicopters to make a difference when it matters.


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