Two things have shocked me in a span of 10 days.
The first is the devastating series of events that has hit Japan — a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, a 10-meter high tsunami and the risk of a nuclear accident.
The second is the onslaught of online criticism I read over the weekend, arguing that any monetary donations would be a poor and inefficient use of funds.
I have (painfully) distilled the critics’ three main points for you:
1. Fundraising is not the best way to alleviate the specific problems Japan is facing and is not what the nation needs right now.
2. Even if it is, people should donate responsibly.
3. Blindly promoting donations is irresponsible.
These are cogent, coherent points that are worth debating, and it isn’t hard to find online forums rife with such back-and-forth exchanges.
Here at Penn, College junior and Japan Student Association’s Co-President Reina Moriyama offers a culturally grounded perspective to the charges laid by some that Japan doesn’t need or want the money.
“The Japanese government isn’t reaching out much regarding the crisis, and that’s why many people don’t think we need the money,” she explained. “It’s for cultural reasons that we haven’t reached internationally for help.”
JSA has set up the Penn Japan Relief Fund in an effort to “unify resources from Penn to maximize the collective impact towards this cause,” according to its website. It has raised $1,500 to date, all of which will go to the Red Cross and Hands On Tokyo, Moriyama said.
“I understand fears from people about where their money is going to end up, but we’re making the best effort to choose a charity that uses 100 percent of our proceeds to help the victims,” former JSA president and College senior Tadashi Shida said.
Student groups canvassing for our limited funds are a common sight on Locust Walk. With a new batch of Management 100 students soliciting for their respective causes every semester, it’s no wonder some of us can get a little jaded and even suspicious about how our money will be used.
Those are fair reservations to hold. But I take issue with the utilitarian approach to assessing fundraising.
For all the elegantly crafted responses on Facebook about why Japan doesn’t need our money (my favorite one is that the challenges Japan face are largely logistical and scientific), focusing on the effect of the funds alone is myopic.
Let me clarify that I have no delusions about what my $5 is going to do. It will not build a new school or feed the family that has lost its sole breadwinner. I’m not even sure if our combined efforts of $1,500 can do much in the way of alleviating the billions of dollars of damage.
What donating does, however, is show support. Collectively, it shows support for the victims in Japan. Individually, it shows support for the friend who so fervently believes and hopes that your donation will help rebuild a nation.
Yes, there are many valid arguments about why and how our money can be put to better use. But let’s not get too caught up in the pretenses of what our $5 can do or in discussing the efficacy of our donations. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that given our circumstances — being students and having limited financial resources — the act of donating is really more a means for us to fulfill our social roles, an act of solidarity to our Japanese friends here and the victims 10,000 miles away.
This disaster, unfortunately, will not be the only one we encounter as an international body of students. But hopefully, it will not be the last time we come together as a community to rally behind our friends.
Rachel Au-Yong is a College sophomore from Singapore. Her e-mail address is auyong@theDP.com. Combat Ray-tions appears every other Monday. To donate online to Japan relief efforts, please visit the website of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.Comments powered by Disqus
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