Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Charity and Solidarity

It’s probably different in the big cities, but here in the sticks, it’s quite rare for a ‘son of the village’, who has done well with his life, to put something back. I know there are exceptions, like the man from Bédar who made a fortune in Barcelona and sent funds to build a small park in his pueblo, or the man from Aguas en Medio (a tiny hamlet in Mojácar) who sent money from the Pacific island of Guam to build a church locally. There are some few unsung heroes who help the disabled centre in Vera – Asprodalba – or other beneficial ends, but it is not common. Those who have struggled up from poverty are probably more concerned with staying as far away from that condition as they can, rather than risking the wrath of Lady Luck by sharing a tiny proportion of their money with anyone else.
I suppose, when it comes to ‘caritas’ – charity – everyone suspects, with some degree of certitude on their side, that most donations in Spain are promptly stolen. It is clearly a cut-throat business and commissions on subsidies are usual. There is, in fact, a small industry in matching hand-outs with charity organisations, for which the agents take a standard 20%. There are cases, mainly in the days of the Felipe Gonzalez government, of large charities being in the news for all the wrong reasons – from the director of one of Spain’s biggest charities selling off an entire city block which happened to be on the books, and pocketing the lot, to an improbable accident in a lift shaft (at the headquarters of a very wealthy blind association). Then, nearer to home, there was the case of the Sahara children due to come and stay in Lubrín one year, only the accountant took off with all the money. Another example: an Almerian charity that places the disabled in low-paid jobs, and charges them 20% (it seems to be the ideal figure), for life!
The Britons, who live here in their tens of thousands, are in contrast, generous with charity, although almost all of it goes to animals. There is no ex-pat newspaper without its page of free adverts for shelters and pet charities, its associations of feral cat sterilizers and articles on dogs in extremis. Yet we find nothing about the old, lonely and penniless members of their society, fallen on bad times or living under the threat of a hard-eyed banker or lender, or a calculating ‘healer’ or ‘companion’. Is there a human equivalent to the PAWS shop, where queues of people bring second-hand clothing, books and unwanted treasures to be sold off and converted (one imagines) into dog food? Perhaps the implicit ‘thank you’ is easier to read in an animal’s eyes.
So, one might want to keep charity a little closer to home (if I’m not quoting someone out of context). The Mormons know about this, they ‘tithe’ themselves 10% and happily give it to the poor.
Here in our pueblo, where a serious amount of money has come into the hands of a few families, who keep it, apparently, under the bed, there is almost no suggestion of returning a bit to the village that made them rich. There are no theatres or parks, or gardens. There are not even any park-benches with a small brass acknowledgement of the munificence of some Elder. Several families, poor as mice a generation ago, now control fortunes of fifty million Euros each. One woman, known for short-changing her customers (she still has a small shop), claims rents of 75,000 euros a month. Her ambition can only be to make it up to 100,000 a month.
In April, three of our local people shared 65 million euros in the Eurolotto. They promptly abandoned our town and are now, presumably, living in the Bahamas and complaining to the new-found servants that they can’t get a decent paella there. How many park benches, children’s parks, churches or theatres have they managed between them for their home-town? None. The nearest thing you will find to charity in our pueblo is the swollen number of workers at the town hall. Some are professionals but many others are merely there to provide them with a wage. How generous. However, when its election time, they will not be forgotten.
Our town is like a tired old whore – everyone wants to take something from her, but no one wants to buy her flowers.

1 comment:

Claire Lloyd said...

Interesting! There is plenty of evidence of solidaridad in our pueblo, most of it for international causes - Saharawis, Palestinians, Haiti earthquake victims etc. But it seems to be a case of the poor giving to the poorer, and a lot of it is organised by the schools. The only example of bequests from wealthy townsfolk I can think of is sponsorship of a flamenco singing contest.

There are very few British immigrants where I live and hence no charity shops. People here don´t throw anything away; if you don´t want something any more you leave it by the bins and it´s gone in five minutes.