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A world of pain

Is giving locally really the best way to go, when just a few dollars can make so much difference on the other side of the globe?



When The Coast started planning this year's Give Guide, we got a bit of feedback about its deliberately local focus. "What about international charities?" more than a few people asked, pointing out that a little change goes a long way in the developing world and that poverty in Canada, while bad, doesn't have the same level of despair as poverty, in, say, some parts of drought-stricken Africa.

Taking those comments to heart, we sought out Chike Jeffers, a Dalhousie University philosopher who deals in ethics, the philosophy of race and Africana philosophy.

"You've raised lots of issues---ethical, political and philosophical," says Jeffers. "On the one hand, to what extent should borders make to our duties as a citizen of the world? There's a theme in philosophy called cosmopolitism that argues we shouldn't be thinking about where we are in relation to each other.

"On the other hand," he continues, "there's nationalism, which is not always a bad thing. We have a special relationship with people we share a country with, much as we have a special relationship with our family. If we didn't have family, we wouldn't have the people we need most in our time of need, and that can apply to our broader local community as well."

Jeffers is pleased that our local focus caused so much debate, if only because it gets people thinking about why and how they donate to charity.

He warns, however, that looking for the most-worthy, or most desperate need, is "a dangerous line" of thinking. "When does something become bad enough to be a priority? We stop addressing the problems around us because, hey, it's worse over there."

So how does Jeffers direct his charity?

"I give internationally when there are catastrophes," he says. "When I first heard about the famine in the horn of Africa, I got out my credit card and went to the internet to give to a reputable organization. But I also help out locally."

Jeffers recently moved here from Chicago, where he volunteered with an organization that provided food to homeless people. "It wasn't a soup kitchen," he explains. "It was more like a sit-down restaurant, where people could order food at a table, and be served with dignity. It provides a personal feel, and that's important."

With the exception of catastrophes, where people should give simply to save lives, Jeffers says addressing the political and economic structures that can lead to poverty should be an increasing focus. "Yes, we need redistribution of wealth in Canada, but we also need to redistribute wealth internationally."

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