Philanthropy in Latin America

sduncan post on February 5th, 2013
Posted in Central America Tags: ,

By Nora Melara-Lopez

For centuries the Catholic Church financed by colonial governments and the private elite provided social support to the sick and the poor in Latin America. This support was paternalistic as it was combined with social control, forced evangelization, and the exploitation of indigenous peoples and African slaves (Sanborn & Portocarrero, 2003). In the 20th century, the Catholic Church evolved from its conservative and elitist position to identifying more with the poor and with issues of social justice (Fleet and Smith 1997).

I was born and raised in Honduras, one of the poorest countries of the Western hemisphere, where caridad (charity) not philanthropy is the term associated with giving. At a tender age, children learn that la caridad empieza en la casa (charity starts at home). La familia (the family) is very important for Latin Americans; therefore, if one member of the unit is in need, the rest of the family is expected to join forces to assist that person. Education is the responsibility of the government until grade six. Parents wanting their children to pursue further education have to pay for tuition fees, books and uniforms. Older children who have completed an education and have started working are expected to contribute financially toward the education expenses of siblings. Also, since there is no social safety net for seniors; children are also expected to be responsible for the care of aging parents.

While growing up during the 1960s and 1970s, assistance to the poor was provided mainly by family and relatives; the Catholic Church; as well as, by ordinary and not necessarily wealthy citizens in the community. Neighbours helped neighbours, people they knew or those who went begging for food and clothes from house to house. Caridad involved provision of meals, clothing and shelter. It was common for neighbours to ask each other for sugar, maize, coffee, oil, flour, condiments, etc. There was a community sense of security and solidarity, an unspoken understanding that “if I have then you have; if you have then I have.” Also, it was very common for the working class, to have a trabajadora (a worker) in their homes helping with domestic chores like cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and ironing. In exchange for their work, the workers received food (for their children, too), a small salary and sometimes shelter. It was uncommon for people to give cash donations, unless it was to the church. Nowadays, the alleviation of poverty heavily depends on the funds that one in every eight Hondurans who live and work abroad channel back to their families (Smith, G. 2009).

Helping close, extended family and others is considered everyone’s moral obligation. This is in part due to religious teachings but also because of the collectivist nature of the society.
At present, philanthropic organizations supported by the powerful elite, artists, corporations and businesses are becoming popular throughout Latin America (on a lesser scale in Honduras). There is an emphasis on alleviating suffering, opening opportunities for education and training, community development, promoting arts and culture, supporting actions for national advocacy in areas of human rights and health; however, children and youth are the main beneficiaries of organized philanthropy (Sanborn & Portocarrero, 2003). Not only is traditional charity thriving in Latin America new approaches to philanthropy and new pairings of philanthropy and social responsibility are on the rise (Sanborn & Portocarrero, 2005).

Works Cited

La filantropía en América Latina: los desafíos de las fundaciones donantes en la construcción de capital humano y justicia social

Honduras’ Coup: The Last Thing a Poor Nation Needs

Global Philanthropy, Part 2: Philanthropy in Latin America: Past Traditions, Future Innovations

Honduras Poverty Assessment – Attaining Poverty Reduction$File/HN1PA0Volume0I.pdf

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