Tag Archive: modern practice

Blessing Rice in Ghost Festival

sduncan post on January 29th, 2015
Posted in China and Taiwan Tags: ,

By Kadia Kwok

The Ghost Festival is a traditional Chinese festival, which is celebrated by Chinese in many countries. This festival is on the Chinese calendar (lunar Calendar)14th night of the month of seventh. The seventh of the Lunar calendar is called Ghost Month.

In the Chinese culture, people believe that hungry ghosts and spirits rise from the gates of hell, which remain open this month. The spirits seek food and revenge, as well as visit their descendants. The Ghost Festival is the height of the Ghost Month Celebrations, and descendants remember their ancestors by preparing a meal for the ghosts. It is widely believed that the ghosts must be satisfied in order for there to be peace, harmony and good fortune in the family.

The last activity of the Ghost Festival is to distribute “Blessing Rice”. In the past, rough, low quality rice was distributed to seniors and to the poor as an act of charity and penance to dispel any ghosts that sought revenge. There would be thousands of seniors who lined up at the community centre, waiting to receive some rice.

Originally, rice was offered to the ghosts. But after being offered, it was no longer a desirable food since it had been touched by the ghosts. In order to prevent waste of edible food, the rich would distribute it to the poor in an act of philanthropy.

Rice has great importance in the Chinese culture, the most important source of carbohydrates in the diet. It is consumed at a rate which is comparable only to the amount of bread eaten in the Western Culture. Historically, during a period of famine, rice was the only food available and saved many lives. As well, many immigrants from Chiu Chau, south part of China, to Hong Kong made a living from growing and selling rice, a business that was carried on by future generations. Hence, rice is a source of food security and had symbolic importance to the people of China.

However, today, the meaning of rice has evolved in Hong Kong. Instead of being blessed by rice, people eat it as a commodity and do not appreciate its value. During rice distribution at the end of the Ghost Festival today, high quality rice is given out in bags of 5 kg each, along with packages of amenities and lucky money packages. Although philanthropic, it is also distributed to those who do not appreciate its sole meaning and do not need the money, rice, or amenities. However, those who are in need no doubt benefit from this evolving tradition.

Alternatively, those from Chiu Chau distribute rice to give relief to the poor, but also as an act of charity from their ancestors who sold rice. This offers peace to those who sell it as well as those who receive it, and in this way has a doubled positive effect.

Works Cited:

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedi. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_Festival
Festivals. Retrieved from http://www.chinavoc.com/festivals/ghost.htm
Religion Facts. Retrieved from http://www.religionfacts.com/chinese_religion/holidays/ghost_festival.htm
Lbrown 7617’s blog. Retrieved from http://lbrown7617.wordpress.com/english-3/why-is-rice-so-important-to-chinese- civilization

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Patrice Motsepe and the southern African tradition of Ubuntu/Botho

sduncan post on January 29th, 2015
Posted in South Africa Tags: ,

By Jonathan Bunce

African philanthropy has been in the news recently, with the January 30th announcement that South African’s richest black citizen, Patrice Motsepe, will be giving away half of his family’s wealth during his and his wife Precious Motsepe’s lifetimes. This announcement was greeted with interest in North America, as Reuters reported that Motsepe is the first African philanthropist to sign up for The Giving Pledge. Founded in 2010 by leading U.S. philanthropists Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, The Giving Pledge is “an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to the philanthropic causes and charitable organizations of their choice either during their lifetime or after their death.”
The Founder and Executive Chairman of African Rainbow Minerals, a mining company with interests in gold, platinum, coal and ferrous metals, the 51-year-old Motsepe, whose personal worth is estimated at R22.99 billion ($2.58 billion CAD), said he was inspired not only by Buffet and Gates’ initiative but also by southern African traditions of generosity. In a press release announcing his pledge, Motsepe stated, “South Africans are caring, compassionate and loving people. It has always been part of our culture and tradition to assist and care for less fortunate and marginalised members of our communities. This culture is also embodied in the spirit and tradition of Ubuntu/Botho.”

Ubuntu is variously defined as a southern African humanism, philosophy, worldview, ethic or personal quality. Danish philosopher Christian B.N. Gade’s investigations showed references to Ubuntu began appearing in written sources in 1846, though until the mid-1900s, it was only used to define a human quality, before being applied more broadly to describe a philosophy or worldview. More recently, ubuntu was discussed considerably during transition from white minority to black majority rule in South Africa and Zimbabwe in the 1990s, and that “it was during the period from 1993 to 1995 that the Nguni proverb ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ (often translated as ‘a person is a person through other persons’) was used for the first time to describe what Ubuntu is.”

At its core, Ubuntu is the recognition that all people are interconnected and that no one exists in isolation. As the Nguni proverb suggests, in Ubuntu we discover our own selfhood through other people – through community, collaboration and co-operation; through openness, kindness and generosity towards others. Prominent South African public figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Nelson Mandela have both expressed admiration for the Ubuntu philosophy. In his 1999 book No Future, No Forgiveness, Tutu said: “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
While Ubuntu is a word in the Bantu language, Botho is the Botswanan word for the same concept in the Tswana language.

The generous spirit of Ubuntu can also be seen expressed in the philanthropic work of the Ubuntu Institute, who work towards the eradication of HIV/AIDS and poverty, the empowerment of women and providing access to education in Africa, and the Trust Africa Foundation, concerned with securing the conditions for democracy and cultivating African development, enterprise and properity, “through collaboration and partnerships with like-minded institutions and donors.”

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Egyptian Philanthropy during the revolution

sduncan post on January 29th, 2015
Posted in North Africa Tags: , ,

By Sandra Guirguis

Approximately two years ago, the people of Egypt decided that they have had enough, after years of following the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Thousands of civilians gathered to protest, which lasted months until they were able to force the President to step down. Mohamed Morsi was elected as President, following Egypt’s first presidential election. What civilians failed to realize at the time was that the Muslim-Brotherhood member had ulterior motives to rule the country under Islamic law – which was clearly not supported (G. Guirguis, personal communication, September 24, 2013). Soon after, Egyptians gathered for yet another demonstration to oppose the rule of Morsi. Once again, Egyptians were able to come together to overthrow their political leader. This revolution was not as simplistic as it sounds. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands were left injured as a result. During this period, a country wide curfew was put into place to ensure the protection of civilians.

​Curfew in Egypt began at 9 o’clock p.m. and ended at 6 o’clock a.m., with the exception of curfew beginning at 7 o’clock p.m. on Friday’s (BBC, 2013). Curfew hours were typically spent arguing about the politics of the revolution, and people were becoming bored. This sparked an initiative lead by a youth group in Egypt called, Mashroo3 Kheir. This form of philanthropy required the use of volunteers’ time. Using the social networking site Facebook, the youth led group was able to create the program “Kheir fel Hazr,” meaning “Doing good during curfew” (El-Saeed, 2013).

​Braille books are unfortunately not available in Egypt and Kheir fel Hazr aimed to change that (El-Saeed, 2013). Pages of books were scanned and then sent to volunteers to type in a Microsoft Word document. From there, a program was used to translate the pages into Braille. Realizing that not all visually impaired individuals could read Braille, the group also began creating audio books. The initiative currently has over three hundred volunteers, and has been able to create seven Braille books as well as seven audio recorded books (El-Saeed, 2013).

Although the curfew in Egypt has now been removed, the initiative has decided to continue to its mission. And from there the group will expand its mission by gathering volunteers with various talents and expertise and offering teaching lessons for children in need. Mashroo3 Kheir focuses on improving Egypt after the revolution in aspects other than politics (El-Saeed, 2013). The group’s future plans include traveling to less fortunate places in Egypt, such as Upper Egypt, to provide education for illiterate children. As well as distributing clothing to children in orphanages during the Islamic celebration of Eid (El-Saeed, 2013).

Works cited

British Broadcasting Corporation. (2013, August 25). Egypt government relaxes night-time
curfew. British Broadcasting Corporation News Middle East. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23830892
El-Saeed, Y. (2013, September 8). Philanthropy during the curfew. Daily News Egypt. Retrieved
from http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/09/08/philanthropy-during-the-curfew/

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The Body Snatchers of Bangkok

sduncan post on January 29th, 2015
Posted in South East Asia Tags: ,

By Cheryl Rutherford

“For the body snatchers of Bangkok, the road to Nirvana is paved with deadly collisions.”
— Peter Lloyd, Journeyman Pictures, 2006

They rush through the dark, gridlocked streets of Bangkok as fast as they can, night after night, in order to arrive first at scenes that would give most people nightmares for days: sites strewn with bodies that are bloodied, mangled, crushed, shot, drowned, burned or torn apart; car crashes, suicides; the murdered, the unlucky. All victims of trauma, all lying dead on streets or in rooms, all waiting for someone to find them and give them peace at last. Careening towards these accident scenes are not highly-trained, paid professionals in ambulances, however. Instead, these are untrained, unpaid volunteers known as the “Body Snatchers” – or less graphically, the “Guardian Angels” – of Bangkok. These average citizens rush to the aid of trauma victims, either to provide basic first aid to the wounded or to take the dead to hospitals for cremation. In a city of eight million people, no formal emergency services and two million car accidents a year, the body snatchers are indeed guardian angels for the dead, performing a much-needed form of philanthropy.

Bangkok body snatchers are officially recognized volunteers for one of two Thai foundations and many have been doing this work for years (even decades). Sometimes entire families volunteer together. Because there are so few ambulances in Bangkok, many drive battered pickup trucks customized for the task at hand. Often, these everyday citizens will go out at night after a day’s work. Even popular actors or models volunteer to collect bodies, and late-night corpse runs featuring these celebrities are filmed for reality TV shows. Rushing to be first at the grisly scenes, they don’t do this for fame or financial gain – the few paid collectors make about $135–500 a month – but instead they do this for a much more personal reason: to bring “merit” or good fortune unto themselves and their families; to build karma in order to protect themselves in this life and improve the next. The Bangkok body snatchers are Buddhists, and they believe that “by helping someone pass through the rigors of death, good karma is…earned.” [Ehrlich, 2010]

Earning this good karma is not without risk. Rather ironically, in addition to karma, Buddhists also believe in ghosts and touching a dead body risks having the spirit enter one’s own body. Furthermore, the more violent a death, the more powerful the ghost of the victim. Thus, collecting a body from the scene of a car accident, for example, is fraught with spiritual danger. To arm themselves against the powerful spirits, body snatchers don protective amulets. Should an amulet be lost, no fear: the insignias embroidered on the volunteers’ uniforms are infused with protective powers, as well. Along with believing in ghosts, Buddhists believe in reincarnation. So to the body snatchers, the inherent risk of touching the dead is worth it: once collected, the corpse is handed over to the hospital, the body is cremated and its spirit is released and free to move onto its next life, further earning the rescuer much good karma for his good deed.

While many groups have tried to gain a foothold in philanthropic body collection (resulting in much fierce competition), since 1991 only two foundations have been officially recognised by the police and allowed to operate in Bangkok, each with its own territory of collection: the Poh Teck Tung Foundation and the Ruamkatanyu Foundation.

The Poh Teck Tung Foundation was founded in 1910 to provide care to the sick and wounded, as well as collect the dead after accidents. (1) Since it began, it has founded several hospitals, the most recent in 1997 (Hua Chiao Hospital). On viewing its website, the foundation also appears to provide disaster relief and to award scholarships and grants for continuing education.
The Ruamkatanyu Foundation was founded in 1970 with the purpose of collecting the unclaimed bodies of accident and murder victims and to provide them with a proper burial. Today, the foundation has a number of ambulances and volunteers who bring the dead, injured or sick to the hospital free of charge. It is also able to handle large-scale rescues in the event of disaster.

As volunteers with either of these foundations, the body snatchers of Bangkok provide multiple necessary services: streets are cleared of accident victims, the wounded are helped, the dead are collected, cremated and sent onto their next incarnation. All this good work results in the accumulation of good karma for the body snatcher and his family. As a form of philanthropy, some Westerners may find the practice of corpse collecting a gruesome one. However, as Akapan Banloerit – one of Thailand’s most popular actors and a volunteer body snatcher for over 20 years – explains: “Acting is our job. We have to do that to earn money – but for this, we volunteer. We give our time, our heart, and everything to help society.” Certainly Western philanthropists can relate to that heartfelt sentiment.


(1) Interestingly, one of the founding members was Anuwat Rachaniyom (or Yi KoHong), who was a leader in a Chinese secret society, the Hong Moen Thian Ti Hu, which ran gambling dens in Bangkok. Chinese secret societies provided mutual aid between the members, including caring for a fellow member’s corpse after he had died and ensuring a proper burial. One might wonder, with his background in crime and experience with caring for his fellow members’ bodies combined with the Buddhist belief of karma, did Rachaniyom help establish the more upstanding Poh Teck Tung Foundation as a way to bank good karma and make amends for his own past bad deeds.

Works cited

Carter, Jeff C., Ghost Tower, February 21, 2013


Crampton, Thomas, The Body Snatchers / Fighting for a Gory Prize : A Race to the Death in Bangkok, January 29, 2002


Ehrlich, Richard S., Bangkok’s real-life body snatchers, April 1, 2010


Leveau, Arnaud, editor, Investigating the Grey Areas of the Chinese Communities in Southeast Asia, March 14, 2007


Poh Teck Tung Foundation website: http://www.pohtecktung.org/

scheng1, Ruamkatanyu Foundation in Bangkok, March 21, 2013


Viceland, Thailand – Body Snatchers, 2006


Journeyman Pictures, produced by ABC Australia, Body Snatchers – Thailand, April 28, 2006 (uploaded August 8, 2007)

Transcript: http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2006/s1584927.htm

Payen, Cyril, France 24, Thailand: the war of the “Body Snatchers”, March 3, 2011


Ponlapat Nanthamanop, Ruamkatanyu Foundation final, uploaded November 28, 2012

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Less fortunate helping the less fortunate

sduncan post on January 29th, 2015
Posted in South America Tags: ,

By Hannah Jeronymo

“Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22: 39) should be the mission statement of Paraísópolis, SP, Brazil. It should also be the reason for philanthropic activities throughout the world. In the summer of 2013, I had the opportunity to witness non-western philanthropy first hand. I spent my summer vacation in the second biggest slum of São Paulo, Brazil, which is called Paraísópolis. Over 80,000 people live in this slum (Vilicic, Bergamo, Salvo, & Duarte, 2010), which is located deep in the heart of São Paulo’s richest neighborhood, Morumbi (Sertich, 2010).

In Morumbi, there is a high class hospital called Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein. This hospital only attends those who have a good health insurance, or those who are rich enough to pay for its services. However, they give back to the less fortunate by setting up the “responsibilidade social” program (which means, social responsibility). They set up 3 health clinics inside this slum, which is paid for by the government, and here they provide first hand care to the slums residents (Albert Einstein, 2009).

What is amazing about this philanthropic program however is not what the hospital is doing for the slum, but what the slums citizens are doing for themselves. In the clinic I worked in, there was 5 health care teams to be in charge of 1/3 of the slum area. The teams consisted of 1 doctor, 2 nurses, and 3 helpers. The helpers were paid residents who lived in Paraisópolis, who assited the doctors and nurses in getting around and meeting the patients. However, each block of the slum had a person who was in charge of caring for the well being of its residents, making sure each person attended their appointment, and visiting the person to follow up on their care. The person who was in charge of each block though was not a hospital employee, but a fellow resident of that block! These people, even though they did not have much, took time from their day every day to visit each one of their neighbors and help them stay on track with their health. They would check on their neighbor weekly to see how they were doing, would take them to the clinic if they were sick, and would help connect them with the clinic to provide them with the resources they needed.

In our society, we are used to doing everything with the intent of getting something in return. The Brazilian residents of Paraisópolis willingly, and freely, cared for each of their neighbor’s health, working in collaboration with a government funded clinic, to make sure each person, each child, had access to good health care. According to McClintock (2004), 69% of Canadians don’t volunteer because they “do not have extra time”, and 38% don’t volunteer because they give money instead of time. If Brazilians adapted this mindset, the system of helping one another in Paraisópolis would fall to pieces and every one would be back to having inadequate care. Time is something that is precious to all of us, but in Paraisópolis, it is something most residents are willing to give for the best interest of their neighbors.

Also, each nurse and physician employed by the hospital, gave up the comfort of working in a first class facility, to go into the slums, and risk their safety every day to serve their fellow human being. These health care professionals did not just stay in the clinic and wait for the people to come to them; they also went out to the patients’ homes at least once a month to check up on them. It’s very hard for certain families who work full time to take the family memebrs to appointments, and these employees take that into consideration, and walk all over the slums, risking their safety, to help get care to these families.

If western philanthropy consisted of health care professionals going into the ghetto to help a fellow human being get the health care they deserve, our community would be a better place. In North America, we forget that there are other ways to be charitable, and focus only on the financial help we can provide, when sometimes, all someone needs, is a helping hand; sometimes it is better to give a little love, than a couple of bucks

Works cited

Albert Einstein (2009). Responsabilidade Social. Albert Einstein: Sociedade Beneficente Israelita Brasileira. Retrieved on September 24, 2013 from http://www.einstein.br/responsabilidade-social/Paginas/Responsabilidade-social.aspx

Jeronymo, H. (2013) Personal experience and observations of Paraisópolis and Einstein clinics.

McClintock, N. (2004). Understanding Canadian Volunteers; p.8. Canadian centre for Philanthropy. Retrieved on September 25, 2013 from http://www.imaginecanada.ca/files/www/en/giving/reports/understanding_volunteers.pdf

Sertich, A. (March 16, 2010). Paraiso-polis. Favela Chic. Retrieved on September 25, 2013 from http://favelissues.com/2010/03/16/favela-chic-paraisopolis/

Vilicic, F., Bergamo, G., Salvo, M., & Duarte, S. ( December 7, 2010). Violência em Paraisópolis, a segunda maior favela da cidade. VEJA: São Paulo. Retrieved on September 25, 2013 from http://vejasp.abril.com.br/materia/violencia-em-paraisopolis-segunda-maior-favela-da-cidade

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Trends in Diaspora Philanthropy as represented by The Optimists of Bangladesh and USA

By Doug Bennet

The pictures are horrifying… the sort that newspaper editors decide not to publish, for reasons of taste and human dignity (and subscriber backlash).

Faces of lifeless children caked in concrete dust, bodies buried in rubble. Female arms and legs protruding from pancaked concrete floors of the crumpled factory, colourful clothing contrasting against the grey ruins. Rescuers tugging heroically, too often fruitlessly. Sudden, catastrophic death everywhere.

The collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza clothing factory in the Savar district of Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, killed 1,129 people, most of them young women. Another 2,515 were injured or maimed. The event shocked the world and put a searing spotlight on the worst excesses of global capitalism and blind consumerism.

For The Optimists, a Bangladesh-focused diaspora charity formed in 2000, Rana Plaza was just the latest call to action, if the most tragic in scale. The organization quickly posted graphic photos on its website as it reached out to supporters for donations.

The Optimists (not to be confused with Optimist International clubs) was established by ex-pat professional Bangladeshis living in New York City. Most of the founders have finance, medicine, or business backgrounds. They represent an increasingly mobile global professional class that has greatly influenced the modern evolution of diaspora philanthropy.

“During the information revolution of the 1980s and 1990s, a new generation of philanthropists emerged from the booming finance and information technology industries,” note the authors of Diaspora Philanthropy: Private Giving and Public Policy, a 2010 study published by Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute. “In the first decade of the twenty-first century, strong economic growth in emerging economies (particularly in South and East Asia) led to the emergence of new philanthropists with direct ties to the developing world.”

Helping The Optimists and diaspora philanthropists everywhere is a powerful tool that an early ex-pat philanthropist, the Scot-American Andrew Carnegie, could not possibly have imagined: the Internet. The charity maintains a website, offers online donations, runs a Facebook page, operates a blog, and publishes online videos. Material is published in both English and Bengali. The Internet “is making it possible for dispersed populations to organize, collaborate, and nurture ties across borders,” observe the authors of Diaspora Philanthropy.

The goal of The Optimists is to both address the symptoms of poverty and also its causes. The group provides underprivileged students with the means to continue their education. The Child Sponsorship Program, for a $135 USD annual donation, funds a student from grade 6 through grade 10. The Special Sponsorship Program is similar. A $310 annual donation supports a student from grade 11 through to a bachelor degree. Candidate students must show promise and must be from “underprivileged, distressed, dispossessed, orphaned, deprived, broken and/or vulnerable families,” according to the group’s website.

“Many children from rural areas in Bangladesh are unable to attend school in their villages because their parents can’t afford it,” says Fahmida (Farah) Ahmed, a New York-based volunteer for The Optimists. “They barely have enough money to sustain life. Most people barely even make a dollar a day in those areas. So sending their kids to school is luxury, not a priority.”

After the Rana Plaza disaster, The Optimists focused on supporting students directly affected by the loss or maiming of mothers or sisters who supported them. On January 17, 2014, the organization announced at an event in Dhaka that it had raised funds to support 81 students in its “Rescue Savar’s Future” program.

Something to think about on the next shopping trip.

Works Cited

E-mail interview with Fahmida (Farah) Ahmed, a New York-based volunteer for The Optimists.

The Optimists website


Asian American Federation, Census Information Center
Profile of New York City’s Bangladeshi Americans: 2013 Edition


Bangladesh history


Savar (Rana Plaza) Building Collapse


World Movement for Democracy
Report on Laws and Regulations Governing Civil Society Organizations in Bangladesh


Newland, Kathleen, Aaron Terrazas, and Roberto Munster. 2010.
Diaspora Philanthrophy: Private Giving and Public Policy.
Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute


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Shah Dola’s Rats—Deformed Messengers of God

Nazia sits guarding the shoes of the worshippers at the shrine of Shah Dola. She places a palm on the head of anyone who comes up to her, giving benediction as they pass her money to put into the shrine’s collection box. Twenty-five year old Nazia lives with microcephaly—a genetic condition in which the skull circumference is several sizes smaller than is normal for the person’s age and sex and is generally associated with some level of mental incapacitation. In local parlance, a microcephalic like Nazia is known as “Shah Dolay ka chua” (Shah Dola’s rat)—an indelicate allusion to the physical symptoms of her condition, a small skull with a receding forehead, pronounced ears and teeth.

Chuas have had a famous association with the shrine of Shah Dola in the small town of Gujrat in Pakistan. According to legend, the holy man Shah Dola was able to cure infertility in women. The price was for the first-born to be given to him (or his shrine following his death), failing which all subsequent children would be born as chuas. There is varying opinion on whether and how the shrine of Shah Dola has or has not exploited microcephalic children, people’s religious sentiments and superstitious beliefs to bring resources to the shrine and its administrators. While it may well be that, over the centuries, Shah Dola’s shrine has provided sanctuary for children with microcephaly, accusations are widespread that shrine administrators intentionally deformed firstborns given to them by fertility-challenged couples by clamping the heads of the babies in metal caps, restricting their growth and thereby inducing microcephaly. The intentionally-deformed children, it is claimed, were then used or leased out for begging. It seems that this has not been substantiated through evidence, but enough pressure built up through these claims that the shrine was taken over by a government department that administers awqaf, the traditional Islamic charitable trust. The government refutes claims that there is or was any practice of intentional deforming of children or that the shrine has ever exploited microcephalics. Accusations are rife about criminally-organized “begging mafias” associated with the shrine and the collusion of government administrators with these gangs who traffic in people with deformities.

It is easy to see why such claims abound. Chuas are “high-value beggers”, able to solicit twice the amount in daily alms than a civil servant would earn in a day. Their high earning power as beggers is linked to the fact that the deformed have a special status in the minds of the Pakistani rural classes. They are seen as being closer to God, with privileged access to His ear. In one online documentary about the phenomenon, a “chua-master” (a person who “owns” a chua as a means of income) refers to the microcephalic child he begs with as “sain-ji” (a reverent way of addressing a guru) and “malang” (a roving spiritual mendicant). As he roams the streets with his chua, he exhorts people to “give him charity and say a prayer.” Giving to a chua increases your chances of being heard by God because the deformed are “God’s people” – those who are provided for solely in fortuitous ways, like the generosity of strangers. Giving charity to the deformed and associating with them is therefore a trade to attain closeness to God. There is also an element of fear and self-protection to this giving—because they are heard more closely by God, the deformed and the renunciate also have the power to plague you. If you repudiate them or turn your back on them, God in turn may well turn his back on you.
There is a widespread belief in rural Pakistani culture that “providence is written”; everyone comes into the world with an allocation of means and resources and a fortune already accorded by the will of God. That is why a new child in the family is rarely seen as stretching limited resources—it is believed that the child brings resources with them, because God provides for all. The deformed perform a function as God’s messengers; they are incarnate reminders to people about fortune and God’s will. In giving charity to the deformed the givers affirm their faith in providence by becoming instruments of it.

Works Cited



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Durga Puja

sduncan post on January 28th, 2015
Posted in India Tags: , ,

By Dylan Cohen

Durga Puja is a truly vibrant celebration of art, culture and religion. Taking place over a five day period in the South Asian region, Durga Puja is celebrated predominantly by Bengali Hindus. Outside of South Asia, Durga Puja festivities also take place in Bengali Hindu communities all around the world. The largest celebrations of Durga Puja take place in the Indian state of West Bengal , but also hold major importance in the municipal regions of New Delhi and Kolkata. Outside of India, the largest Durga Puja celebrations take place in Bangladesh, where approximately eight percent of the population is Bengali Hindu. The festival celebrates the victory of the goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura. The story of Durga’s victory over Mahishasura manifests itself as a celebratory example of good winning over evil, but also as an important religious example of the power of the female spirit. Durga Puja is known internationally as the largest open air art show, as art and visual representations of the Goddess Durga appear to be the festival’s main focus. However, philanthropy and charity also hold an important role in the Durga Puja, a role that has evolved greatly as the festival’s prominence has caught the attention of multi-national corporations and regional big business.

From a religious standpoint, there are many ritualistic elements to the festival of Durga Puja. “Puja” has a close resemblance to the English definition for “ritual”. Bengali Hindus typically wake up at four am on the first day of the five day festival, to listen to pop culture personalities retelling the epic tale of Durga and Mahishasura. Ritual drummers, known by the name “Dhakis” walk the streets performing prayers and ritualistic dances. Statues of the goddess Durga are also constructed and hand painted, later to be dissolved in water at the end of the five day festival, usually in the river Ganges or a waterway that flows into it. The most well known religious element of Durga Puja, however, are the Pandals. Pandals are outdoor prayer chambers of sorts. They are manually constructed, and are used to perform the “pujas” or prayer rituals within. Pandals have come to take a most well known position amongst all the religious elements involved in Durga Puja, because of the decorative, communal work involved in their design and construction. Pandals are typically highly decorative and usually depict Durga with her children. Pandals can also be themed, as they often are, manifesting the physical characteristics of t.v shows, ancient civilizations and world cultures within their design and construction.

Fundraising and charity also have a part to play within the context of Durga Puja. Historically, local communities would go door to door, fundraising for the actual construction and preparation of the often ornate Pandals. The money not used towards the construction and preparation of the given community’s Pandal would be donated to a charity or cause chosen by the community members themselves. However, with the emergence of multinational private interest, fundraising for the construction of the Pandals has changed drastically. Now, in major urban centres all over northwestern India and Bangladesh, construction of communal Pandals has been funded largely by private corporations and interest groups. At present, when a community does choose to fundraise, it is usually to recognize tradition for symbolic purposes, and not actually required to prepare the Pandal for Durga Puja.

The emergence of private interest funding of Durga Puja-related activities, has changed the character of the festival on a large scale. As mentioned earlier, Durga Puja has been labeled “the largest open air art festival in the world”. This must be due to, at least or in part, to corporate funding of Pandal construction activities, leading to Pandals being bigger, better and more eye catching. This may be a good thing, yet there may be many unknown negative aspects to this shift in funding Durga Puja Pandal construction. Many communities may no longer have a say in terms of how non-pandal construction funds get distributed my corporate funders/sponsors. Construction of Pandals sponsored through corporate sponsorship may not even include a charitable giving aspect to the festival. Research for this short paper was not extensive, and corporate sponsorship of Durga Puja have only been in full swing since the mid 1990’s, thus, the full effects of this change cannot be exhaustively described here. What can be said, is that the grassroots organizing and the communal choosing of charitable causes is quickly shifting to becoming responsibilities of the many private corporations who sponsor Durga Puja Pandal construction and other activities.

Works Cited

Parmita Borah (2 October 2011). Durga Puja- A celebration of Female Supremacy”. EF News International. Retrieved 22 September 2014.

McDaniel, June (2004). Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516791-0 Pp. 214.

Bhattacharya, Tithi. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol 66. No. 4 (Nov. 2007)Tracking the Goddess: Religion, Community and Identity in the Durga Puja Ceremonies of Nineteenth-Century Calcutta. Pp. 916-965.

Gupta, K. (2006). Concise Encyclopedia of India 3rd Edition. New Delhi: Atlantic. Pp. 986. ISBN 81-269-0639-1.

The Hindu Article on Durga Puja”. Chennai, India. 6 August 2009. Retrieved 22 September 2014.

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Filipino Diaspora Philanthropy

By Ezra Mayled

The sense of family is an important part of many cultures; the Filipino culture is no exception. From a culture that is often identified as being “hospitable”, the practice of philanthropy is also present. Over recent years there has been an increase of immigrants coming from the Philippines, with Filipinos being the highest number of permanent residents by top source countries from 2010 to 2012 (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2013). A similar situation can be found in the United States.

Also birthed from the migration of Filipinos to the Western World is what Garchitorena (2007) calls “Filipino Diaspora Philanthropy.” Diaspora meaning, “the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland (Collins English Dictionary, 2012). When Filipinos move overseas they tend to “give back” (Garchitorena, 2007) to their homeland country.

Reasons as to why they give back vary from situation to situation; those who have done well abroad seek ways to share their “wealth or talent with their home country” (Garchitorena, 2007). As I took a second to reflect at how this is true in my own (family) life I see that the Diaspora Philanthropy is evident so who better to discuss the topic than my own Filipino family. Upon asking my father, his reply was “the reason for giving back is gratitude, because we are thankful for what our families have done for us, and we want to share the blessings we have received here in Canada” (P. Mayled, personal communication, September 19, 2014). Another reason for the desire to give back to the homeland is “self gratification in knowing that I have helped someone who is more in need” (N. Pantig, personal communication, September 19, 2014). “After giving back and sending Balikbayan boxes or money, I feel comfortable knowing that people who will be receiving the gift will be a little more comfortable in life themselves” (M. Mayled, personal communication, September 19, 2014).

Methods of giving back which have been briefly mentioned include Balikbayan boxes which are boxes filled with non-perishable food, clothing, health-related items. These Balikbayan boxes are sent directly to families usually on trips to the the Philippines where “there is great personal satisfaction when one can actually meet the person who will benefit from a donation” (Garchitorena, 2007) or by shipping it and the recipient(s) receiving it in approximately 4-5 weeks. Another common method is through money transfer. My family every so often sends money over to their families back in the Philippines, especially to help cover ever-so-expensive health costs for a family member. One other method my family gives back is by donating money through our local church especially to help victims of natural disasters such as typhoons, and landslides.

I believe one of Garchitorena’s (2007) reasoning encompasses why I would personally give back in the near future which is the “compassion for the poor and underprivileged”. I was born and raised in Canada, and have only seen a glimpse of living in the Philippines. With just that slight glimpse I know the way of living in Canada is a hundredfold different (and one could say better) than in the Philippines. I can see them as two completely different worlds. To see how my relatives in the Philippines live and how I live here in Canada makes me count my blessings, and even share them whenever I can out of the compassion of my heart.

Works Cited

Garchitorena, V. P., (2007). Diaspora Philanthropy: The Philippine Experience. Convention on Biological Diversity.

diaspora. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from Dictionary.com website:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/diaspora

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Labor Day in Jamaica

sduncan post on January 28th, 2015
Posted in Central America Tags: , ,

By Kristen Leegstra

In North America, Labour Day is the “last day of summer”, the perfect day to have a barbeque, catch up with friends and family or even go to the beach. This national holiday however, is very different from the country of Jamaica. In Jamaica, Labour Day falls on May 23rd; prior to 1964, Labour Day was known as Empire Day which celebrated the birthday of Queen Victoria, until a bill was passed that created May 23rd as the national volunteering holiday. On this specific day Jamaicans from every community and town, take part in this national movement of generosity and giving. Together as a community they work together to clean roads, fill potholes, paint schools, and numerous other activities.

For this assignment I had the opportunity to interview my sister Natalie and her husband Justin, who was born and raised in Little London, Jamaica. My sister and brother in law mentioned that they have been in Jamaica many times on Labour Day and have been part of this special holiday. Natalie mentions that “it is a beautiful thing to see because these communities have such few possessions and few resources, nevertheless the towns still congregate together to finish the job.” The main focus of giving is that we do it for free and do not expect a gift in return, which is idealized completely in the country of Jamaica through their community contributions on Labour Day. Additionally, many individuals in the impoverished Jamaican communities do not have many possessions, regardless everyone comes together to do their part showing the genuine generosity this country has.

Oftentimes generosity and giving are hand in hand when it comes to acts of volunteering or philanthropy. The act of generosity is shown greatly in this annual tradition as many individuals have fewer resource, yet help each other in ways that make the biggest difference. If there is a person in the community who works with carpentry they will fix up the houses and schools, if someone is a painter they will use their resources to help paint the schools. From these examples we may see that despite the little materials they have they utilize their abilities for the benefit of others. This concept of having nothing but giving everything accurately captures the idea of giving as it is a selfless and loving act.

During the interview my sister mentioned that people in Jamaica are very enthusiastic about giving back to the community, and consider Labour Day as an exciting holiday, as the Jamaicans feel very rewarded helping their community. I believe that the mindset the Jamaicans bring to this act of giving is something that we as country need to adapt in our everyday lives. Our fast paced community would greatly benefit from acts of selflessness and giving as it is these acts that bring the community together and help us move forward. The Jamaican community can be an example for us in North America to question what giving is to us and how we can change the world around us by doing little things that make the difference. Countries such as Jamaica come from poverty and struggle, however, with volunteer opportunities such as Labour Day we are shown that the country is very rich in generosity and the act of giving.

Works Cited
Interviewee: Justin & Natalie Pringle ( Brother-in-law and sister)

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