Published On: Thu, Jan 9th, 2014

Hesitation to Help: Donations and Charities

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“Give a man a fish, and you have fed him once. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

Several times over the years here, we have received appeals from people to help out and donate money to a family that has had the “hardship of the season” fall upon their laps.  Coming at a time of the year where people are giving generously through gifts and charities, one would expect that people would instinctively help out…right?

Not so fast…

It may come as a surprise to some, but many of the locals and the long time foreign residents that live here believe that once you offer a handout here, that hand will keep reaching out for more.  Does that mean we should not donate?  Should we turn our heads and ignore the suffering of the poor?  Well, that really is up to the individual and for each of us to decide.  Donating and giving to charities are, in my opinion, personal acts of kindness that nobody has forced you to make.  When an appeal to a community is made, sure people will donate if they can, but nobody should be called out or shamed because they haven’t given.  Who’s to judge us on our giving trends, especially when they have no clue regarding our financial status?

Living here in Merida, you would have to have blinders on not to see that as a foreigner, the locals look at you as someone that “has more than what I have”.  We are easy marks to ask for money.

A good example of “giving and being taken advantage of” comes from a story we were told from a well-known blogger, who no longer lives in Yucatan.  Their household maid had a daughter, who was looking to attend Beauty School.  The daughter had very little money and asked for help to go to school.   The Blogger made a deal with the daughter – Blogger would pay for her education and the supplies for school, and all that the daughter had to do was attend and bring her the receipts for things she bought.  So the story goes that after several months of repaying the receipts that the daughter was giving, something was getting fishy, and Blogger decided to check up on the daughter.  Turns out, she wasn’t attending school at all, and getting her friends to give her receipts so she could use to “collect” from Blogger.

Upon confronting the daughter, Blogger asked why she did it.  The response was simple, “you have money, and I don’t…you can afford it.”

When we heard this, and several other stories like this, it made us step back and analyze the playing field here.  When the locals and the foreign population are cautioning you to be careful about who and where you donate money in Yucatan, we will always think twice about whether to give generously or not at all.

This is not a blanket indictment of Yucatan’s people, but it is more prevalent problem than most would like to admit.  Just take a look at the streets.  How come if something is not cemented down, locked up, behind armed guard the locals feel that they have the right to take it? Water meters off houses, gates or metal hinges for bodegas torn from their places.  Anything that can be sold at the pawn shop or the recyclers for easy money.  The list could go on…

There is a much larger problem here.  There is lack of respect for surroundings, homes, the city, and yes, even their fellow human.

It is said that “Charity begins at home”.  Maybe the Yucatecans need to begin to show us the way, and to lead by example…


by Erich Briehl

Erich Briehl is a veteran videojournalist/photojournalist who’s work has taken him to Asia and throughout the Americas.  With his beginnings back in 1997, Erich has strived to maintain ethical and professional journalistic standards, while delivering the truth in all stories he presents.

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