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MAIL OPINION  By Shana Kongmun


What is charity?

I had an interesting chat with a local businesswoman (and Rotary member!) last night about what charity and community means to Thai people. She pointed out the large number of Rotary Clubs in Chiang Mai and the good works they do noting that Thai people generally do donate to charity but added, “Thai people do charitable work but for them it means giving money, not donating labor.”
Chiang Mai has many charitable organizations that are run by Thais, and in fact, the wise foundation member would appeal to the much larger and broader based local Thai community for funding; Thai people are often extremely generous when it comes to aiding others. The floods in Bangkok are a key case in point, despite the fact that Chiang Mai itself was also hit by flooding, caravans of goods were sent to Bangkok to help the residents there who had lost everything in the floods. There was certainly no shortage of generosity although many were concerned that their donations would not reach their intended recipients.
I had to point out to this local businesswoman that while her observation regarding charity is true of the city, the small villages and the countryside is very different, or at least that has been my experience of many years living in village. Villagers tend to be more insular in that they prefer to help each other first before helping a nameless stranger. But is it any less of a charitable act to help your neighbor out when they have lost everything to a fire or the main breadwinner to disease? Is it more selfish to help the people you see suffering as opposed to those you do not know? When resources are limited, as they usually are in small villages and communities, charity becomes more of how best to help those around you then how best to help everyone else. This can be in the way of funds, labor or even something as generous as taking in a child whose parents have died and raising them side by side with your own children, a common enough occurrence in places where everyone knows everyone else.
In a big city people are more disconnected from their community, from their neighbors and from each other. While Chiang Mai is certainly not the anonymous big city of Bangkok it does offer some anonymity if a person chooses and there is less interaction between those at the upper income tier and those at the lower income tier, unlike in a small village where a family or person’s hardships are visible to all.
So, in this charitable season I have made an effort, albeit ever so small, to highlight functions, events, and to donate not only space in the paper but my own funds to charitable causes big and small. I hope that the newspaper helps to create and reinforce a community feeling, we are, after all, in this together!

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What is charity?