I once carried out research in Al Samra, a big well-off village of mostly market traders, situated in the desert 40 kilometers from Khartoum, Sudan. One day I was invited or requested for lunch by the leadership, a group of three distinguished old men. We talked about how this community dealt with social- and family problems.
Then I asked them: “But what do you do in this land of pride and honor if a family simply has no money, no means to buy clothes and the most basic foodstuff for the children”.
The chairman answered: “We will discuss the situation openly, only us three, no other people, men or women or even children present. If the reason is for example serious illness or very bad luck we will help. From time to time we collect tithe from the well-off families. Now we will take some of this money, put them in a small pocket of cotton, and in the middle of the night one of us will place the money under the door to the house in trouble and give a little push so that the cotton pocket will land well inside. Then, when the family finds the money next morning, the pocket is received as a blessing from Allah our Lord”.
I could only accept the explanation but promised myself to check on the reality of this custom around where my work took me. I then realized that it was in fact a general practice and that it worked in all closely knitted communities but not much in Khartoum.
Allah donated, period?
Then you can leave the case face value if you wish: Allah donated, period, but: Shortly before my departure from Sudan the three stoic old men invited me for lunch again. There I confessed my controlling their secret ‘money under the door’ method. They laughed with their faces all wrinkles. Then they ‘confessed’ too. The earthly rationale behind the method is of course to avoid trouble and fighting in the community; if you have an overdog (the donator) and an underdog (the receiver) and the handover of money is taking place in public, “you sow the seeds of hatred in the receiver’s hart, the hatred of the debt of gratitude. Furthermore the risk is that you make a haughty character out of the donator. A person believing so much in his own goodness, that he cannot see his own faults”. In his book: ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ George Orwell put it this way: “A man receiving charity practically always hates his benefactor – it is a fixed characteristic of human nature…”
Handbooks for decent living
Both in the Bible and in the Koran there are so many wise commandments regarding how to live a fruitful life in decency – if you have a wish so to do of course – and both books are using both carrot and stick in order to get us to act accordingly. Matthew 6.1.2. is saying that if you publish your good deeds in the Synagogue and in the street you have got your reward already and can expect nothing more from the Almighty.
This said and quoted it is up to every one of us to decide how we want to handle our crosscultural Giving here in Asia, not much doubt about the need. Cash transfer is quite easy, but for example transfer of technology and equipment cannot be done in anonymity, I suppose. I have seen this problem handled in Africa by engaging the excellent principle of joint venture aid.
May your God be with you.