I've always liked to think of myself as I nice person. I helped my friends with their homework. I volunteered at a homeless shelter. I gave money to charity. Surely I was as ethical as it was possible to be? I have always believed that all of us are fundamentally equal - surely we all believe that! We all have the same right to freedom, health and education. Because of this conviction, I gave money to charities that helped those living in extreme poverty. All was right and proper, and I enjoyed my privileged life relatively untroubled by guilt. I was part of the solution, after all.
A few months ago, I started thinking about things differently. Did I really believe that a child in Ethiopia dying of malaria was equal to me and my friends? Of course I did - any other position would be awful. Was I acting like it? Absolutely not. If I really believed that child was my equal, I would be doing everything I could to help them and others living in such suffering. Not donating a small amount of money to a randomly chosen charity then forgetting about them.
This realisation took a while to sink in. I didn't want to change my lifestyle or admit that I had been so wrong. I made a lot of excuses to myself. I'm only a poor student, what can I do? There are richer people who don't give anything to charity at all! I'm already doing my bit. In the end, none of these excuses convinced me. I had the power to help so many more people in such desperate need at very little cost to myself. How could I justify not using it for a second longer? I came to the conclusion that if I was as "nice" as I claimed to be I needed to give more to charity. Much more. And I needed to think hard about which charities would help the most people with my donations, not just choose one based on an advert I saw in the Big Issue.
There is a community of people who have reached the same conclusion - Giving What We Can. We have pledged to give at least 10% of our income to the organizations we think will use it most effectively to help people living in the developing world. By today's standards, giving this much as a "normal" person (i.e. not a millionaire) is almost unheard of. But there is no escaping our duty to those born into extreme poverty. I hope that, through the work of Giving What We Can and similar organisations, more and more people will start to give more and give more effectively. I hope that we could be the generation to end global poverty.
Pledging to give 10% might be the most important decision I will make in my life. Whatever else happens, I will save and elevate countless lives - the lives of those who most need my help. That's worth giving up a few lattes.
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