At the moment in the main school foyer, there are several displays and containers for supporting a diverse range of charities and organisations that need help from us to provide care to vulnerable people in our community and overseas. There is the collection box for World Vision’s 40 Hour Famine, baskets filled with sanitary products for Anglican Family Care on the issue of Period Poverty, boxes filled with canned food for Presbyterian Support Otago’s “Kai for Octacan” event, and even a box filled with old bras for Uplift, who are sending donated bras to help women in Tonga. There are also posters around for the Z-Club Movie Night fundraiser, and a fundraiser for our Rowing Club to buy new oars, as well as the occasional casual-dress day supported by gold coins or donations.
As a result, students might be coming home and asking their parents to provide cans, bras, packets of tampons, gold coins, and the rest! Perhaps they raid the pantry, add items to the grocery shopping list, and take coins from the parking meter stash in the car. At times it can feel as if there is always some new charity asking for support and I have heard students complain that they are getting “compassion fatigue.”
While there is a pretty constant flow of requests for help, and we might not be able to support everything that comes our way, I think it is worth stopping for a moment to consider the value of giving to others. One can, one gold coin, one packet of tampons, one old bra – these things are really not that big a deal for us; it doesn’t take much effort or cost too much to provide these items. Yet for those who are on the receiving end of our “easy generosity” – parents in our city struggling to feed their families, children in sub-Saharan Africa who have lost parents in war or to famine, women in our community who have to stay at home because they don’t have sanitary products, or women in Tonga who gain comfort and dignity from the luxury of a bra – these things are life-savers.
Compassion, justice, generosity, and mercy are all concepts at the heart of Christianity. Followers of Christ are called to serve others, even to give our lives for others, just as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and gave his life on the cross. Sacrificial servanthood, being Christ’s hands and feet in the world, and loving others as if they were ourselves, are how we demonstrate the truth God’s love for our world. As James, the brother of Jesus, said in his letter to the church: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2.14-17).
In addition, I think we need to think twice before we say we have “compassion fatigue.” It can be a hassle to constantly be asked for a gold coin, packet of tampons etc - but it is much more difficult to open our hearts to the pain and suffering of others in our world. It is not easy hearing the stories of those have lost loved ones, or been humiliated, or are hungry, and so we can shield ourselves emotionally from this by focussing on the coin or the can rather than on the people. We also have to be aware that compassion fatigue is a genuine condition that can be experienced by those on the front-line of helping others who are in distress; medical staff, veterinarians, rescuers, and others who help in crisis situations can experience stress, burnout, and even PTSD, so we should be careful not to equate our hassle with genuine distress.
Thankfully, the majority of our students get behind the initiatives that other students have brought to their attention; the leaders of Z-Club, the 40 Hour Famine, the Student Council, and the Prefects, as well as many others. They see needs in our community and our world and know that we can make a difference. Because of this, I love seeing so many boxes, posters, containers, and baskets in the foyer. Now, if could just remember to bring in those cans I have put aside!