Charity begins at home, says an old adage, and for Indian Americans it means right here in our home—the United States of America.
A quick Google search presents hundreds of U.S. based charitable organizations collecting money for projects and charities in India, primarily run and supported by Indian Americans. Those focused on causes right here in America are rare.
As the percentage of foreign born citizens here in the United States hits an all-time high, thanks to the large immigration waves over the last four decades, we must consider the net effect on our communities if every ethnic group focuses its benevolence and charity on causes just in its country of origin. All this while, our home, the United States of America is struggling to recover from a recession that has ravaged many of our fellow citizens who have lost jobs, their homes and their livelihood and desperately need help. While the federal government can run up deficits to accommodate all the pork barrel projects that the President and Congress would want, the harsh reality is that most state governments like California and cities like San Jose are compelled to make draconian cuts in social services because of their constitutional obligation to balance their budgets. The safety net is hardly there anymore for the neediest among us.
That is where ordinary citizens like us can pitch in right in our community—from a donation of money or your time to your child’s school, the local library, to outreach that allows frail seniors mobility, to the homeless shelters, to job training centers. The list of organizations in need here is growing—we need all the help and generosity right here at home.
Everyone benefits when our community thrives; economic revitalization happens when our fellow citizens are trained to acquire new skills or when schools graduate skilled kids ready to take on jobs, and anyone who needs a helping hand is offered a lift up.
While I realize that we owe a depth of gratitude to the institutions in India, like our schools or colleges, that prepared us for our life here, our obligation to them should come after we help our communities here at home—in our adopted homeland that has welcomed us and nurtured us to get where we are today. It is not only a moral obligation to target our help here at home but also an economic necessity to ensure that the United States remains vibrant and prosperous for our kids to enjoy the same standard of living as us.
Warren Buffet and Bill Gates were in India recently imploring newly minted Indian billionaires to contribute to their charitable foundations! I would hope that upwardly mobile Indian billionaires also start with causes right there in India, just as we must focus on our needs here at home.
Rameysh Ramdas, an SF Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.
Indian Americans should donate to causes that are close to their heart, even if those causes are in India.
True, Charity begins at home, but what is “home?” It is as big as your heart is. If your heart is as big as the world, then the world is your home, not just your little suburb.
Immigrants to the United States are doing their bit (a large “bit,” perhaps) by driving economic growth through their inventiveness, hard work, and efficiency. Immigrants in general and Indian Americans in particular, earn more than the average U.S. worker, pay more in taxes, and have an all-round positive effect in their communities. They are also younger in age, and healthier than the average population which means the load they place on an area’s social services is far below average.
Indian Americans, by a combination of the taxes they pay and the few social services they consume, are already doing their bit for the budgetary problems of California and San Jose. In a country as rich as the United States, school funding, senior support, and homeless shelters are problems that can be easily solved with little or no charitable donations from people like you and me; cutting one or two F-22 Stealth Fighters ($2 billion a piece, not counting operating costs) from the defense budget will go a long way. The money’s there; it is just the political will that’s lacking.
We all donate to charities because they are doing good work in a cause that means something to us—the environment, women’s rights, child health, etc. We want to see our money work hard at making a difference to that cause. We give, because we want to make a difference. In a country like India, even a small donation can go a long way. To take the calculative view, your money spent in India will give you the maximum “feel good per dollar spent.”
India is the country that educated a lot of us, taught us the value of hard work and gave us our identity. She did all this without demanding anything in return (unlike some other countries that require their citizens to come back and work in the community), trusting that if we succeed and prosper, our inherent sense of duty and generosity would ensure that the fruits flow back to those who need it most. We owe it to India, and Indian causes, to say thanks, in whatever small way we can.
Of course, we should participate in the betterment of our local communities—and if there’s one thing that community organization crave more than your money, it is your time. So volunteer! That’s also something that you can’t give to a cause 8,000 miles away in Chennai or Indore.
Finally, Gates and Buffett didn’t ask Indian billionaires to give to their foundations; they simply asked them to give. To any cause, anywhere. Unfortunately, we’re still at a stage where they had to explicitly ask.
P.R. Ganapathy writes from Chennai, India.