Russians Passing the Buck on Charities
Published: June 4, 2014 (Issue # 1814)
I have around 430 friends on Facebook, and plenty of them respond with “like” and so forth to the vacation photos or the article links that I post from time to time.
But in early May I used Facebook for something much more important than holiday snaps. I wrote a post to draw attention to the plight of Valeria Olshanskaya, a woman who has spent decades working for a charity raising funds to help hearing-impaired children. Valeria is battling cancer and now needs financial help herself.
Valeria’s main fundraiser is her daughter, Varvara, who is deaf. And young Varvara, seeing her mother’s desperate situation, has started using the Internet to appeal for donations.
When I drew attention to their situation on Facebook, my 430 friends, mostly Russians, responded with what I can only describe as a deafening silence. In fact the only person who reacted at all was an American. I was deeply grateful to her but felt deflated and a bit let down.
Two weeks later, I remembered that disappointment as I listened to a speech about charity at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Andrei Dubovskov, president and chairman of the board at MTS, a major Russian provider of mobile-phone services, was expressing his own frustration over the poor response from the company’s 70 million subscribers when it makes charity appeals. He said fewer than 0.1 percent of customers ever participate in charitable projects introduced or supported by MTS.
As “the intervention of social networks into our lives has increased dramatically,” Dubovskov said, the avalanche of desperate, unsolicited appeals has come to seem to many people like an attack.
As with any attack, people tend to defend — to protect themselves from what they see as having to deal with sorrow. Dubovskov’s words brought to mind the reaction of a friend, who some time ago received the news that a couple she knew were going through a tragedy. Their daughter had been diagnosed with cancer. Her condition was rapidly getting worse and the outlook was bleak. The girl soon died.
My friend admitted that on first hearing of the situation she had abruptly cut off contact with the family.
“I was in no position to help, and I couldn’t face either the girl, who was just vanishing, or talking to her parents,” she said, trying to explain.
At the Economic Forum, Russians’ limp response to charitable appeals was also taken up by Maria Chertok, director of the Russian office of the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF). She said the organization’s 2013 World Giving Index showed that a mere 6 percent of Russians donated money to a charitable cause — even in a way as simple as giving a bit of change to street beggars.
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