Apparently it’s Movember- November with mustaches. Men grow them as a declaration of their commitment to raising awareness for testicular cancer and other men’s health issues. While I find the sight of some of my friends showing their solidarity for a cause quite endearing, I am quite baffled with the question- What next? Mustaches and pink ribbons… what is the point of it all? When we say ‘Raise Awareness’, are we assuming that there are people out there who don’t know such cancer exists? Or is it a mere re-emphasis of the severity of the disease? Are we parading cloaks of philanthropy without wondering who it is we are trying to help?

Perhaps on some level our efforts are more to console our inner need to feel ‘contributing’ rather than having any impact. Where is the formula for 100 women wearing pink on ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ Day = x number of lives saved? Sure there may be runs and associated fund-raisers which rake in proceeds for research. But the overall hullabaloo of corporate sponsorships (Yes- companies do not donate t-shirts for free!) and other related costs would reduce the pool than had the people just gone and donated the money directly.

While I am happy to see that people have an innate desire to do good, ,my fear is that we are picking facadey (invented word) solutions. It’s the same reasoning as sparing ten minutes to buy a beggar a meal to satisfy his hunger as opposed to giving him money and scooting off. We need to see the results or else there’s really no point. It’s time we stepped up and gave more rather than depending on intermediaries like companies and charities to do the dirty work for us while we don a t-shirt and feel smug about having done something. If we are donating for a cause, we need to establish the proportion of the money going towards admin and other crap and how much gets directly into the cause. Especially when it comes to charity events run by organizations whose primary intention is PR.

Seven years ago, I felt a kick in heart pushing me to ‘make a difference’. I was in Chennai and inquired and found an organization that rescues children and abandoned elderly. I took on the ‘Adopt a Child’ scheme which entails a donation of Rs.6,000 a month for her annual education and living costs. Her name is Vatsalya. I felt good telling people about her and an inner glow when they patted me on my back for my so called good heart. Once a year I would visit her with a package of sweets and imitation colorful jewelry, spend half an hour with her, and assuage my conscience. Today- I feel like shit. Having found out that most of this organizations donations is being siphoned to the founder’s account and just enough is being done to portray an image of well-taken care of children to foreign investors- , I’m back to square one of doing zilch.

I still make it a point to visit her whenever I am in Chennai. But I am aware now of what I need to look out for before my next ‘feel good’ endeavor. It’s ironic that doing good involves a bit of cynicism.