Giving and Getting: the Nature of Charity

The world is too much with us, late and soon
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers
Little we see in Nature that is ours

This poem fragment from Wordsworth, learnt in the first year of high school, remains stuck firmly in my head these many decades later. To me it was a critique of consumerism, although I suppose in its time it was a critique of industrialism. In either case it was a critique born of nostalgia, a disease that makes letting go difficult, a disease of heart and mind that fears change and newness and the gross manipulations that are our human economy.

If you have ever seen my website or taken one of my classes, you know I dislike nostalgia, even though it would seem to be the base impulse behind all I have ever done professionally: the urge to preserve is a nostalgic urge, no?

ctyd 4doc-77

No. The reason I am in California running the Global Heritage Fund is the same reason I toiled behind the scenes during the creation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor 30 years ago. Because both approached preservation as an economically viable choice about the future, not a desperate nostalgic attempt to hold on to the past.

lock 8 houseS

Right now you and I and everyone else are being hit with end-of-year giving requests from a variety of worthy causes and charities. I have spent the entirety of my 30-plus year career working for non-profit organizations, and now is no exception and this blog is in fact an end-of-year giving request. Right here. But it is also an examination of the nature of charity.

old city merchant

Charity is giving in a way that supports getting. It is the classic “teach a man to fish” paradigm. Our way of doing it involves heritage, which is something indigenous and permanent to place.

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That is Dr. Santiago Giraldo, who has come twice to California in the last year to present our project at Ciudad Perdida in Colombia. It is a model project for many reasons: it incorporates all four of our Preservation By Design® aspects: Conservation Science, Partnerships, Planning, and Community Development. It creates local jobs in tourism and provides infrastructural improvements like bridges and stoves and sanitation and health centers that serve tourists, peasants and indigenous alike. Most importantly, it saves heritage because Conservation is the most sustainable human economy.

Trail up i10 village

I wrote recently about how many environmental organizations were abandoning the Puritanism of the wilderness model, recognizing that the most effective way to conserve some natural areas was through a sustainable USE of the land by a native population. That is what is happening at Ciudad Perdida in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia.

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It is our goal at all of our sites in the developing world. Indeed, the special sauce that makes Global Heritage Fund unique is that we ONLY work in developing regions. We do that because we know that money spent on heritage is wasted unless the local community want to save it. They will do that if it benefits them – economically as well as spiritually. We also work in these places because we recognize conservation as the most sustainable way to develop and improve economies for the future. That’s it.

CP 16 main axis best

Our mission is to save heritage in the developing world, and do it in a way that improves lives, because that is best for the heritage, for the local people, and for the local economy. It gives the lie to Wordsworth, because we can see what is ours in nature and we can get and spend in a way that builds our powers rather than wastes them.

heshui geese 3 copy

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2 Responses to “Giving and Getting: the Nature of Charity”

  1. La Potosina Says:

    love the work you’re doing, too often cultural and heritage sites in the developing world and third world countries are overlooked or paid little attention.

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