Donor Fatigue – What A Tiresome Thought


I was talking to a mate who mentioned he was told recently that some congregations in Melbourne are experiencing donor fatigue,

I recall waking up one morning in Patna, the capital city of Bihar in India. A mate (the one I was talking to) and I were there several years ago, on an unscheduled stop of a mission trip. Our flight from Lucknow to Calcutta was interrupted and we landed there as a result of a mechanical fault and we checked into a dingy hotel courtesy of Sahara Air (or whatever the domestic airline was called).

It was early in the morning and I thought I’d take a walk down the street and look at this city which I may never have a chance to return.

I walked out from the hotel to a cacophony of sounds and a kaleidoscope of colours. It was as though the curtains to a screen in a movie theatre were parted. What hit me though, were not the sight and sound, or even the smell. I was nevertheless looking at scenes which were to etch on my mind forever.

I saw right outside the hotel, women sweeping the footpaths with broken off tree branches full of leaves. These Indian women were not street sweepers though. They were sweeping their homes. They had rolled or stacked away whatever cardboard or newspapers they had been sleeping on, put on stoves and were sweeping an area on which they were going to set the morning’s meal for the family – all right there on the footpaths.

There were also bicycles and trishaws being pushed up and down the streets, with large plywood boards strapped to the rear. Dried cow pads were heaped in rows on these boards. They were for fuel for the women to cook their meals, once they had finished sweeping the footpaths which were to be their dining areas.

Little Indian children were everywhere – the younger ones were not wearing any clothes and the older ones were decked out in torn, oversized and dusty, grimy pieces of clothing which were obviously not intended for them.

I saw some men squatting on curbsides and observing either the children or the women. These were the ones without either bicyles or trishaws and had nowhere to go and no work to do. Some were walking slowly to a town square several hundred meters down the road, presumably to wait for work as daily labour hires.

Although Bihar is one of the poorer states in India, the scenes I observed were repeated right across the other places in India I subsequently visited.

I last went to India maybe 8-9 years ago with Tress – we were on a holiday so the conditions of our travel were different but I continued to observe the same scenes. A period of 8-9 years, especially over a period of aggressive economic growth, may have changed things but I can imagine many places still stuck in the quagmire and left behind by the growth and development of the haves.

In the slums of Calcutta for example, you’d walk through muddy paths with excretion of dogs, cows, goats, pigs and even humans dotting the way through. We’d constantly hop from spot to spot to avoid stepping on them. The paths are smelly, grimy and filthy and they are often the fronts of homes erected on either side with combinations of plywood off cuts, cardboard and plastic sheets. Only very occasionally would you get a brick building.

Once we were at a school started by a mission organisation (Operation Mobilisation) in a slum in Calcutta, which was less than maybe 10mx6m, with corrugated iron sheets for roof and broken bricks and plywood walls and no windows which render the little hut a sweltering oven. It was built right next to a swamp – it could have been a man made pond of some sort. The water was still and was thick and black and pigs, cows and dogs were wading in and out of that toxic looking body of water. Kids were squatting on the edges, also wading in and out.

We were told that it was a good thing it was the dry season. When the rains came, everything we saw and smelled would rise and extend beyond that body of water. The muddy paths would become black streams over which the worst imaginable filth would flow, often into homes.

When I read of storms hitting the West Bengal delta, I imagine the slums in Calcutta being awashed with unspeakable and unimaginable hardships. Those ramshackle huts would be blown away by the weakest of storms and whatever sparse furniture and cooking utensils would be gone.  It wouldn’t have required a strong wind to blow away the tree branches and plastic sheets which made up walls and roofs of those homes on footpaths all over the streets. The dried cow pads would be useless and the stoves would be no more. Diseases would probably claim many lives.

I would wonder how I would explain donor fatigue to them, or to myriads of even worse calamities.

I would perhaps wonder how I explain why I opted for better looking and better quality floor coverings over simpler ones and channeling the difference to where hardships can be alleviated, even if only by a little. Or maybe I can rug up a bit more and save the money on heating, so that I may help some poor soul in Bihar get a new stove.

Donor fatigue? May we somehow overcome this dreaded ill so that others may have resources to overcome far greater ill.

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