Recently a pal invited me to an event sponsored by One Hundred Women that Care, a local Non-Government Organization (or NGO, the term for a charity). Each quarter a hundred women (and, it seems a handful of men) meet with each donating one thousand pesos. Then three local NGOs give their elevator speech explaining their mission with one of the three then receiving the cash. It’s a noble effort with good intentions and negligible effects in terms caring.
An NGO here is very much a business garnering revenue from one business venture, or several. If, after expenses are met, there is any profit the president then decides what money, if any, goes towards the mission statement of providing housing, healthcare, literacy or whatever. You’ll not find a single charity in town with audited financial statements that promote how much of every donation goes to the stated purpose as is required by law in the North.
As opposed to a Dutch woman I had on a recent tour that retired to Thailand two decades. She noticed a nearby village had children not going to school so she created an NGO to raise funds toward the issue. She volunteered her time, as did others, keeping her overhead rate to a mere 3%. I was stunned. In comparison, I’ve served on NGO boards here where 100% of donations go towards overhead.
In an NGO’s defense, once employees are hired, the focus of the NGO has to change. No longer is the mission statement the driving force. First and foremost they must raise enough money to support their staff, just like any business.
When my new pal from Holland mentioned she was here for a month, I asked who was running the NGO in her absence. She explained that after 13 years the NGO had met the goal of providing accessible education to the village so she closed it. I was gob-smacked!
Noting my shock she exclaimed “Cripes, you are just like the reporters!” Explaining to me how she got more international press for closing the NGO upon reaching its mission than she ever did when trying to raise funds to provide educational services. I explained that here, I’ve never known an NGO to close. Sure, their mission statement may have been met decades ago, but as long as they are making money they never close up shop.
It’s all part of the Mexican adage that “Foreigners come to town forming NGOs to line their own pockets.” In San Miguel’s defense, I hear similar stories from folks I meet on tours from around the world explaining to me much the same where they live. That was what made the notion of closing an NGO so intriguing to me, and many others.
I’ve always advocated that if you want to show you care by helping someone, then buy their product of service. Most every week I buy one thousand pesos of Otomi-made Maria dolls. I’m a middle aged man that doesn’t play with dolls, but I know by sunset that day I’ll find folks to give the dolls to as my goal was to support the doll maker.
The same logic can apply to buying one thousand pesos of fruit or vegetables or simply giving a beggar, or anyone working hard for little money, some unexpected cash. It won’t change their lives but can make for a really good day!
When touring the countryside and visiting several cloistered communities I bring along cakes, pies and/or cookies knowing everyone likes dessert. Will leaving cheesecake crumbs behind me change his or her life? Of course not, but it will make that particular day sweeter. I know these men and women devote their lives to constant prayer and working like a dog (well, not my dog). A homemade cookie can provide some welcome comfort.
Plus, as most of us know, real and lasting happiness only comes from helping others.
This notion really hit home last week in the jardin when a pair of women approached me, knowing me from my books and social media where I’ve addressed this notion of helping directly before. Here they wanted to show me shoes they just bought for a poor lad that really needed a new pair. They pointed out they were following my advice on helping people directly and it couldn’t have made my day any sweeter!
by Joseph Toone
- TripAdvisor’s top tour guide in San Miguel de Allende with History and Culture Walking Tours and Joseph Toone Tours.
- Amazon’s best selling author of the San Miguel de Allende’s Secrets book series on history, holidays, tours and living in San Miguel.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed hereby are those of the author and not necessarily those of the San Miguel Times.