veal thom village, Kompong Speu province – I’ve often thought that a charitable act might just be preoccupation with oneself. When a person gives to a charity, who’s to say that the donation is for the afflicted rather than for the appeasement of the giver’s conscience?
With this in mind, when I was asked to distribute mosquito nets, I reluctantly agreed. And I arrived with my cynicism intact Saturday morning at Veal Thom’s primary school to hand out 430 mosquito nets to 231 families.
When the speeches were done and rice and school uniforms donated by the French NGO Association for Support of Rural Activities handed out, I commenced distribution. Feeling out of place, I quickly handed the nets over to the line of waiting hands, but then stopped short.
The man standing in front of me had no arms.
I panicked and dropped the mosquito net. A villager picked it up and put it on armless man’s shoulder. He smiled at me.
Afterward, I wondered why the man had smiled at me. I had not bought the mosquito nets, and on top of that, I had dropped his net in the dust.
I was not the one to thank.
A boy, proudly wearing his new school uniform, stood, staring at me. His father walked up with a bicycle hauling a bag of rice and a net. He spoke to me in Khmer, and though I do not speak Khmer, it was obvious the day had been a good one.
I realized then that his cause for happiness was understandable: He had been given food and a simple, life-saving device for his family. His son had been given what amounted to a ticket to education.
And the smile of the armless man made more sense. He smiled in my direction, but most probably he smiled at his good fortune. His missing limbs spoke of a pain-ridden past, but for the moment, the future looked hopeful.
And I realized something about charity. Its meaning for the recipient is more profound than for the one who gives. Charity will definitely make someone’s day, and it can even save a life.