‘ASK QUESTIONS’?Ann Melia believes a little research can reveal the trustworthy charities.
Giving as rewarding as ever
Claremorris woman pleads with the public not to tar all charities with the same brush
THE Irish are known for their generosity, from helping a neighbour out in tough times to sending aid to developing countries. But with the pay scandals rocking the charity sector before Christmas, many people are having second thoughts about throwing a few euro into a bucket or setting up a direct debit to a charity.
One Claremorris woman is now appealing to the public not to stop giving, saying that people should instead research charities before they decide to donate.
“You have the right to check and ask questions. They [the public] should question and find out. It will make charities much more transparent,” said Ann Melia, who recently visited Ethiopia with the charity Plan Ireland.
After researching charities in 2008, Ann, an administrator at the National University of Ireland Galway, chose to sponsor children in Ethiopia with Plan Ireland. This year, the charity wrote to all its sponsors informing them of a 10km road race called the Great Ethiopian Run, which is held in Addis Ababa. Signing up gave Ann the chance to raise money for the organisation, as well as visit Plan Ireland projects.
“I rang them in the office and thought, ‘I really want to do this’,” said Ann, adding that she always wanted to visit projects in Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia.
Ann joined a group of 16 Plan Ireland fundraisers, including two Plan Ireland leaders, and embarked on a training and fundraising programme in the run-up to the event.
Just days before the 16 set out for Addis Ababa, however, a warning was issued: Any Westerners that decided to enter the run could be targeted in a terrorist attack. Though Ann and many others in the group were disappointed and still wanted to participate, the decision was made not to take the risk.
Instead they watched the race on local TV and arranged to do a run in Awassa, 270km south of the capital. Though Awassa is not at as high an altitude as Addis Ababa, the group had to contend with temperatures ten degrees higher than that of the capital.
“We ran it with Self Help Africa at six in the morning. You could hear the bells of churches … I wore an Ethiopian football jersey, and the children really engaged with me,” she enthused.
Ann started her fundraising effort in September ahead of the trip and raised the required €3,500 through cake sales, coffee mornings and church-gate collections, and thanks to the generosity of businesses in Claremorris.
“All I had to do was walk in the door [of shops]. They were going ‘No problem, Ann, here’s a voucher’. I always spent my money in Claremorris since moving back in 1999. Nobody refused me,” said Ann.
Though the pay scandal at the Central Remedial Clinic is ongoing, Ann said people in Claremorris overlooked that and gave generously. Ann confidently explained that she picked Plan Ireland as it was an organisation where the lowest percentage of money raised goes towards administration.
On the six-day visit, the group visited two to three projects a day that were set up by Plan Ireland. “I wanted to see as much as I could, so I could come home and tell people about it … what I saw was I’m linked to the best charity of choice.”
Ann explained that after projects are set up, Plan Ireland immediately hands the running of the projects over to the local people, and a local Plan coordinator ensures they are run correctly. “It’s all sustainable. Local communities run them.”
Exhausted but elevated after her trip, Ann said she had a ‘great sense of achievement’ and was proud to be involved with the charity. She has already set her sights on another trip to Ethiopia.
“No doubt we are going back next year,” she enthused. But for now, Ann is planning to give talks to groups about Plan Ireland and her experience of the projects, and to continue encouraging people to give to deserving, transparent charities.