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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Supporting the refugee cause is more than just about money

With one in every 113 people now a refugee, what are you doing to help those that need it the most

Illustration by Gary Clement
Illustration by Gary Clement

The only deliberate choice she made was to leave the man she loved, to honour the brother she loved. Everything else over the course of her long life was out of her control. She probably didn’t think of that one act as a choice. To her it was a given.

I often say we always have choice. Sometimes it’s between a bad, and a worse situation - it’s still a choice that we make. It's out decision, but in reality that’s not true. I realised this when reflecting on the life of the person I am named after - my father's aunt. Because of her, I am one of the world’s haves. She remained a have not.

She was my father's surrogate mother, dying two days shy of seeing in the new year. As is the case when someone is in permanent pain, we say it was for the best. Her lot in life begs for us to think about what is truly important, to realise how lucky we are – whatever our life, and to resolve to do something for others.

Few of us will do it to the extent that my great aunt did.

Hers was a life based on other’s needs. She provided stability for her only brother’s children at a time of great sadness and misery. Palestine had been broken up, and along with it, her family. Her only brother – my paternal grandfather – died of a heart-attack soon after being driven out of his home, and moving into an United Nations Relief and Works Agency white cloth tent – one of many lined up in rows. She was engaged to be married, but took on her dead brother’s children instead of a husband, their mother not able to care for them.

They had nothing. My father was seven and bright. He walked to school for miles every day, and eventually won a United Nations (UN) university scholarship, enabling him to create a life for himself away from the camp, which is how my siblings and I came to be, and have opportunities denied to countless others.

My great aunt never left the camp. The tent was swapped for a less flimsy structure in the increasingly crowded, impoverished refugee camp – the largest in the West Bank.

She lived 70 of her roughly 90 years a refugee. With, and on, very little, deprived of so much.

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Read more from Nima Abu Wardeh:

More attention needed to link between financial woes and mental health

When marriage goes wrong, it's mothers who suffer most

Time to put those late-night online shopping sprees on ice

Teaching financial literacy may mean being cruel to be kind

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One in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee. Around the world, someone is displaced every three seconds, forced from their homes by violence, war and persecution. This, according to the UN.

Ban Ki-moon, the former UN secretary general, once described the global refugee crisis as "not just a crisis of numbers", but "a crisis of solidarity".

Solidarity hinges on support. If a group of people show solidarity, they show support for each other or for another. The special few provide hands-on support. Most don’t have the skill, or the selflessness to do this, but we can still do something. It can be as simple, and easy, as giving away money to a cause. But this involves overcoming a huge fear, which is having less money. If you do overcome this, then which cause do you choose?

I think effective altruism is the way to go. It combines empathy with evidence. The focus is the word effective. This is what Steven Pinker – one of the world’s leading authors on language, the mind and human nature - has to say about it:

"Effective altruism — efforts that actually help people rather than making you feel good or helping you show off — is one of the great new ideas of the 21st century."

It sets out to answer the question: how can we use our resources to help others the most?

It uses evidence and analysis to find out. There are other communities and organisations that set out to measure effectiveness too, such as GiveWell.org. There are people who live by their values, calculating how much they can live on, and donating the rest, others deliberately go into careers that pay very high salaries in order to employ people on the ground doing charitable work that is effective. They are being their most effective, by multiplying their effect.

If this is something that you'd like to do, then 80000hours.org can help you with your high-impact career choice.

It really boils down to what we do with our money.

We each spend on things we don’t need, so think of what effective charities can do with it instead.

My great aunt lived with curfews, gunfire, armed raids. No one chooses to live like that. Political will and justice, not money, is the answer for people in her situation. But for millions of others, there are cures, preventative measures, and help available.

Money: it’s key - you can do a lot with it beside spend it on yourself.

Nima Abu Wardeh is a broadcast journalist, columnist and blogger. Share her journey on finding-nima.com

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