Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Tribute to Chen Shu-chu

A Tribute to Chen Shu-chu
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
March 10, 2010

Taitung grocery vendor Chen Shu-chu's name has made the honor role of Asian Pacific region philanthropists, alongside those of several famous international tycoons. She has watched over her tiny grocery stand for nearly fifty years. She makes a meager profit of five to ten NTD on each sale. Her three meals a day consist of plain rice flavored with a little soy sauce. A lunch box is considered a rare extravagance. Such hard work is how she underwrites her individual philanthropical efforts. Many impoverished students and families whom she has never met have had their lives changed by her generosity.

Forbes magazine recently published its list of Asia-Pacific Region philanthropists. Taitung central market grocery vendor Chen Shu-chu made the list. Chen Shu-chu is merely a common grocery vendor. Most of the philanthropists on the list have vast financial resources and international name recognition. The hundreds of millions of dollars they contributed, dwarf the amounts she contributed. But her type of comparison merely shows how uncommon Chen Shu-chu is. She is not famous. She does not have a vast and profitable business empire to support her philanthropy. She came from a poor family, and was forced to drop out of school because of financial hardship. The nickles and dimes she earns are the basis for her charitable giving. She has transmuted the hardships visited upon her by fate, into the adoption of orphans and the construction of libraries, all done quietly without self-promotion.

Chen Shu-chu is living testimony to the premise that man is by nature good. Chen Shu-chu's charitable contributions demonstrate the importance of "common man philanthropy." Approximately 80% of all contributions to non-profit organizations are made by ordinary people such as Chen Shu-chu. The average amount of each contribution is 600 NTD. Obviously many contributions are far less than 600 NTD. Small contributions and regular contributions eventually form a torrent. They enable non-governmental organizations to function and to implement their plans for the future.

By contrast, the large contributions from wealthy consortiums or tycoons often go to their college alma maters, to erect buildings in their own names, or to sponsor lecture series. A common practice is to set up a charitable foundation. This enables them to avoid taxes as well as enhance their public images.

We are convinced that those who promote progress in this less than perfect society are invisible people such as Chen Shu-chu. They do what they can. They do what they believe. They ignore the chaos of the outside world. They do what they are able to as individuals. Small individual charitable contributions are touching precisely because such individuals do not refuse to take action or to contribute because "It's not enough."

Chen Shu-chu's accomplishments are touching not because she had so much to give, but because she had so little to give. Many people think of philanthropy as something one does in one's spare time, with one's spare energy. They tell themselves they will become volunteers "after retirement." This is "surplus-based philanthropy." It takes into account the needs of the outside world only after taking account of one's own needs.

But Chen Shu-chu embodies the philosophy of "shortage-based philanthropy." Her life is spartan to the point of hardship. Yet she contributes more than most people to charity. This is the virtue of small charitable contributions by individuals. Small charitable contributions by individuals are valuable because they represent transcendent human values. They also have an important practical benefit. The Family Support Center and World Vision for example, can support a child for one month on only 1000 NTD. To jointly support a child requires only 300 NTD. Recently Ku Yu-wen won the international "Avant-garde Fashion Design Award." Li Chia-ju, from Tainan County, was the only person to achieve a perfect score on his college entrance exams. Both were children adopted by the Family Support Center. This shows that contributions need not be large. Small contributions can enable recipients to make new lives for themselves. For a mere 300 NTD, one can contribute to a poor child's monthly living expenses. Most people can afford to contribute that much. They merely lack the will or the initiative.

Amidst all the stage lights, Chen Shu-chu's response made her sound like a philosopher in the guise of a grocery vendor. She shared her view of money, opining that "Money to be useful, must be given to those who need it." In response to the accolades, she demurred, saying "It was nothing. Anyone could have done it. It all depends on whether one is willing or unwilling."

Our society has an abundance of clever people who know how to utter the same pretty words as Chen Shu-chu. It has an abundance of people far wealthier than Chen Shui-chu. But Chen Shu-chu's compassion eclipses these clever people with all their money. Eighty percent of all charitable contributions to non-profit organizations on Taiwan are made by individuals. The average amount is a mere 600 NTD. The philanthropical efforts of these anonymous counterparts of Chen Shu-chu restore our belief in human nature. Their simple faith and concrete actions make us realize that philanthropy does not turn its nose up at small contributions, and that the time to contribute is now.

向陳樹菊們致敬:八成慈善捐款每筆平均600元
【聯合報╱社論】
2010.03.10 02:01 am

台東菜販陳樹菊與多名國際富豪一齊登上了亞太慈善英雄榜。她守著五坪大的菜攤近五十年,手上進出是五元、十元的蠅頭小利,三餐吃的是醬油拌飯,便當已是難得的奢侈;就是這樣刻苦積攢出她的個人慈善功業,多少不曾謀面的學子、貧困家庭因她而生命改變。

「富比世」雜誌新近公布的亞太地區慈善英雄,在台東中央市場賣菜的陳樹菊赫然入列。英雄榜上的名字大多帶著顯赫的財力、國際性的知名度,及以億元起算的捐款金額,遠遠勝過陳樹菊這位女菜販。但這樣的排比,更襯托出陳樹菊的不凡:她沒有顯赫聲望,也沒有龐大的營利事業支持她行善,少時因家貧失學的她只是在個人生活上刻苦,累積三、五元的銅板小利成善款,將命運曾加諸她的折磨,昇華為付出,認養孤兒、興建圖書館,而且為善不欲人知。

陳樹菊以她的生命見證,讓人們相信人性的美好。把陳樹菊置放在台灣大眾的慈善捐助行為脈絡中,更可看出由小人物撐起「庶民善行」的重要性。台灣非營利組織的捐款中,約八成是來自像陳樹菊這樣的平凡人,每筆捐款金額平均只在六百元上下,當然許多捐款更少於六百元;一筆筆小額、定期捐助,涓滴成河,維持著民間慈善組織的動能及推展未來計畫的可能性。

相對地,來自財團或富豪的大手筆巨額捐助,不常見於公益團體的捐款名單,而是大抵流向大學母校,或建築留名、或贊助講座;更常見的慈善模式是企業成立基金會,行善之外亦有節稅規劃的功能,並兼公益形象的經營。

我們確信,推動這個不完美社會持續前進的,就是社會中眾多隱而不顯的陳樹菊們。他們總是在各自角落堅持著,做自己相信、做自己做得到的事情,不管它外界紛亂,善盡一己之力就是了。小戶小額慈善捐款的感動人處,正是因為「不因善小而不為」、「不因錢少而不捐」。

陳樹菊事蹟的動人之處,不是在於她的「有餘」,而在她的「不足」。不少人以為,樂善好施是行有餘力時才偶爾為之的點綴行動;投入志工,又常是開下「啊,等我退休之後」的長期支票。這是「有餘」的行善觀,是在滿足自身的需求之後,才考慮到「我」以外的世界。

但陳樹菊體現了「不足」的行善哲學。她生活簡單到幾近刻苦,卻捐出大多數人及不上的善款;這其實也是小戶小額慈善捐款者,共同擁有的德行。小額慈善捐款,非但含蘊了昇華的人性價值,而且也有重大的實際效益。例如家扶中心及世界展望會,認養一名兒童每月只要一千元,助養則只要三百元。最近傳出,榮獲國際「前衛服裝設計獎」的古又文,及台南縣唯一獲得大學學測滿分的李佳儒,皆是「家扶兒」。可見,捐款數額不在大,小額捐款也可能使一個受助者獲得新生。三百元,可以「認助」一位貧童一個月的生活費,也許大多數人都捐得起,只是有無捐輸的心志與行動而已。

面對鎂光燈的包圍,陳樹菊給的答案聽來更像隱身菜肆的哲學家。她看待金錢是:「錢,要給需要的人才有用。」面對得獎而來的讚譽,她則平淡地說:「這沒什麼,大家都可以做,捨得與不捨得而已。」

社會多的是比陳樹菊會說漂亮話的聰明人,也多的是比她有財力的有錢人;但陳樹菊的大慈悲,卻勝過這些聰明人與有錢人。台灣的非營利事業慈善捐款,八成皆是六百元上下的小戶小額,這些陳樹菊們的行善滋養了我們對人性的信心;他們的簡單信念與具體行動,讓我們明白:行善不辭涓滴,而且就在當下。

3 comments:

Boston Kindergarten said...

Dear Chu
May I have the honor to post your wonderful article
http://blog.udn.com/readingclub/4004352
if not, i will delete it right away
many thanks!!

Boston Kindergarten said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dan said...

One thing i do not understand: Ms Chu was first on the front page of the Liberty Times in 2005, for her charity donations. Then Forbes Asia listed her earlier this year and then TIME mag copycatted Forbes a few weeks later and gave her the nod for the 8th spot on the 10 top heroes list. Not bad. and bravo to her. BUT i want to know how the outside media, Forbes and Time, came to know about Ms Chu since her fame modest as it was was only in print and on TV in Chinese language stories. So how did her story come to the attention of Forbes first and then Time. There is a media story here that nobody is touching. why? these things do not happen out of the blue? was a PR agency involved? were some VIPs pushing her name? Who? How? it's a great media inside story. dish.

my blog on this is here:

http://pcofftherails101.blogspot.com/2010/05/chen-shu-chuns-media-arc-began-in-2005.html