A Tribute to Chen Shu-chu
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
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.
2010.03.10 02:01 am