Last week in Kelowna, the New Life Church featured a simulated slum from a Third World country.
Elementary school students were invited to witness the hardships some people suffer around the world. This is part of the Global Citizen Kelowna week. The organization raised $76,400 from the local and federal governments and hired professional actors to re-create a slum, which you can easily find in most North American cities, such as in some sections of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
These places are not the rule in Canada or the United States; however, you do not have to spend $76,000 to find them. A trip to Vancouver would be about $800 for a full bus tour. Also, there are drug users, homeless people, and teenagers asking for money here in Kelowna.
As a person who has travelled and lived in several countries, I find it offensive that any organization is trying to justify its existence by exploiting, indoctrinating and upsetting our elementary school children.
Michelle Bonnet, the event's co-ordinator said it clearly: "Last year, we had kids coming out in tears thinking it was real."
Great job Michelle. You made elementary school kids cry. She also stated that the supposed purpose was to "Create a conversation."
But the reality is that the main result of the slum was to make kids feel guilty - yes, guilty of Canada's success. The differences between Canada and Third World countries are not an accident, as NGOs are trying to make us think: we work hard. We elect responsible governments, are vigilant and make them accountable. We, as a society, do not accept corruption as a norm and we value justice and social equity.
For instance, Mexico has been exploiting its oil by far longer than us. The difference: The Mexican government expropriated and monopolized the oil in 1938, using it for political gain and making it vulnerable to all kinds of corruption. Canada still has a free market. Also, the corruption and mismanagement of assets in Third World countries is widely known and sometimes even encouraged.
People may prefer to pay a bribe than comply with government requirements. I witnessed
the sale of blankets and other essential goods donated by the "international community" to Mexicans in the streets after the 1985 earthquake. Stories of such abuse of international aid are common around the world.
Canada's history is one of hard work, principles, values and care of our fellow citizens. The countries where you find the most slums are often wealthy in resources or other assets and have a rich upper class that is content with the status quo and permits, or even promotes corruption.
However, Canadians can be blind to their own realities: Canadians should stop thinking of themselves as the world's saviours and start caring about those thousands of unemployed, homeless and hopeless people here at home.
A number of NGOs are also showcasing their work at Kelowna's Global Citizen event. We should be cautious of groups trying to survive by tapping into our and our children's emotions. It is documented that some NGOs use more than 80 per cent of their budgets for administrative purposes (salaries and luxury travel) - and may do more harm than good.
A little digging should make us question the supposed ethical goodness of NGOs.
There is little worse than a group acting as if it is more virtuous than others. If you add this to the corruption and bureaucracy in supposedly needy countries and Canadian know-better attitude, you might realize that your contribution is counter-productive.
It is nothing more than a make-good act, without tangible results. If you really want to make a difference, start in your own backyard. Help a neighbour or a friend in distress.
Salomon Rayek is a Kelowna resident and former executive editor of the Jewish Tribune. Email: