Finding the Meaning of Charity in Giving Out Mosquito Nets

By Sho Spaeth
The Cambodia Daily

I've often thought that what is termed a charitable act might in fact be preoccupation with oneself. When a person gives to a charity, who's to say that the donation is for the afflicted rather than for the appeasement of the giver's conscience? 

With this in mind, when I was asked to distribute mosquito nets to villagers, I agreed with reluctance. And I arrived with my cynicism intact on Saturday morning at Veal Thom village's primary school in Kompong Speu province's Phnom Srouch district to hand out 430 mosquito nets to 231 families. 

When the speeches were done and rice and school uniforms donated by the French NGO Association for Support of Rural Activities handed out, I commenced distribution. Feeling out of place, I handed the nets over quickly to the line of waiting hands, but then stopped short. 

The man standing before me had no arms. 

I panicked and dropped the mosquito net. A villager in line picked it up and promptly deposited it on the shoulder of the armless man, who in turn smiled at me.
Afterward, I wondered why the man had smiled at me. I had not bought the mosquito nets, and on top of that, I had dropped his mosquito net in the dust. 

I was not one to thank.

A small boy, proudly wearing his new school uniform, stood, staring at me while I puzzled over this. His father walked up with a bicycle hauling a bag of rice and a mosquito net. He spoke to me in Khmer, and though I did not speak Khmer, it was obvious from his chatter that the day had been a good day.

I realized then that his cause for happiness was understandable: He had been given food and a simple, potentially life-saving device for his family. His son had been given what amounted to a ticket to education. 

And the smile of the armless man made more sense. He smiled in my direction, but most probably he smiled at his good fortune. His missing limbs spoke of a 
pain-ridden past, but for the moment, the future looked hopeful.

And I realized something about charity. Its meaning is more profound from the point of view of the recipient than from the one who gives. Charity might 
not make you a cherub in the morning, but it will definitely make someone's day, or even save a life.