Chairman of the Board of the International Charitable Foundation «Ukraine 3000», Kyiv

Academic conference “Trust. Responsibility. Philanthropy”

October 7

 

Reverend Fathers,

Your Excellencies,

Honored Guests,

Dear Friends and Colleagues.

It is my honor to be invited to participate for the third time in the Ecumenical Week organized by the Ukrainian Catholic University. I remember each conference here as a time of personal reflection, inspiring ideas, the creation of fruitful and fulfilling new relationships.

The conference beginning today, entitled – Trust, Responsibility, Philanthropy – will discuss many aspects of philanthropy and charity. I am certain we will look at statistics on charity in our country and other countries, and ways to encourage people to contribute and to become more involved; we will observe model projects and exchange ideas. This analysis – this give-and-take – is extremely important. It will generate new ideas and inspire new forms of cooperation.

Philanthropy in general is very much in a stage of rapid development and change in the world today. Large philanthropists – particularly in the United States and the Middle East – are beginning to work together to attack those problems that no one government or even group of countries is able to address – from promoting huge breakthroughs in medicine, to vaccinating millions, to saving the environment, to computerizing entire continents. They are utilizing the business concepts that made them extremely successful, their skills in strategic planning and assessment, to make these projects more effective than all bureaucracies have been able to do so to date. They are cooperating with growing networks of citizen groups passionate about these causes. This is indeed exciting and inspiring!

In our own country, over the past seven years or so we have also seen major developments in philanthropy, as our newly rich attempt to use their money and skills to address specific social problems. Of course, in many cases, these new Rockefellers are returning to society only a few percentage points of the assets they have take from it. But still, I laud these efforts aimed at improving medicine, education and the arts.

But when we speak of blahodiynist, it is too easy to allocate this sphere as the sole responsibility of the wealthy. It is easy to say – “my own resources are limited, and thus let those who have more money handle these social problems.”

And it is also easy to say, as we were taught to do during the whole Soviet period – “it is the responsibility of the government to take care of health, education, culture, invalids, orphans, etc. etc.” If we see a person in need, we have been programmed to think “tsk, tsk, why doesn’t the bad government take care of that?”

And that is where this whole concept of charity will fail. The poor will say that they would very much like to help, but that they have no money, that they will become involved when they have more resources. The rich will give just enough to be socially acceptable. And all will wait for the almighty government to solve all societal problems.

But charity is not just numbers and statistics, budgets and projects, government programs. These are important to making charity work more effective. But charity at its essence is a spiritual concept, a philosophy of sharing, of finding joy through giving. The Gospel of John in the Bible tells us: “Whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and has no pity on him, how dwells the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love merely in word, neither in speech, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John: 3:17-18).

I want to emphasize – not giving only money and resources, but giving of oneself. Charity can take various forms, but its true definition is “love”.

Mother Teresa said, “It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love put into them that matters.” She said, “Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, kindness, understanding and peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God – the rest will be given.”

Nicholas Berdyayev said: Bread for myself is a material question. Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual one.

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give,” said Khalil Gibran.

I truly feel that here, in the halls of this outstanding and sacred university, we are obligated to concentrate on the issue of responsibility – not “whose responsibility is it?” But “what is my responsibility as a citizen, as a religious and social person, as a human being?”

VOLUNTEERISM ABROAD

We can call our involvement many things. In the developed world, it is “volunteerism”, it is recognized, it is valued, it is rewarded.

A couple of years ago, I took my children to visit the city of my birth, Chicago. We visited museums, a zoo, a theater, a hospital, the city’s cultural center, my university, the youth program run by my very good friend, the mayor’s wife. I enjoyed showing my children places I had seen in my youth. But I was stunned by the number of volunteers I saw in every single place we visited, a phenomenon that had not existed when I was their age.

In the History Museum I met a successful and wealthy attorney who has decided to commit three days a week to leading tours for visitors – because he loves history, children and the city!

I saw a prominent dentist who comes one day a week to clean the aquariums and feed the fish at the Aquarium, because this is his hobby, and because he wants to promote science.

I met college professors who tutored poor children in science and math after school.

And I learned that there were waiting lists of dozens of people at each organization waiting to become volunteers!

There were retired people looking for satisfaction, company and new perspectives; young people exploring different fields and potential jobs; lonely housewives whose children had gone to school; successful career people who needed a respite from the stress of their difficult work; and just individuals who realized that they were happier helping others than just concentrating on themselves.
As Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

I have to say, the new spirit of goodness and sharing in my native city pleasantly surprised me. And I realized that Chicago had become a much better place in the twenty years since I had left it, because a new morality and sense of community was present.

VOLUNTEERISM IN UKRAINE

A 2010 study by the Charities Aid Foundation puts Ukrainians third from last of 153 countries in the world, just ahead of Burundi and Madagascar, in their “World Giving Report.” This foundation claims that in the surveyed month, only 5 percent of Ukrainians gave money, only 14 percent gave time and only 19 percent helped a stranger.

However, I strongly believe that the problem with this study is that the Ukrainians they surveyed do not yet really understand the definitions of charity and volunteering accepted in the world today. Ukrainians do not consider what they do every day to help their children’s schools, their neighbors, their churches, etc. to be “volunteering”.

Like our mothers in the diaspora who spent their lives making and selling varenyky to build our churches, like our fathers who spent all their spare time building our Ukrainian diaspora organizations, clubs (tovarystva) and credit unions, today’s Ukrainians do not call their community work “volunteerism”. They do not consider the good things they do to be “charity”. What they do is not defined in Ukrainian law, especially Ukrainian tax law. Furthermore, mass volunteerism in Ukraine is not organized, coordinated or publicized.

I definitely do not believe any of the countries that scored higher than Ukraine did on the survey by the Charities Aid Foundation can boast thousands of new churches being built – or more correctly, rebuilt – by local communities throughout their nation.

Our definition of charity and volunteerism will definitely change through time, we will abandon the negative legacy of our Soviet past and return to our European roots. Our citizens will begin to understand that doing good deeds, showing love to their neighbors and their community is beneficial to them, their families and society. And that it brings them more satisfaction than they imagined possible.

Over the years my husband was President, I had the opportunity to travel throughout Ukraine and see countless efforts that in the West would be lauded as “volunteerism”. These included church programs run by Orthodox priests, Protestants who found families for abandoned children, Catholics who delivered tons of aid to communities of all religious confessions. This included programs initiated by women to help orphans, and students to clean up the environment.

One of my favorite programs run by my foundation, Ukraine 3000, is called Good Begins with You. It is oriented at encouraging community involvement by school children. Currently, 1200 schools with 100 000 pupils participate. We help the students to design the program, we recognize the best efforts, we help them share their experiences.

I want to say – if the social, cultural, humanitarian and environmental programs I have seen in our program Good Begins with You are indicative of the next generation of Ukrainians, we should be peaceful about our future. If these pupils are not the majority, they need to be, and we need to work to make all our youth become involved, become volunteers.

Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” I call on all the participants of this conference to think about changing themselves and helping to change those around us. To help us to understand that we need to trust in God, feel our personal responsibility, and to encourage not only philanthropy, not only volunteerism, but most important, to encourage love. I will end with my favorite quote from Mother Teresa, her commandments:

Famous Mother Teresa Prayer

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

And finally, a saying I once read.

Past the seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggars and the beaten. Seeing them he cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?” God answered, “I did do something. I made you.”