“This election has broadened my view of the world and made me realise how wealthy we are. In order for the world to be a more equal and safer place, we must first individually be a good person. A few dollars from lots of people can make a great impact.“
– Anonymous Balcatta student’s survey response
The Charity Election held on Friday, 13 December was an excellent way to educate the students of Balcatta Senior High School on cost-effective ways to help people in extreme poverty, and on how to choose which charities are most worth donating to. This was done through a week of research on three charities: Seva, Village Enterprise and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). Based on their own research, the students had to vote for one charity of their choice. Each vote increasing the total money donated by $2, and the winning charity received 75% of this money, the charity with the second most votes received 20% of this money, and the third got the remaining 5%.
Ultimately, the winning charity, Seva, received $455 as a result of this election – enough for it to restore eyesight for 9 people with curable blindness who can’t afford surgery! Interviews with students on election day suggested many students felt that eye care was a more important cause because “People in poverty do not have many things. The least they could have is the ability to see.” Students deeply empathised with those who are visually impaired and were touched with the before-and-after photos of those who Seva has helped. Multiple students also resonated with Seva’s cause since some of their family members shared the same fate, and one teacher told her students how her own grandmother had been cured of blindness by the same approach Seva uses!
Village Enterprise and Innovations for Poverty Action also each got a strong share of the votes, and were thoroughly considered by the students, weighing their pros and cons. Some students supported Village Enterprise’s cause in helping those in poverty start their own business, but some were unconvinced, arguing that many of the businesses may fail and then only “be the cause for more poverty”. On the other hand, one student who voted for Village Enterprise argued “Giving people jobs gives them money for anything, including eye care.”
A fair number of students were unsure if their vote should go towards IPA, as the money does not help those in need directly, but it goes towards funding for research. Those who approved of IPA emphasised the importance of supporting “research to find effective and innovative solutions”, which could make other charities more cost-effective, or inspire brand new charities. A student also stated that “IPA finds the most efficient ways to beat poverty on a global scale, whereas the other two charities were more specific.”
The non-profit organization The Life You Can Save, founded by the Australian philosopher and “father of effective altruism” Peter Singer, helped Balcatta students and teachers organise the Charity Election, and provided the donations. By doing this, they not only helped the charities but also helped educate Balcatta’s youth on how they are able to contribute to those who are in need on both a local and global scale. In a survey on election day, 86% of students who’d voted said they’d learned about international giving, and 88% said they’d thought critically about what makes a charity effective.
The charity elections are just the beginning of learning about effective altruism for BSHS’s students and the community. By using evidence and reason, the students will be equipped with the information they need in order to “do the most good possible”. The students are planning to take the lead in organising another Charity Election next year, as well as running a club focused on various problems in the world and ways to contribute to solving them – including not just donating to charities, but also spreading awareness in person and using social media, and writing letters to politicians and other authority figures about important issues.
The teachers shared their input on the charity elections as well. They were proud of the students’ research on the charities, as well as their newfound knowledge on some of the issues surrounding us in the world today: “Hopefully, the students are more aware of the charities they are donating to.” The teachers also hope that the responsibility of wisely choosing which charities to donate to is something the students will take into account in their future. I also hope that in the future, BSHS will hold other events that would benefit those who need help the most and that the charity election is only a starting point in allowing its students to voice their opinions and learn about ways to fix issues in our world today.
Article written by Leann Abastillas (edited by Mr Michael Aird)