The Spirit of Giving: The Rationale for Giving

The Spirit of Ubuntu an inescapable web of mutuality and an African frame of mind

The Zulus and Xhosas of South Africa call it “ubuntu”. Ubuntu is a frame of mind – the spirit of community that says that the individual’s welfare is bound up in the welfare of the community. No one is an island unto himself or herself. Every one’s welfare is my business. Ubuntu is enlightened self interest that recognizes that one succeeds if one’s community – be it a village, a region, a country or even humanity and the world – succeeds.

According to one famous exponent of this principle, the Nobel laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “ubuntu is the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality “ Ubuntu “ you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity He has also expounded this concept further by saying: “Ubuntu is a concept that we have in our Bantu languages at home. Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate.

If the world had more ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children. This is God’s dream.” The spirit of ubuntu is subsumed in another saying:

Umuntu, ngumuntu, ngabantu which means A person is a person through other people.

US President Theodore Roosevelt was an advocate of this principle even though he didn’t call it “ubuntu”. In a 1903 address he said: “It is all-essential to the continuance of our healthy national life that we should recognize this community of interest among our people. The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us, and therefore in public life that man is the best representative of each of us who seeks to do good to each by doing good to all; in other words, whose endeavor it is not to represent any special class and promote merely that class’s selfish interests, but to represent all true and honest men of all sections and all classes and to work for their interests by working for our common country

Perhaps the most famous statement of this frame of mind is the poem No man is an island by John Donne:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; ¦any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way: We are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. That is the way the world is made.

At the hinge of history, a story of ubuntu

In the late 1950s, a visionary young Kenyan leader, still in his late 20s, by the name of Tom Mboya, came by the idea of grooming bright young Kenyan high school graduates into a cadre of competent leaders, administrators and bureaucrats who would run the new Kenya that would emerge following independence. The plan he proposed was an airlift of promising young Kenyans for advanced studies overseas. The British colonial rulers of Kenya were very uncooperative. So he turned to America for help. Mboya came to the US to raise money from private sources. He sought the help of many individuals including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to the book “The Bridge” by David Remnick, Along with his new American friends, Mboya helped found the African-American Students Foundation to increase fund-raising. And in the fall of 1959, with the support of the A.A.S.F. and dozens of American universities, the airlift began. Among the 8000 donors were black celebrities such as Jackie Robinson, Sidney Poitier, Mrs. Ralph Bunche and Harry Belafonte and white liberals like Cora Weiss and William X. Scheinman.

In July 1960, to support a second airlift, Mboya sought help from a young, visionary senator from Massachusetts. His name? John Fitzgerald Kennedy. At the time he happened to be the Chairman of a US Senate subcommittee on Africa and was also running for president of the United States.

According to Remnicks book: Mboya approached Kennedy at the family compound in Hyannisport [Massachusetts]…….He [John Kennedy] listened to Mboyas proposal and then gave him a hundred thousand dollars from a family foundation named for his brother Joseph who was killed in the Second World War.

When Kennedy became president in 1961, he expanded the airlift idea to include more anglophone African countries including Nigeria. This became the African Scholarship Program of American Universities (ASPAU). Many bright young Africans were able to avail themselves of this opportunity.

Back to the first airlift of 1959. According to Remnicks book: The airlift was a signal event in the history of Kenya as it approached independence. According to a report conducted by the University of Nairobi, seventy percent of the upper-echelon posts in the post colonial government were staffed by graduates of the airlift. Among them was the environmentalist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Another was a Luo from a village near Lake Victoria, an aspiring economist with a rich musical voice and a confident manner. His name was Barack Hussein Obama. We now know to put the suffix. after his name because his son and namesake is the current President of the United States.

Tom Mboya, John Kennedy, MLK and all the philanthropists mentioned here who supported the A.A.S.F were involved in humanity. They could not have imagined what would happen as a result of their involvement.

The Zulus have another saying: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” which means “A person is a person because of other people.” In the Tswana language of Botswana, the same sentiment translates into: Motho ke motho ka batho. How true!

The Transformative role of education

“The role of a good education as an agent of positive change often exceeds what can be expected, imagined or foreseen” – Dr. Obi Nwasokwa, Chairman, Board of Directors, AEF

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