[FOUNTAIN]When Giving Is a Name Game

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[FOUNTAIN]When Giving Is a Name Game

"Among those in line in front of the bank was an old woman with a bent back who came to contribute her wedding ring, and a woman, carrying her baby on her back, who came to donate the gold ring the baby received on its first birthday. In that way, Koreans generously gave away their valuables as their country faced economic crisis. Tears came into my eyes because it seemed there could be no other people in the world more good-natured and self-sacrificing than these in Korea."

This was how the Venerable Hyon-gak, an American-born Buddhist monk, described his impression of the nationwide gold-donation campaign during the 1997-98 foreign exchange crisis in a contribution to a vernacular daily Hankyoreh, on Aug.10, 1999. He said his admiration for Koreans grew as he watched Korean children smash their piggy banks to donate money to flood victims. In Korea, newspapers and broadcasting stations lead nationwide fund-raising campaigns whenever a national calamity occurs, whether a natural disaster or accident. People from the president on down to the youngest child will stand in line to donate their money.

Big fund-raising campaigns are also held in France. Every December a "Telethon" is put on by a public TV station to help children with congenital handicaps. The station broadcasts programs for more than 30 hours and the running total sum, donated via telephone, appears in a corner of the TV screen. No indication is given as to who gave or how much each donated. Last December, the station collected about 522 million French francs ($67.8 million) from 1.2 million people. France also raises funds for victims of disasters. But in no cases are contributors' names made public.

In Korea, fund-raising campaigns for the victims of the current severe drought are in full swing. Here, every newspaper carries the names of the donors in big letters. Newspapers are competing to collect the biggest fund as if the amount collected indicated the paper's influence. Urged on by newspapers, politicians and high officials are busy leaving their names on in every paper. This practice may irritate those genuinely charitable contributors that wish to remain anonymous.

Jesus instructed his followers, when committing charitable acts, do not "let thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." Buddhism instructs its believers to help others "naturally," like eating without regard for the food's nutritional benefits. Real charity is hidden. But some say if the newspapers did not carry the list of names, contributions would go down. That says much about the culture of charitable giving in Korea.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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