Counterpunch: I just want to help, don’t call me a charasite
Student, young, idealistic, political. In need of money. The stereotype works against me, because it was for these reasons that I applied for a job at a large, secular, international charity (on an hourly rate, not commission) and was brought on as an advocate for the in-house team.
I’ve since quit, because the stress was damaging my health and interfering with my studies, but I still felt somewhat offended when I read the recent article that labeled human beings, doing their job, parasites.
Charity + parasitism = Charasites? It seems appropriate given the way the public view charity advocates: sneaky, manipulative, naive children who don’t know already that the world isn’t worth saving. On more than one occasion on the street when I invited somebody over with a friendly “Hello”, they wandered over with meagre interest and said half heartedly, “C’mon, give us your best pitch”, as if I were a casual amusement.
This was hardly the most demoralising event one could suffer whilst doing one’s job. There were people who flipped you the finger, who told you ‘where to go’ or accused you of things that weren’t your fault. My work partner and I were at times called pathetic and asked “How dare we?”. At other times we were completely ignored by shopping complexes veritably bristling with people.
Let’s be honest here: being ignored by hundreds of people every day is not nice, especially after the 6am or earlier start that you need to make each morning just to catch public transport to whichever part of the city you’ve been told to work in this week. That’s why only ‘well-meaning, hyper-energetic young people in netball smocks’ survive in such a job, because you need to be that positive.
But here’s the big secret: people can be genuine. I can’t speak for the whole industry, but whilst working I met some of the most inspiring and sincere people I have ever met. I met a man who had worked as a ‘charasite’ for eight years, and when I asked him what he wanted to do with his life he replied, “I only want to help”. Those happy looking people on the street that want to tell you about the dangers of deforestation, overfishing, or how $17 feeds a family of five for three months - they just want to help.
But you’re out on the street, whether it be 40 degrees or raining, and you are expected to impose yourself upon another person going about their own business, and then speak to them. What part of that sounds like fun, especially when you already know the loathing that the public has for ‘charasites’?
As an introvert, this was my absolute worst nightmare, but I was surprisingly good at it. Why? Because I wasn’t just delivering a pre-recorded sales pitch, I was talking to the person. The very first thing that I was told in training was “Do not ‘pitch’ at people”, and every advocate I ever met had amazing ethical standards. It was by no means a rule, but one didn’t sign someone up if they were drunk (yes, it happens) or if they seem emotionally or psychologically unstable or most importantly, incapable of sustaining a long term commitment.
As much as charities want to bleed the poor average working person for every cent they’re worth: they want willing, committed benefactors. I met dozens of people who’d be sponsoring for over a decade, or in several cases multiple decades.
It is an interesting social phenomenon, that when one works for a charity as an advocate, that people blame you for the collective crimes of all other charities and advocates, and treat you accordingly. More than once I was blamed for different charity taking more money out of a bank account than they were supposed to, or for the time when a nasty advocate said something rude, and when I say ‘blamed’, I mean verbally assaulted.
People go out of their way to waste your time by asking pointless questions. They threaten you with physical violence. They call you scum and dehumanise you. This is interesting because nobody (other than advocates) seems to think this is wrong. The thing that I wanted most when working, wasn’t more sign-ups or less hours, I just wanted for people to say, “No thank you”. Just a polite, “I’m not interested” would do. Not an apology, just anything other than blind hate or complete disregard.
Charities are always under pressure to source more money, and this pressure is passed down to managers which is then passed down to advocates in the street who are told that they absolutely have to make the minimum sign-up each day, and meet a weekly quota. They are on their feet all day, talking to strangers in any weather in any location, forced to carry banners and posters and other materials and all the while remain positive and peppy.
Being a charasite is not easy money, it is not easy to do. My manager was conscientious and often offered sick days to people, because it was normal for people to ‘burn out’ and have mental breakdowns. Why is it okay to call these people parasites in the media, and to be downright inhumane to them in the street?
Follow Josh on Twitter at @jakalope242
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