The Friday Charity
Doing good is perhaps an everlasting action that humans do. The givers feel good about it, and the assumption is that the recipients would also feel the same way. But it’s much more complex than that. They might be grateful for the intention, but it takes more than just giving to enable the recipients to feel good.
Philanthropy has its root in the human desire to help each other. The word philanthropy comes from the Greek word “philanthropia” – philo which means loving, fond and anthropos which means human beings. The love of mankind is inseparable from culture. In Indonesia, the culture of giving is rooted in Islamic tradition. Charitable giving is encouraged in Islam – a religion that promotes wealth redistribution instead of accumulation. But the practice of Islamic values in Indonesia is not to be conflated into the idea that Indonesia is an Islamic country – because it is not. Indonesia is merely a country with a high Muslim population and people in general acknowledge and embrace Islamic values in their altruistic activism.
Around mid-2018 to early 2019, nasi jumat – a new religio-cultural collective charity action, emerged in Indonesia. It is unclear where the movement originated, but it has since been duplicated in almost every Indonesia’s province. Nasi is an Indonesian word for ‘rice’, while jumat means ‘Friday’. It is therefore a form of charity distributed every Friday, where the recipients are provided with a rice box, which usually consists of rice, meat or fish, vegetables, and fruit.
But why Friday? Why not any other day? Friday is considered the holiest day in Islam and it bears a significant meaning amongst Muslims. It is the day when Adam was created, expelled from Paradise with Eve, and the day he died. While Muslims are obliged to pray five times a day, the Friday prayer is a special one. Friday is the day in which the reward of good deeds is multiplied by God. So, you will therefore not be surprised when Muslims engage in charitable giving on a Friday.
We spoke to one of the caterers about how the movement works, how many people usually donate, how the food is distributed, as well as how the targeted recipients as the receiving end feel about the programme. The way Nasi Jumat works is that an initiator – it can be an individual, a group, or a collective body, acts as the responsible party for collecting the donation, purchasing the food, ensuring its distribution to the targeted recipients, and sending the proof to the individual donors. The targeted recipients are usually people who attend the Friday prayer, children who live in orphanages, as well as deprived individuals and households.
The caterer receives a weekly order from an individual who initiates Nasi Jumat in Gorontalo. She said that during the beginning of the movement, the order can sometimes reach Rp. 10million a month, which is equivalent to 2,000 boxes of Nasi Jumat. The caterer here also acts as the responsible party for distributing the food to the targeted recipients. She will then send the proof of charity food distribution to the initiator. This movement is able to impact both the catering business and the recipients. It keeps people’s stomachs away from hunger and it generates income for the caterers. The above is minuscule compares to a large-scale Nasi Jumat movement located in Indonesia’s Java Island. Relawan Nasi Jumat, for example, is a movement that collaborates with 100 small restaurants and home catering businesses in an effort to support the local economy through partaking in this initiative.
Given the localised nature of the movement, people are familiar with the nature of the programme and even those who have no involvement with the initiative feel as if they can conclude that this is a positive movement that has brought enormous benefits to the targeted communities. But, is it? Perhaps for some people giving should just be giving. There should be no mathematical calculation concerning its impacts and consequences to the recipients. But the effective altruism movement – an aspiration to find and utilise the most effective ways to help people, disagrees with the emotional and irrational nature of giving that contributes very little to addressing societal challenges. The argument is that the helper should consider the utility of the aid. For example, choosing between saving a Picasso painting worth a million dollars or a child – the effective altruist would opt for saving the painting because the philanthropist can then sell the painting and use the money to help millions of children.
But effective altruism is mainly concentrated on selecting between two contrasting causes, when actually, what is also needed is the accuracy of the altruistic practice. The problem of nasi jumat is not choosing between two different causes. The case here is not some moral, dilemmatic quest of choosing between saving five parties but ending another’s life or ending one to protect five lives. It is about whether the two target options: both are of equal number, should be prioritised than the other in regards to the intended purpose of the charity and the identifiable purpose. It is about making the motive clear. Is it simply sharing food, sharing happiness, or addressing hunger? who are the deserving categories? What brings people who pray at the Mosques, the orphans, and deprived individuals into one category?
However, is making a sound choice of donation based on impact is enough? There is another issue that the caterer raised about nasi jumat. The proof of food distribution that the givers want is photographs of the recipients receiving the food. But the targeted recipients were oftentimes unwilling to have their photos taken. They said: “If you don’t want to give sincerely then just don’t. Rather than taking our pictures”. Accounting for the recipients’ feelings is important because doing the opposite is simply an inhumane way of helping your fellow humans.
An effective altruist will probably consider the requirement of photographic proof as rational. For the programme to be sustainable, the givers should have the incentive to donate again – and that proof is their incentive. But even rationality should not negate the emotional impacts of one’s actions. Instead of photographs, why doesn’t the initiator communicate another solution to the givers – for instance, providing the givers with proof of food purchase as well as an accounting of in which location/place the food was distributed, how many were distributed in each location/place.
Nasi Jumat at the moment is a mere act of good deed. But it could do more than that. It could protect lives by ensuring that it prioritises the most-needed recipients. Apart from that, there needs to be a serious rethinking of the movement’s method of proving distribution and impact. Images of people receiving nasi jumat on social media might once upon a time lead the movement to where it is now – a replicable charitable movement. But it takes more than effective altruism to do good just right. It requires accuracy and sensibility.
This article is featured in JUSTIN Development Review (JDR) Vol. 01 Issue 03 — December 2021