PROFILE

One woman's generosity

BRUCE WALLACE January 6 1986
PROFILE

One woman's generosity

BRUCE WALLACE January 6 1986

One woman's generosity

PROFILE

Huguette Martin, a 59-year-old St-Laurent, Que., housewife, lives in a province where 63 per cent of respondents in The Maclean’s/Decima Poll said they donated to African relief efforts, compared to a national average of 57 per cent. Martin told Maclean’s that her own decision to contribute was an emotional response to the suffering she saw on television coverage of the Ethiopian famine, rather than a considered decision rooted in any deep political convictions about foreign aid. “My friends and family call me a dreamer,” said Martin. “But I am very lucky and I cannot live alone in my little house and just not think of others.”

Involved: Martin’s responses also put her among the 34 per cent of poll participants who said that they expect to become more directly involved in foreign aid projects in the future rather than relying on government to do the job. Said Martin: “Giving money from government to government is a bad thing.

It never gets to the people who need it.” For Martin and others, whose responses indicated a suspicion that government agencies do not deliver aid directly to people who need it, last year’s fund-raising events—particularly the marathon Live-Aid benefit—were a welcome alternative. The 16-hour televised rock extravaganza raised $1.7 million from Canadians alone. Martin

said she was attracted by organizers’ assurances that donations would be handled privately in order to reach the most devastated parts of Ethopia. Said Martin: “Live Aid showed that there is another way to help. They should repeat it every year.”

Limited!: Still, Martin is not particularly optimistic. Once the clamor over the Ethiopian tragedy subsides, she said, Canadians will likely revert to old habits and expect government to take the lead in foreign aid. “Many people just don’t want to think about that much suffering every day,” she said. “But letting governments handle it all is no solution.” Indeed, Martin expressed frustration that her involvement was limited to financial donations. “I want to help more,” she said. “But hunger is so big, so incomprehensible, that you just don’t know what to do.”

Martin has had her own personal view of poverty, both in Canada and abroad. Raised in the predominantly working-class St-Arsène district of Montreal’s north end, she recalls being “very poor when I was young” but that she lived in a generous household. “My mother,” she added, “taught me that, while we weren’t rich, at least we had something to eat, and she would send me out with a bowl of soup and some bread for the beggars.” However, Martin said she was not prepared for the extreme poverty she encountered when she and her

husband, Walter—he has since retired from Northern Telecom Ltd., where he was a manager—took their four children to live in Turkey for three years beginning in 1968. Said Martin: “Going to Turkey was a shock, not in Istanbul, but in the small villages. That’s where the poverty hit me more.”

Divides: Now, Martin contributes regularly to a variety of causes. “I don’t give big amounts of money because I don’t have a lot,” she said, “but I try to divide it between several charities.” Among those are The Salvation Army, Centraide (United Way) and UNICEF. But she also contributes more when disaster strikes. Last year she responded to appeals for disaster relief after an earthquake rocked Mexico. And the scenes of faminestricken Ethiopia which punctuated the Live Aid broadcast convinced her to

make a donation. “I had the TV on from the beginning until the end,” she said. “Everybody is always saying how young people only think about drugs and themselves, but Live Aid gave me faith in young people.” Martin said she had no easy explanation for the poll’s finding that Quebec respondents were among the country’s most generous contributors to foreign aid. “We have that warm Latin influence,” she said. “We are easily touched, more sensitive, more passionate.” But on the other hand, she added, “we are less realistic.” And, realistically or not, she counts herself among the 44 per cent of those polled who are convinced that hunger can be ended—if there is a will to do it. Said Martin: “It is not the amount you give that will end poverty; it is the act of giving.”

-BRUCE WALLACE in St-Laurent