The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Uncharitable Charity Shops of Singapore.

Singapore is a funny place: even the charity shops are out to con you. I shall explain.

In the UK, there is a tradition of having charity shops on most major High Streets. These are shops which resell donated goods at very, very low prices. If curiosity has ever led you into one of these places, you cannot have failed to have been surprised at the quality of the goods on offer, and the low prices for which they are on sale.

There is, for instance, a charity shop in one London High Street, well known for having designer clothes on sale, for a few pounds each. These are clothes that would cost perhaps a hundred times that, if bought new. Yet, oddly, the clothes look new because they have been donated by people who had only worn them a few times before tiring of them. So, a lucky shopper in any such shop can end up with some very good bargains indeed.

Now, let us compare the UK situation with that in Singapore. There is a shop here called the Salvation Army store. It is built on the same model as the UK stores - it resells goods that are freely donated. Yet, there is a very big difference between the UK charity shops and the Singaporean ones. Here, in Singapore, the items are resold at pretty close to FULL price. There really is very little difference in price between buying the item new, in a conventional store, and secondhand in a charity store - at least, this is true for most goods, excluding books, which are very cheap (because they are usually in very bad condition). This judgement on pricing is made with reference to the differentials observed in the UK between charity shop goods and the original price and the same goods on sale in Singapore's "charity shops".

I found this situation rather startling when I first noticed it. You see, the Singaporean situation goes completely against the idea of a charity shop, as it was originally intended. In the UK such shops are intended to provide a service to people of lesser income so that they can access goods that they might not otherwise be able to afford. In Singapore, however, it is clear that the idea of a "charity shop" is to profit as much as possible from the freely given donations of the people. There is no sense of doing a service to the community - or, at least, the pricing of the goods in the Salvation Army store does not lead one to believe that service is their primary goal.

In a way, it is sad, for it indicates that the pursuit of the almighty dollar (the national obsession of Singapore) has corrupted even the charity sector. There is no real sense of wishing to do a service, here, to help the community: there is only the opportunism that comes from recognizing that goods freely donated have not been paid for, cost nothing and, therefore, if sold at close to the original price, will generate very good profits indeed. How sad.

I cannot recall seeing such uncharitable "charity shops" in any other nation, but Singapore. Perhaps, then, this is another "No.1" that Singapore can be proud of: No.1 in being as uncharitable and mercenary as possible.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:37 PM 


Blogger Xtrocious said...

The only "charity" is in collecting the used items...

Otherwise, it's business as usual...

Uniquely SG for ya...sigh

1:23 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, is shocking that love of the dollar has infected even the charity organizations!

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

charity is no difference from con-job in Singapore, this I can assure you since I have worked for charity for sometimes many years ago, and amazed at how the management lavish themselves using charity money "secretly" and giving rhetorics and nonsensical justification. The management basically give good money to themselves and for those criticize the "greed" culture will be out of the "echleon" and be alienated. I have since then given up on the charity and never give a single cent to any charity.

If you take a look at Ren-Ci, and worldly and materialistic founder monk of Ren-ci who insists that lavishing himself with worldly possession is to keep up with modern time, you will find that charity like civil and public service are no difference.

And by the way, do not be surprise at how low Singapore charity has become because their excuses to justify their lavish high pay and job is to keep up with modern time, a excuses that you find similar with our leadership who advocate high paid equal to talent (or short-of).

9:55 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for the rather sad perspective on charity, here, in Singapore.

It seems that the leaders of this nation are setting a bad example to all, by their need for high salaries, even without commensurate performance (for are they actually half a dozen times better than Obama???)...for all other sectors see a strong need to follow suit: even the charity sector.


11:59 PM  
Blogger beAr said...

actually, i always thought the salvation army in singapore operates a "charity shop" by selling away donated items to get money to fund their other charity work, rather than selling donated items to the poor directly.

that could explain the difference in prices in the two shops. i guess the way to ascertain this is to look up on the buyer profile of the SA charity shop.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

BeAr, who knows where the money goes? How much is swallowed up in salaries and administrative costs? At least if a charity shop sells directly to the poor we know that people are really benefitting. As it is, we cannot know that.

The other thing about is that, this particular model requires the charity of the customer,too - for they have to be charitable to buy goods at less than perfect condition, but almost full price. I don't think it is a good model.

Thanks for your comment.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"At least if a charity shop sells directly to the poor we know that people are really benefitting."

aren't you also assuming that in the uk model, ONLY the poor shop? besides, if it were branded goods you are talking about, isn't ot plausible that these shops would attract the (cheap but) well-heeled rather than the homeless? if so, there is some justification to the singaporean model which you criticise, since monies can be raised instead.

1:56 AM  
Anonymous ks said...

Many charity shops in the UK still do have very reduced prices for quality goods. When we visit, we always stock up on very good childrens' literature and games which are extremely expensive in Singapore, but could cost as little as 5 pence there.

But, some charity shops in the UK, including Oxfam, have enormous prices for goods. But, maybe this is a way for the wealthy (those who like to flaunt it) to walk into a charity shop without feeling that they are 'losing face'

As an interesting comparison, you should have a look at Singapore craigslist or the Singapore yahoogroup for Freecycle. In the UK I was able to collect some beautiful, unwanted treasures. But, here you'll find ads such as:

Wanted: new purse, good condition, must be branded

To give: stand fan, motor not working


To give: leather sofa, leather worn-out


12:33 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, KS, there is a social stigma attached to most charity shops such that the wealthy won't shop there.

Thanks for the observations on Singapore!

4:08 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. the rich shopping in Charity shops in the UK...generally this tends not to happen, much, particularly in the shops which set low prices. This is about, of course, not being seen in such a place. I think that Singaporeans should understand this as "not losing face" noted above by KS and by myself, too.

So, generally, low priced Charity shops do provide a good service for the poor that is not available in Singapore.

The question is: why deny cheap goods to ALL the poor, when you are scared of a few rich people taking advantage? Generally they don't...and the loss, in Singapore, of the affordability of goods to the poor is too great to even think about such an excuse for the present situation.

Thanks for your thought though.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Some well-off people like to shop in charity shops to find rare items such as books, old records or unusual clothes.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Dave, you are right - but I feel that such shops shouldn't price out the poor, as the ones in Singapore try their best to do.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Archana Chari said...

The charity shops - Salvation Army stores donate 0.91 for every dollar earned to charity. Also, the middle income group and sometimes even the rich shop there. I personally feel, this is a better model as it opens more avenues for revenues - which is the case here. I am not getting into, who gets the money debate here

11:47 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Archana, that may be so. However, the Salvation Army has completely failed to understand what Charity shops are traditionally for in the West. They allow POOR people to buy things. Not "middle class and rich people", POOR people. Poor people cannot afford to shop in the Salvation Army in Singapore. It is a very money grabbing institution. I am not impressed. From your detailed knowledge of them, are you connected to them in some way?

12:44 PM  
Blogger ShanghaiSi said...

Hello, I went to the Salvation army in Bukit Timah and nearly passed out at the prices they were asking. Some of their 'donated' items were actually more expensive than retail! I actually pointed this out to the sales people and they just shrugged! Obviously NOT concerned. Furthermore I was treated to a video of how the shop is going through difficult 'economic' times and how they brought in some 'revolutionary' marketers to update the store and make it more 'friendly'. I could have solved all their problems by 'reducing' ridiculously OVERINFLATED prices! Shame!

10:01 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you ShanghaiSi for your confirmation of my observations. That place is outrageous.

What I find darkly funny about this situation is how dumb they are. Everything on sale was donated to them, for free. Thus, selling the items at ANY price, produces good margins. However, they are trying to price gouge people. Of course, this puts people off and stops them buying. Their pure greed is dumb, dumb, dumb. It seems their response to poor sales and revenues is to raise the prices in the hope of securing more money per sale! (Thus snuffing out sales...stupid.)

In the UK charity shops are the cheapest place to shop and serve a good function in making goods more accessible to the poor. I can't see that happening in Singapore.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Alish Greene said...

Yes I agree with you that charity is about benefiting the less fortunate. However, have it even crossed your mind that the money earned from these sales of the free donated items are given to charity organisations? It is another way of helping the less fortunate if you didn't know that. It is not about the greed to profit. As you said "items are resold at pretty close to FULL price". So why not? These profits actually really do go to charity organisations to help the old, the young, the poor and the disabled. With more money being earned, don't you think that the less fortunate can be benefiting from this more? These funds can are used to provide them with medical services that they cannot afford, free textbooks for the children to use to study. Education is the key to success isn't it? By the way you're slamming Singapore's charity shops, it shows that you are only caring for your own wallet. Please, reflect on your own selfish issues, before wanting to garner support from people to be against Singapore's charity shops. An advice from me would be to also check on the company's policies too. You know, you might be wrong about your thinking. Have a good day. P.S. if you want to save money so much, how about not spending a cent at all and watch yourself starve. Don't be a coward and delete this comment.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

“Alish Greene”: you have completely misunderstood what I was trying to say. Furthermore, if you did not know it, some of the things you say come across as offensive and a little dumb.

Singapore’s charity shops have COMPLETELY failed to understand the main utility of charity shops in most societies. They have two purposes. One is to raise money for charity (that you understand). The second is to ALLOW POOR PEOPLE ACCESS TO GOODS THEY COULD NOT OTHERWISE AFFORD. Singapore COMPLETELY FAILS in this regard. They have substituted generosity (allowing poor people to buy), for greed (profiting as much as they can). Yes. Some of the money goes to charitable causes...but much of the money will be consumed in salaries and expenses for the executive. Who knows how much actually ends up doing good?

It seems likely from your offended tone, that you work for the Salvation Army, or a similar charity. If so, you should declare your interest.

You assume that I write on my own behalf. This is not a particularly discerning assumption. I have NO interest in buying stuff from charity shops, in the way you suggest (because I can’t afford to do otherwise). That is off the mark, and somewhat offensive. In all, your comment shows a general lack of understanding of the straight forward English I used and a willingness to misinterpret what I said, to serve your own prejudices. You should take more time to understand what is being said, in future, before you comment.

It is, to my mind, much more important that a charity shop allows the poor to buy things, than it is to raise funds, much of which will be consumed in operating expenses. Furthermore, it is not fair to charge full price, as the Salvation Army does, for goods which are second hand and quite often substandard. That is just being unreasonable. A discounted price is entirely appropriate and much fairer. However, you haven’t considered either concept have you?
By the way, “only caring for my own wallet” is a highly offensive suggestion. I have no interest in charity shops in the sense of saving money for myself. You assume FAR too much to suggest that. Basically, your whole comment is informed by too much assumption and too little actual knowledge.

The overall impression you leave is of an ignorant person, who likes to offend. I am not impressed.

10:47 PM  

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