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Donation News The Power of Giving

Eric Schwam Honors Le Chambon-sur-Lignon’s History of Generosity

In 1943, Eric Schwam, his parents, and his grandmother arrived in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a very small town in south-east France, as refugees.

Originally from Vienna, the Jewish family were removed from Austria by the Nazis and held in an internment camp in Rivesaltes until 1942. They, along with hundreds of other Jewish refugees, were sheltered by the town’s citizens through the rest of WWII, hidden in the village’s school. Only 11 when he arrived, Schwam left the village after the war as an adult—though he remained in France, married, became a doctor, and lived the rest of his life in Lyon.

Schwam passed away on Christmas Day 2020, at the age of 90. In early January, a notary contacted Le Chambon-sur-Lignon with surprising news: Schwam’s estate included an exceptionally large bequest to the town. The number is being held in confidence until things are final, but it is at least $2.4 million.

“He was a very discreet gentleman and he didn’t want a lot of publicity about his gesture,” said Denise Vallat, culture and communication assistant at Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.

Jean-Michel Eyraud, Mayor of the village, said that the money will be used to fund youth initiatives and education. Hopefully, it will keep people aware and proud of the massive generosity that is at the heart of the town.

WWII was not the first time Le Chambon-sur-Lignon has opened its gates to those fleeing lethal persecution. In the 17th century, the town sheltered Huguenots (Protestants) from laws requiring their execution. In WWII, it was two Protestant pastors—the spiritual descendants of those refugees—who organized the citizens to shelter between 3000 and 5000 Jewish refugees, transporting many across the border to Switzerland and safety. And today, the village shelters refugees from war zones in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

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Oxfam Rents Trump’s Childhood Home to Refugees

In a Tudor-style home in Queens, New York, Donald Trump spent his earliest years. Today, an anonymous owner rents it out through AirBnB for $750 a night. Apparently, that’s what people pay to stay in an awkwardly-decorated house with a picture of 45 on each wall. The owner, who bought it in March of this year, paid $2.14 million for it, even though the Trump family moved out in 1950 and the current president, who was 4 at the time, probably doesn’t even remember the house.

Even so, it seemed like the right setting for charity Oxfam to make a point. They rented the house for a night, and donated the stay to four resettled refugees: Ghassan Shehadeh (Syria), Uyen Nguyen (Vietnam), Abdi Iftin (Somalia), and Eiman Ali (Somalia).

Three of those four come from countries from which Donald Trump tried to ban refugees.

In a statement, Oxfam said that by bringing the refugees to Trump’s own former home, they are sending a message.

“In the coming weeks, President Trump will announce his decision on the number of refugees the US will resettle in 2018,” the organization said in a statement. “Congress will finalize spending bills, which determine the level of financial support the federal government will dedicate to aiding and resettling refugees. And the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the president’s unconstitutional refugee and Muslim ban.”

According to the UN, this is the era of the highest levels of displacement ever known. There are more refugees worldwide than ever before, and Trump’s stated intentions are to shut our doors tighter than any time since the end of the Vietnam war.

The arranged stay’s message is clear: these people are not abstract numbers. They are individuals, they are closer than we know, and we have a responsibility to open our doors.

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News The Power of Giving

Dismaland Closes, Donates Materials to Refugee Camp in Calais

If you’ve never heard of Dismaland, it’s an art installation in the United Kingdom that was built as a collaboration between a number of street artists. Among those is the artist known as Banksy, who gets most of the credit for it but is far from the only person involved. As the name implies, the piece is a take on Disneyland, and is a decrepit theme park or “bemusment park.” But now, the park is closing, and not because of poor ticket sales.

The artists behind the installation have decided to take it down and send all their timber and fixtures to Calais, where they will be donated to a Syrian refuge camp located nearby.

Banksy is known around the world for his political art, but he’s not the only street artists who’s out there challenging the status quo. And, according to Maddy Myers over at themarysue.com, he’s not really all that well respected among her circle of friends, possibly because he’s the only street artist anyone has ever heard of. He gets the credit for Dismaland, for example, despite all the people involved in it.

And, let’s be honest here, nobody who has heard of Banksy or even cares about street art was particularly shocked by the idea of an art installation that pokes fun at Disney. They’re a huge corporation that has faced criticism along pretty much every line that people can think of, and are an obvious symbol of mass produced art.

But by taking that installation down and donating the lumber to the refugee camp near Calais, those artists are not only doing something actually useful with their time and resources, but they’re making an actual statement about Disney, or corporations, or whatever they feel like. They put a lot of thought and time and work and money into building Dismaland, and now they’re dismantling it and donating the parts. That’s actually a pretty significant gesture, and one which even the most generous of corporations couldn’t possibly replicate.