Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Life You Can Save

It was Christmas.  I must have been 8 or 9 because we still lived in Chicago.  My dad and I were Christmas shopping.  It was a cold, but brilliantly sunny day leaving a mall in the suburbs of Chicago.  I remember a woman standing next to her car, her breath visible.  Her car had a flat tire.  Cars were streaming past.  My dad stopped.  I don't remember how many children she had in the car but there were at least two.  My dad started changing the flat tire.  The woman and I stood in the cold.  She kept saying how much she appreciated my dad stopping to help.  It was so cold that day my feet felt like they were frozen to the sidewalk.  

After a few minutes my dad was done, the spare in place, the flat in the trunk.  The woman tried to give my dad some money but he refused to take it.  As I was walking around her car to get back in my warm car, she pressed some money into my hand and told me, "Take this.  Your father is a good man."

When I got back in the car and we started to drive away I opened my hand and showed the money to my dad.  I told him she had given it to me.  My dad said I shouldn't have taken it, but I think he knew I really didn't understand I should have vehemently refused.

This was my upbringing.  This is how my parents nurtured my empathy for others.  My parents, although never rich, always very middle class, were always extremely generous with their time, talents and the little money they had.

I recently read a book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, A Path Appears.  It is the follow up book to "Half the Sky".  It is the "What next?  How do I help?  What can I do?" response to the questions raised in "Half the Sky".

It is about giving, about making a difference.  The book highlights organizations making a significant impact in a variety of ways in this world.  There are stories of children going to school in one of the worst slums in the world, Kibera, Kenya.  Women receiving fistula repair surgery so they can reenter the world, make a living and have a life.  It is a book which inspires me to ask, "What can I do?  How can I do more?"

And I already live this life of trying to make an impact with the young men and women and their families of Team Rwanda.  Like the end of Schindler's List, when Oscar Schindler sees his car and realizes if he had sold it he could have saved more Jews....that is how I always feel.

Referenced in "A Path Appears" was a book by Peter Singer, "A Life You Can Save".  Mr. Singer begins with a simple choice. 

If you were going to work and you saw a small child drowning in a lake would you stop to save that child?  Most of us would immediately jump into the lake to save that child, without hesitation.

He then continues to up the ante, adding more variables to the story.  

Would you save that child if you were wearing brand new shoes?  If you were late to work and would lose your job?  If there were two children and you could only save one?  

Joe Delaney, a Kansas City Chief who played in 1981 and 1982, saved a life of a drowning child, yet lost his own.  Would you have saved that child?

Peter Singer writes about how much should one give.  Should it be a percentage?  Or in his most radical view, should it be everything above what it takes to live a comfortable life?  If you make $500,000 a year, could you live comfortably on $100,000 and give away the other $400,000, thereby saving thousands of lives?

For me, that is a yes.

For others, most of the world, that is a resounding...."yeah, let me think about that one..."

There's a group which began called the 50% League, which by 2008 had over one hundred members.  Do we need to give at 50%?  That is a question only you can answer.

I read this book in December, during the crazy consumerism orgy that is Christmas in the US.  Facebook was nauseating.  All I thought about seeing friends with their third, fourth or fifth new bike, another home remodel, another vacation, another new car, new house, new whatever....how many lives could be saved?

The worst part, people complained in some of the posts.

I am at a loss.

If you were born in the US you have everything.  

Peter Singer also talks about the luck of the draw.  Where you were born and who you were born to?  An African child can rise out of poverty, however, they need help.  A friend once told me she had overheard a conversation between a white tourist and the Rwandan waiter serving him and his daughter at an overpriced tourist/expat flystrip in Kigali.

The man told the waiter, "You know, if you work really hard and save your money, you can go to school in America.  Just keep working."

That waiter probably made $5 for the day.  The man probably tipped him less than 50 cents.

Could we be anymore out of touch with the world?  What did this man do to help the poor?

Luke 21 talks about the wealthy giving their offerings and a widow giving her two coins.  She gave her entire livelihood.  How much can you give?  How much do you need?

I am fortunate because I have a front row seat.  One of the things Peter Singer writes about in his book is that often we feel detached from poverty in far off places like Africa.  Out of sight, out of mind.   It is easy to do.  We are far removed.  But I am your eyes and ears and heart.  I see every day the impact $100 a month gives to the now, 18 young men on this team.  It builds homes for families, sends brothers and sisters to school, educates our cyclists who never were given the opportunity to learn because their lives were so horrifically interrupted by a genocide.

In the end, Peter Singer proposes a comfortable sliding scale based on the tithing principal some Christians follow.  Ten percent.  For those who make less it can be 5%.  I make less.  I'm one of the make less.  I give 10%....and I can do more.

When I was a teenager I remember thinking that my parents could provide more for their family if they didn't give so much money to the church every Sunday.  It was a non negotiable.  They gave.  

We can all affect change.  Of course, I will always fight for the funds to keep this team alive and to expand it to help Ethiopia and Eritrea, but I also understand this is not everyone's passion.  All I ask is you give.  Can we all make 2015 we commit to giving more?  Maybe giving until it hurts just a little bit?  Do not give away used clothes and think you've done your part.  You didn't want them anyway did you?  Did it hurt?

I see change happening with committed people who work here in Rwanda.  They are small they need the help just like we do.  Consider making donations to the following organisations....you will make a difference

Team Rwanda Cycling....I cannot help myself.  We need your support.

African Road.....an incredible organisation run by a good friend of mine.  There are several ways to help.  I purchased ID cards for the Batwa in Burudi.  They now are recognized by the government and afforded all the rights of the citizens of Burundi that they are.

Imidido Project....in our area in Rwanda many people do not have shoes and end up with a preventable disease which causes their lymphatic system to block and results in swelling and infections in the feet.  People cannot work or provide for their families.  Something so simple as providing shoes and treatment can restore a breadwinners capacity to work.










































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