Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Responsibility to Give

No one has ever become poor by giving~~Anne Frank

This quote, attributed to a woman who gave us a front row seat into her life as a jew during the Holocaust, should be embraced by all of us who hold on just a little too tightly in our scarcity thinking vs. our potential for abundant living.

Over the past year, I have been devouring books on "Giving".  I am interested in the psychology behind why we give, why we don't and what triggers some to give much while others who have much, give little or none.  I do this for two reasons, one, I'm interested in the dynamics behind my giving, secondly, selfishly, I want to know why people give to Team Rwanda and why they don't and what I can do to move them from not donating to donating.

The first book I read about "giving" was Peter Singer's book, The Life You Can Save.  In a nutshell Singer speaks to the morality of giving.  If you have enough for your basic necessities, food, clothing, shelter and taking care of family obligations, it then becomes your moral duty to give the remainder.  As you can imagine, for most people, in our very self absorbed American bubble, that sounds simply off the deep end radical.  The book keeps upping the ante on your basic giving to or saving others.   In the end, it returns to a more palatable, for most of us, level of giving based on Biblical teaching....the tithe.  10% of what you earn.  Not 10% after taxes, 10%.  If you make $50,000 you give $5,000.  

"But I can't give $5,000, I barely make ends meet."  

Making ends meet is a choice to a large extent.  None of us NEED $300 phones and $75/month service plans.  No one needs cable, a new car, a new couch, a remodel.  Those are needs not wants.  I know, tough to stomach.

I make significantly less than $50,000 a year.  I have a 16 year old Nissan Xterra with 270,000 miles, no debt, a pay as you go phone, and everything I own fits in 5 bins in a closet.  I donate 10%.  I am not poor.  I fully fund my IRA, save additional emergency cash, a must while living in a third world African country, and my splurges consist of upgrading to business when I fly.  I can do more.

The second book by Singer, The Most Good You Can Do, focuses on being most effective with the money you donate.....if you donate.  This one is more difficult to grasp for me because I am in the trenches daily with the team.  It does cost considerably more to bring a young cyclist up through the system and hopefully land them a professional contract than it does to give a kid deworming medication.  

The statistics for deworming are powerful:  increase in nutrition absorption, better school attendance, increase in school performance which all lead to potentially a brighter future.  In Rwanda you can carry them around in a PEZ dispenser and distribute all day long.  You get a lot of bang for your buck with deworming.  But I see another type of change which is not easily quantified when it comes to Team Rwanda.

How do you measure the impact of a cyclist coming onto Team Rwanda?  They represent a country still primarily thought of as the country where people killed each other in a horrific genocide in 1994.  They represent a new Rwanda, a Rwanda committed to the rise of the sport of cycling as a tool for reconciliation and peace.  They put brothers and sisters and children through school, they make money, build houses, support families and exemplify the payoff of hard work, discipline and determination.  Does it save more lives?  I honestly cannot answer that question.  As I see more and more young boys and girls coming to the center, soaking up the atmosphere, hoping the power and strength of Team Rwanda rubs off on them and they race for their nation someday.  What is the price tag?

2015 was a struggle.  Although our budget grew and we had a couple of large supporters behind us, the average Joe, gave less and gave less often.  I am fanatical about answering emails from people asking how they can help.  I send personal thank you's to many smaller donors because, I too, in the grand scheme of things, am a small donor.  

Why?  I want to know why?  What are we doing or not doing?  Why do people close to me, who really know me, know my commitment and passion for helping these young Rwandan cyclists, why do they not give?  Giving a used kit is not giving, it's giving me something you don't want anyway.  At one point you had $300 for the kit.  

One of my theories is...we're too pretty!

After winning the Tour of Rwanda in 2014, President Kagame personally pledged his support by giving us a 4,000 Euro budget per bike to purchase much needed race bikes.  Thanks to our dear friends in the industry (Reynolds Wheels, Pinarello, LOOK, Vittoria, Campagnolo, Selle Italia, Cateye), who believed in us day 1 and supported us when they knew they would get very little exposure, we were able to get a 10,000 Euro bike for 4,000.

"You have 10,000Euro bikes, you're doing just fine, are you kidding me?  I ride a $3,000USD bike."

Here's the deal....those bikes don't feed families, pay stipends, buy glasses, pay hospital bills, and generally look after the day to day well being of the 30 riders and 15 Rwandan staff under our direct care.

That takes money...lots of it.

As I watch our staff move around the compound every day, it's like watching a family all committed to helping the young achieve their dreams.  I have moments of incredible peace as I watch the care in which the day guards trim trees, bushes and pull weeds.  Not in their job description, but they do it out of care.  They feel ownership in the success of all of these young men and women.  What is the price for that?  Is there a rate of return on investment you can quantify?

Many days when it all gets too much, wondering how I will keep the money flowing when so little of it seems to trickle through these days, I realize how invested I have become.  Those of you with children would do anything to help them realize their dreams.  Try feeling that level of responsibility with a family of 45.  If I cannot make a compelling enough case for why people should donate to or invest in this team, they lose.  Have you ever been poor?  Really poor?  Living in a mud house with dirt floors and no water or electricity poor?  

A few months ago, Strangers Drowning, by Larissa MacFarquhar was published.  It highlights several cases of people who give to the extreme.  How much is too much?  Is it immoral to give so much to others and then neglect your own family?  It is a remarkable study into the lives of extreme "do gooders".  I am a moderately extreme "do gooder" who splurges on business class because it keeps me sane enough to keep doing what I do here.  Strangers Drowning is an intriguing read which will stimulate your thoughts about where you fall on the spectrum of giving.

In the last week I gave Little E's mother about $40 for food for the month for his family.  The husband/father is AWOL.  His mother packs towers of carrots for transport to the market making $1 a day.  His mother and I are only separated by the luck of the birth lottery.  Another rider had all his clothes stolen by a jealous neighbor,  and yet another rider had his clothes stolen by the young man he employs to wash his clothes.  Another rider needs glasses.  The oldest rider's oldest son we help put through school.  Jonathan's education is our responsibility. I sobbed on my yoga mat while doing child's pose. This is an average week in my world.  I give 10% and I am not poor yet.  

The other day a big safari land cruiser showed up at our gates with two guests from the US.  They were here to visit the gorillas as they were finishing up their East African safari swing.  They said they were big fans of Team Rwanda and had seen the film, Rising From Ashes.  Our compound is along the road to the Volcanoes National Park where you launch from to see the gorillas.  A gorilla trek is $750....per person...1 hour with the gorillas.  This couple saw the gorillas twice each.  $3,000.  Lord Almighty, what I could do on this compound or with these riders for $3,000.  But, that's not my deal.  This was their trip, they came to visit.  The woman goes to her suitcase and says, "We have a little something for you."  Of course I'm hoping it's money to pay for today's $250 food bill.  

She hands me a used cap...

"Give it to one of your riders."

A cap...I looked at Mr. AM and he read my mind.  We continued our little dog and pony show, they got in their $250/day land cruiser and went on their merry way.

I'm walking back to the house and I couldn't hold back, "A F&*ing CAP!!!!"

Yes...I said "f&*king" really loudly.  I have never been so angry and frustrated to the point of tears.  All that money, yes, enjoy your once in a lifetime trip, but all you could muster is your used cap?  What is wrong with the world?  Where has our sense of responsibility, duty and care for others gone?  Are we so consumed with our own wants that we cannot see the needs of others?  

And then I open my email and there's a hundred dollars from this guy in Michigan who gives every month pretty much.  He pays for a rider's monthly stipend.

I believe we can do better for each other?  Stop drinking Starbucks and you could pay a rider's monthly stipend, send his two siblings to school and help him or her build a house.  $5/day...that is it.

Why don't you give? Why do you give?  Where do you give?  What prompts you to give?  

I need to know because obviously, I've been selling this all wrong because I refuse to believe the world has gone so far south we've stopped caring.  Or maybe, it's so far gone, we're simply in denial of the sadness and tragedy around us.  Then, it's too late.

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