Hello to the GEM Nation from an exhausted, excited, and grateful traveler! I’m currently on a work project, shooting a series of videos for Opportunity International, a worldwide, micro finance organization that works to give people small loans in order to start their own businesses and hopefully transform their lives, pull themselves from poverty, give their families a better life. It has been an incredible experience, but this week, there’s something else on my mind…
On the plane from the Dominican Republic to Nicaragua earlier this week, I had the privilege of reading an advance copy of my friend Steve Peifer’s book. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to read and review an advanced copy of anything before – maybe a friend’s college paper years ago? So I count it as an extreme privilege that he allowed me to read the account of his story, the story of a man who journeyed to Africa for what was originally supposed to be a year of volunteering at a boarding school in Kenya, only to find himself further drawn to Africa, its people, and its problem of hunger. Steve stayed for more than a decade (and is still there), creating, not only a feeding program for the children in villages throughout Kenya’s Rift Valley, but eventually introducing computer programs to these children, giving them a chance at education they never could’ve dreamed of having. Steve went on to win a CNN Hero award, for “Championing Children.” His book is called A Dream So Big: Our Unlikely Journey to End the Tears of Hunger. Steve is one of the most hilarious and humble guys I know, and will probably be appalled that I’m mentioning him here. He is humble, so he won’t tell you that he has made unbelievable strides in alleviating the hunger of thousands of children in Kenya. He’s dedicated his life to the cause, after initially feeling incredibly unfit for the job. He’s committed to living half a world away from what was once his home because he believes that somehow, even if it’s just a little, he can make a difference in the lives of people that in the past, he didn’t give a second thought. I think you’re going to want to read his book.
Now, I say all that to say this: not all of us are Steve. Heck, in the beginning, Steve didn’t have a clue he was “a Steve.” But my point is, most of us are not going to trek around the world and end up starting foundations or organizations to address these huge needs. Most of us won’t have the opportunity to get our feet on the ground and get hands-on and get hands dirty and touch lives half a world away. And that’s okay.
But here’s the catch: that doesn’t mean you can’t help from right where you’re sitting now. In fact, you can give and help without even leaving the comfort of your couch. Because look, if you’re sitting there and reading this post… and you have a couch, and you have a home… and you have internet… then you have a lot more than most around the world. I often feel that if you are in a position where you have more than most (and let’s be honest, many of us have not necessarily earned it… ), what is keeping you from giving to those who don’t, from helping those who maybe just have not had the same breaks, opportunities, inherent freedoms, simple things that you and I take for granted?
Giving starts at home, and I wanted to just throw out a couple of options for you, whether you’re busy or not, mom or not, employed or not – it’s amazing how many ways there are to give back… and how easy it is!
*DONATE CLOTHES: Ladies (and gents), go through your closets! I’m willing to bet you’ll find some items in there you didn’t even remember you had. And if you didn’t… do you reeeeally need to keep them around? My theory is that if I forgot it was in the closet, I don’t need it, but I bet there’s someone else who really does.
Salvation Army and Goodwill will take them, and in your area, there might be an organization or two that help disadvantaged people dress for success. They take business attire to get people ready for job applications, people who might not be able to otherwise afford it. Back in the day, our very own Rene gave me some of her old business attire to outfit me for reporting success. Six years later, I cleaned some of it out of my closet and am passing it on to someone who needs it more than I do. A gift from Rene that keeps on giving!
*FOREGO IT! I recently stumbled upon a new app that you can get for your phone, something that makes donating to awesome causes truly easy. And it’s all about spending just a little less. With the Forgo app, you simply decide “Maybe I don’t need that $4 Starbucks coffee today.” And instead of sending $4 into the Starbucks mega corporation, you can allot it to any number of amazing development organizations around the world. One of the Forgo’s partners is actually a group I worked with in Kolkata, called Freeset. They help free women from the sex trade and then teach them viable skills so they can make a living and reestablish their dignity. Often these women are sold into sexual slavery, something most of us can’t even begin to comprehend. I don’t understand it, but I met some of these women, and I know I want to help. So maybe you don’t need that coffee, or that new pair of flats, or that extra meal out this week. Just think about how much of a difference you can make by passing on a coffee.
*BE A MENTOR: Sure, I travel, but one thing I’ve been able to do at home is to mentor a local, disadvantaged middle-school student for about the last year and a half. I see him one hour a week. ONE HOUR. That’s nothing! That’s a couple of your favorite sitcoms. To see how much of an impact you can make with just one hour a week is astounding. His grades and behavior have improved dramatically, and he feels like he has some consistency in his life. He actually wants to do better in school, and all it took was someone being genuinely interested in his life and his success. For.One.Hour. A.Week. He and I did an interview for a campus promotion a few weeks ago. He was asked what it’s meant for him to have a mentor… he looked at me and said, “Amy is my best friend.” That’s the stuff that will crush your heart. And to think, being an influence in this kid’s life was so simple. Check out your local schools – chances are there are some students there who need a good example, a listening ear, and a helping hand.
*GIVE A LITTLE: EMPOWER THE WORLD! With micro-finance organizations like Kiva and Opportunity International, you can give as little as $25 and help the poorest of the poor start a small business. With just 25 bucks, you can help someone transform their situation and their families’ lives… you can give them hope with just the simple click of a mouse. I encourage you to check out those websites and choose a person to donate to. I gave my first Kiva loan to a woman named Consolata in Kenya. $25 helped her to buy a cow, and she is slowly but surely paying back that loan. Pretty easy to affect a life a world away, isn’t it? I’ve seen these organizations work on the ground and have been recently meeting people who have been given small loans. It is truly incredible to see how dire many of their situations have been… and how just a little loan has helped turn their lives around. Totally worth every dollar.
Another great website that makes it all very easy is Global Giving whose tagline is: “The world is full of problems. Global Giving is full of solutions.” There, you can donate small amounts to any number of health, education, disaster relief, and development projects around the world. You choose where your money goes!
*VOLUNTEER WITHOUT EVER LEAVING YOUR HOUSE! There’s an organization called Bankers without Borders that knows that you may not have the time to go build houses or teach kids or work in a soup kitchen… so they ask you to volunteer your skills to help fight global poverty. They want anyone from bankers and finance people to marketing and advertising professionals. They can set you up with as much or as little work as you can handle, and match your business talent to help with projects all over the world, helping to make a difference in the lives of the poor. And you can do it all from behind your computer screen. Did I mention how easy this is?
Look, the problems of the world, its injustices and tragedies, are so numerous that if you try to think about them all at once, you feel overwhelmed and helpless and kind of like, “What’s the point in even trying to help?” Because you feel a little bit like, with as great as the problems are, and as wide and far as they stretch, how in the world can I do anything that’s going to affect these situations? Believe me, you can. Because helping to change one life, at home or in a far corner of the world, is totally worth your time, your money, your effort. Changing others changes YOU. Guaranteed.
Get involved. Give back. You won’t regret it.
Okay GEM nation, have you ever volunteered your time, given money to a project, or helped support someone who needed it? Would love to hear from you, and if you have any ideas or advice for other interested in getting involved in giving back!
More from GEM:
Amy Montalvo is an entrepreneur, a journalist, and an avid sports fan. She’s based in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, but tries to set up her ‘office’ in as many international locations as possible. She’s playing reporter, photographer, editor, writer, and producer at her company, ONEPASS Productions and loving every minute of it. She loves traveling, dancing, meeting new people, and catching up with old friends. She always wants more stamps in her passport but will forever remain Texas loud and proud.