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’Tis a Gift

February 26, 2009

I ran into a friend the other day, and I noticed he was wearing an ugly brown shirt that said “Stink 4 Change.” It seemed the sort of thing that invites questions, so I asked him what it was about.

Stink 4 Change is a charitable effort-slash-awareness raiser put on by a local church group. The charity part has them raising money to build a well for the Pokot tribe in Africa. The Pokot only recently stopped being nomadic, and water is essential if they wish to settle and build a community. As it is, only one in five Pokot children live to age five. Thus, the participants are trying to raise $21,000 to build a well that can provide clean water.

The awareness raising part has them living on as few resources as they can get away with for the duration of the program. This means, among other things, that their per diem is one dollar, one t-shirt, and one 2-gallon bucket of water (hence the stink). They have to beg food from people they don’t know. They’re encouraged to give up their iPods, PSPs, and computers (for all but school-related purposes: the participants are mostly high school students).

This got me thinking about other charities that get people involved in more than just a nominal way.

For people who are into fitness, a great way to turn what you love doing into a way to help others is the National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer. This is a yearly event that raises money for breast cancer research. It’s also a Boston Marathon qualifier, for those who really like to run. For those in the U.K., Save the Rhino has an annual London marathon and an annual Kilimanjaro climb, the proceeds of which benefit rhinoceros conservation efforts.

For those who want to get directly involved with individuals, there’s Big Brothers Big Sisters. After a rigorous screening process, you get matched to a child and become a mentor. All you have to do is be there. For a shorter-term, yet more intense, experience, there’s the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s summer camp. If you pass their rigorous screening process, then for one week in the summer you get to be a camp counselor for one camper. If you don’t mind helping someone bathe, dress, or use the toilet and if you’re strong enough to lift, it’s certainly a volunteer option to consider.

For those who want to make a difference in the world, but have neither the time nor the funds to donate, Kiva is the perfect solution. What they do is help poor entrepreneurs around the world grow their businesses by lending them money. As they say on one page at their site, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Kiva borrowers already know how to fish. They just need a loan to buy a net.” The money comes from microloans provided by ordinary people like you and me. You can lend as little as $25, and although they offer no guarantee that your loan will be repaid, statistics bear out an overall 97.8% chance that it will.

So. How do you make a difference in the world?

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