Category Archives: Make a Difference

Making the Holidays Happy for Children

Papa with his children

Papa with his children

As we become immersed in the winter holiday season, my thoughts always jump across the ocean to my kids in India. It was just a year ago, November 2012, when I was there with them. It seems a lifetime ago, and so far away. I wish I could visit them many times a year; I miss them so much, and think of them constantly. It was these children who inspired me to write this book about them – their plight and their lives and their promise.

These kids first came into my life in 2005. From that first night I was there, they stole my heart with their laughter, their joy, their mischief, their love – they asked nothing from me, except to be there with them. The Sahoos, who run the orphanage and have dedicated their entire lives to these children, have become my Indian Papa and Mama. They are simply amazing. And in all these years, all my visits, they have never once asked for money from me. Not a dime. I have raised money and donated and bought things of course, but they have never asked anything of me except my love. Not once.

Arriving in India for the first time, March 2005. Pinky and Meena greeted us.

Arriving in India for the first time, March 2005. Pinky and Meena greeted us.

Over the past nearly nine years I have watched these kids grow, from toddlers into adolescents; from adolescents into young men and women. Some, like Santa and Rashikanta, have left the orphanage and gone on to college and work. My Santosh, who was taken out of the orphanage several years ago by his father, lives two hours away in Konark where he has a good life with a wonderful guardian, Pravat, and works in the market at the Sun Temple. He’s a young man now, and we keep up constantly on the internet and via skype calls. He is my son – only one who is too far away.

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With my mother and Santosh at the Konark Sun Temple, November 2012

I will never turn my back on any of them. Too many people have already.

First, for many of them, were their own parents. Although there are true orphans here, whose parents have died – far too many of them are orphaned by poverty, given up by their parents, runaways, taken from abusive homes or even worse. Some were simply abandoned at birth, or victims of child labor.

They have also been abandoned by others who have come through and helped for a while, or promised help, only to leave along the way for various reasons. A lack of agreement over where the money is to be spent, a lack of understanding between American board members and Indian orphanage directors. Some people simply fade away and lose interest, or give up because everything doesn’t go exactly how and when they want it to. These kids get abandoned over and over, in different ways.

As long as I am alive, I will never be one of them.

Me, Mama, Papa and my Mother, November 2012

Me, Mama, Papa and my Mother, November 2012

Papa Sahoo takes nothing. You should see where he lives – at the orphanage with the children, in two simple rooms. He has very little. He wants and needs very little. Everything is for the kids; they are healthy, well fed, well dressed, and happy as one big family. Papa is someone I admire. He’s not perfect – I wish the kids could go to a better school, could learn English better. But they do what they can with what they have. And I will do everything in my power to add to that, to make their lives better and increase the possibility of a good future for these kids.

I love them all from the bottom of my heart. I won’t be one of those who abandon them yet again.

btn_donateCC_LGYou can help – I’m raising money for my next visit, in 2014, to collect and take to spend on needed items such as books, clothing, school tuition, etc. We are also trying to start a longterm foundation fund that will provide a resource to help pay for better schools and college for the kids who are good students and pursue their education. Your donation will be taken and applied 100% to the Servants of India Society home where these children live, in Choudwar Odisha.

A little bit goes a long way in India. These kids deserve a future. Thank you, and happy holidays.

Make a Difference with Kiva Micro-Lending

Have you heard of Kiva? It’s revolutionizing the way we lift people out of poverty. Harvard Economist (and author of The End of Poverty) Jeffrey Sachs says that micro-lending is the single most viable method to end poverty in our lifetimes.

I’ve made numerous loans through Kiva for years. They have always been paid back extremely quickly, and then the money is back in my account to loan again. Most of the loans I have made have been for $25 — this money is pooled with other micro-loans from people around the world, to loan the recipients a few hundred dollars to start a business, buy a sewing machine, or a cow or chickens, or supplies to craft or resell. It’s an amazingly simple way to let someone become self-supporting and support their family, rather than a charity handout. It’s also much more empowering for the recipients.

In fact, the rate of repayment for micro-loans in the developing world is much, much higher than the rate of repayment for traditional credit in the first world — an amazing 98.94% repayment rate!

Now Kiva is making an amazing offer — new lenders can sign up through existing Kiva partners like myself — and then BOTH Kiva lenders get $25 deposited in their account, for free, to loan out. What is there to lose? It’s a win-win-win situation, for the lender and recipient and Kiva.

Click this link to sign up to become a Kiva lender,
giving you and me both $25 to loan!

My last loan was made to Esther (47), in Nairobi, Kenya. My $25, plus other lenders, gave Esther a total $900 loan that she used to buy a stock of clothing to resell, and raw material to make hair wax that she then sold. And the loan was 100% repaid. Esther has been running her business for 12 years, and used this loan to expand her business to support her family.

And in case you’re wondering, 100% of every dollar you lend on Kiva goes directly towards funding loans; Kiva does not take a cut. Furthermore, Kiva does not charge interest to their Field Partners, who administer the loans.

I have also made loans to Sok in Cambodia, a 50-year-old woman who farms for a living and earns $1.50 per day. Sok’s husband is a motorcyle taxi-rickshaw driver and earns $3 per day. Her requested loan of $500 went to buy a new motorbike for her husband, to earn the family additional income so that they can make repairs to their home. I’ve also made loans in The Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan. I re-loaned my Kiva credit, from repayments of past loans, to the group Fe Y Esperanza in Nicaragua, a communal bank of 11 women who have various business ventures; and the Mungu Tubariki Group in Tanzania.

Now, with the money paid back from previous loans and the $25 that Kiva credited me via this promotion, I have just made a new loan — my first loan in India, where Kiva just announced its newest launch! I have often wondered why Kiva did not have loans available in India; it’s because determining how to work in India wasn’t easy. In particular, Kiva loans are subject to Reserve Bank of India regulations that require loan funds sent to non-government microfinance institutions to remain in the country for at least 3 years.

Therefore, any Kiva loan made within India won’t be paid back for 3 years; the Kiva Field Partners will simply hold on to loan funds for the minimum 3-year term before sending repayments back to lenders. The borrower you select will probably repay beforehand, in which case your funds will be recycled to help other local borrowers, maximizing your impact before your funds are returned. That is perfectly fine with me — and so I made my new loan to the Sri Jaggannath Group, a cooperative of four women in Cuttack, Odisha where I visit every time I go to India, and the region where my children’s home that I support is. These women have a general store, and want to use the loan to expand their inventory and increase their stock of items. In the last year, the shop was relocated due to road construction and the move has hurt business. I hope that my Kiva loan helps!

Premal Shah, the President of Kiva (who left PayPal to go with Kiva), has made more than 300 loans himself and has this quote on his Kiva page:

Give,” said the little stream, as it hurried down the hill; “I’m small, I know, but wherever I go the fields grow greener still.”

Get $25 to make your first loan, and make a big difference, today!

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