How Microloans Change Lives

I just opened my drawbridge for the Boeing Corporate Yacht. That thing is probably worth 3 million dollars. And it will most likely be coming back through in less than an hour. Every time I do this, I can’t help but think that the money they are spending just on fuel for that one little jaunt could pay off my relocation debt and allow me to start saving for a used car that actually has a working heater. But no. That’s not how the world works.

But then I realize that for the vast majority of people on this planet, I must seem like the Boeing Corporate Yacht. What am I doing to help them? Quite a lot, actually, relatively speaking. I just gave my 58th microloan to a woman in my 48th developing country. Through Kiva.org you can make these microloans in increments of $25 each. And so far, I’ve always been paid back.

Twenty-five dollars may not seem like a huge amount to you or me, but for these people, it can mean the difference between being able to send their children to school or not. It can provide their family with nutrition that they wouldn’t otherwise receive, and allow them to build up businesses that can sustain them for many years.

Just recently I got an update from one of the loan disbursement organizations in Myanmar that I have supported. Here’s a little bit of what they said:

Before her loan, Daw Lei Lei’s family finances were in dire straits. Like her many neighbors who were gravely affected by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Daw Lei Lei’s family lost a daughter and their seven-acre farm was demolished. Since then, the family has survived by farming ducks, but they have had to pay exorbitant rates on loans.

Rarely do microfinance organizations make it to these hard-to-reach rural areas, and when they do they rarely lend to non-crop farmers. According to a UNCDF research study, over 63% of the rural population has no access to regulated credit, and virtually no one has access to regulated savings or insurance.

Proximity’s loan has done wonders for Daw Lei Lei’s family. They have used the $200 micro-loan to purchase more ducks and quality duck feed. This modest injection of cash was enough to stabilize their income and generate profits from their duck and egg sales. With their newfound profits, Daw Lei Lei’s husband purchased a boat to start his own transportation business. His new business yields enough profit to cover their two children’s school fees. Now, instead of taking their children out of school early to work on the family business, a predicament that is extremely common in Myanmar’s rural areas, Daw Lei Lei and her husband are able to provide their children more educational opportunities than they were able to have.

I hope you’ll join me in making microloans through Kiva.org. The one percent may not be spreading the wealth to the rest of us, but that doesn’t mean we have to follow their horrible example. When we lift up others, we all rise.

[Image credit: kiva.org]
[Image credit: kiva.org]

Donating Yourself

Times are tough and there’s so much need out there that it can be overwhelming. But it’s understandable when people can’t make financial donations. I for one am struggling to make ends meet. But there are so many other ways to help.

Here are some ways you can give of yourself, show the world how wonderful you are, and improve the lives of others without spending a dime, and if you need added incentive, in many cases you can write these donations off on your taxes.

  • Become a marrow donor. If you’re between the ages of 18 and 44, a simple cheek swab will get you registered, and if you become a match it could save someone’s life. Go here to order a registration kit.
  • Become a cord blood donor. Are you pregnant? Donating your baby’s cord blood after birth does not put you or your child at risk and could save someone’s life. Talk to your doctor and find out if your hospital participates in this program before your child is born. For more information, go here.
  • Donate your used clothing and furniture. It breaks my heart to see useable items on the curb on trash day when there are so many organizations who would be happy to take them off your hands. Many will even come and pick it up from you.
  • Donate your used car. There are a lot of organizations that will take your used car. Here’s a site that can connect you to various charitable organizations, but personally, I plan to donate my car to National Public Radio when the time comes.
  • Volunteer. Many organizations in your community could use your help. Here’s a website that can help you find those opportunities.
  • Give someone a micro-loan. I can’t say enough about Kiva.org. In a nutshell, loan 25 dollars, change someone’s life, get paid back, and hopefully do it again. What have you got to lose? Not one single penny, that’s what.
  • Help a neighbor. If you have a neighbor who is sick or elderly or disabled or a single parent, they could no doubt use your help. Whether it’s shoveling snow, running an errand, doing home repair or mowing the lawn, there are any number of things you could do to make their lives easier.
  • Donate blood. Another free opportunity to save a life! Imagine that. Go here to find the blood bank nearest you.
  • Freecycle. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Rather than filling the landfill with your perfectly usable but no longer wanted items, advertise them here on your local freecycle network. This is a great way to pick up things that other people are giving away as well!
  • Spread the word. Do you know of a way for people to save money or live healthier or safer lives? Don’t keep this information to yourself. Share it. Facebook it. Tweet it. Whatever it takes to share this with others. Knowledge is power.
  • Donate your hair. Planning to cut more than 10 inches of your hair off? Don’t let it go to waste! There are organizations that will make wigs for people who have cancer or alopecia. I don’t want to give any one organization special treatment, so simply google “hair donation” and choose the one you like best.
  • Listen. Sometimes all someone needs to turn their day around is someone willing to listen to them. Really hear them. That’s a skill. Please practice it.
  • Participate in Neighborhood Watch. Help keep your neighborhood safe the RIGHT way, with an organization that does not advocate vigilante behavior. Google Neighborhood Watch to learn more.
  • Be a mentor. Share your knowledge and expertise with someone who would benefit from it. Learn more about this here.
  • Recycle. Think of this as volunteering for the planet.
  • Report abuse and other crimes when you see them. If you witness domestic violence or any other crime, speak up. That’s the only way you’ll prevent its recurrence. This is a way of doing a good turn for a future victim. Simply dial 911, or if you are outside of the United States, find out your emergency number and keep it handy.
  • Be an organ donor. Sign up to become an organ donor in your state’s organ donor registry and you will not have died in vain. For more information, go here. Also, be sure to share your wishes with your loved ones so that there’s no conflict or confusion when the time comes.

There are so many ways to make a difference in this world, and you don’t have to spend any money doing so. If you can think of any other ways that I may have overlooked, please add them to the comments section. I do 13 of the things mentioned above, but doing even one will make the world a better place. Join me, won’t you?

volunteer

Remember when you were young and willing? It’s never too late.

[Image Credit: astdtn.org]

Charity Chicken: Anti-Dignity and Ways to Counteract It

Happy Independence Day, America! I’ve chosen to write about a topic that goes hand in hand with independence: Dignity.

My mother was a single mom in an era when that was not only less acceptable, but also not as workable. Daycare wasn’t as widely available, and women were often relegated to the most menial low-paying jobs. No one talked about a glass ceiling because women didn’t even consider looking up, let alone moving up. Divorce was scandalous. You were expected to bite your tongue, take your abuse, stay home and raise the children. How were you supposed to survive when society and culture and economics were all stacked against you?

Much to our general humiliation, there were times when we had to resort to accepting a box of food from the local church. Thanksgiving was one of those times. We got a chicken breast, some cranberries, and some beans. Nothing to make these items palatable. No bread, no butter, no spices, no sugar. Nothing. My oldest sister used to bitterly call this “charity chicken”. We were grateful to have food, of course, but it wasn’t a very festive holiday meal for a family of four. In retrospect, this food probably did more to assuage the guilt of the more affluent members of the community than it did to allow us some dignity in our struggle to survive.

Dignity is a valuable commodity when you’re poor, because there are so many mechanisms in place to try and take that from you. I get so irritated when people say that all poor people are lazy and that they want handouts and feel a sense of entitlement. Entitled to what, exactly? Humiliation, hopelessness, hunger and despair? While that may be the case for a pathetic few, the vast majority of us who are struggling would do anything to have it otherwise. In fact, it has been my experience that most poor people work harder than the rest of society. They just get fewer returns for a variety of reasons. Who works harder? A CEO of a fortune 500 company, or someone who is digging ditches in the hot sun?

If you don’t have your health or educational opportunities or a stable family unit, you often wind up at the bottom of the societal heap. Someone always has to be at the bottom, or the people at the top have nothing on which to stand.

I’d like to think that most of us make efforts to help those in need. I read somewhere that poor people tend to donate a larger percentage of their income to charity than rich people do. That says quite a bit. And there are so many worthy causes out there that there is ample opportunity to be generous.

I would like to make a personal appeal to all of you. When you do choose a charity, please choose one that allows people to maintain their dignity. Most people do not want you to throw your money or food at them and then walk away. They want to be able to lift themselves up. Sometimes they just need a helping hand to start them on their way. Donate to programs that give people job skills. Donate to groups that help restore people’s health so they can become active participants in their communities. Donate to organizations that allow people to become self-sufficient.

Here are my two favorite charities:

  • Heifer International. I often suspect that this organization would be much more popular and well known if it didn’t have such a goofy name, but the amazing work they do makes up for that faux pas. It takes your donations and buys livestock with it. Cows, ducks, goats, llamas, honey bees, you name it. These animals can provide lifesaving income and sources of food for families throughout the world. But here’s what makes this group even more amazing to me: they don’t just hand someone a cow and then walk away. They train them in the best ways to keep this cow healthy. They teach them to run a business selling the milk. And best of all, they require that they breed the animal and provide a calf or two to other families in need, so the cycle continues. Those who are helped obtain skills that will sustain them for a lifetime, and then they, too, become helpers. There is nothing more dignified than that. One donation to Heifer International can cause a positive ripple effect that will go on for years.

Heifer

  • Kiva.org. Technically this isn’t even a charity, so if you’re simply looking for a tax write off, you may want to steer clear of this one. Kiva is actually a micro loan organization, so any money you put into it you will get back. Their default rate is so incredibly low that I’ve never lost a penny in the 7 years that I have participated. In that time I’ve made 41 loans to people in 31 countries. Here’s an example of how it works. Maria in Ecuador is a single mother who has a tiny little shop that she runs out of her home. In it she sells children’s clothing. She has noticed that the farmers in her area don’t have a convenient source for heavy duty pants to wear while working in the field. She wants to expand her inventory to include these items, but she needs a loan. You make a loan to Maria, in increments of 25 dollars. Perhaps you and 23 other people around the world contribute to it. Maria then pays you back, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve expanded her business, increased her income and improved the lives of everyone in her family. That’s a great feeling, so if you’re like me, you’ll take that same 25 dollars that you loaned to Maria and you’ll loan it to yet another person. Loaning that same money over and over and over again throughout the years, I’ve actually given $1,150.00 in loans and yet have only tied up $25.00 in actual money, which I can get back if I ever need to. What seems like a tiny amount of money can make a huge difference in the life of someone who lives on a dollar a day.

kiva

The beauty of participating in both these programs is that you get to feel all warm and fuzzy and the people you help get to keep their dignity and lift themselves up. How can you beat that?