This afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting John Shavers, the founder of the Interethnic Health Alliance which is a small nonprofit serving the people of Uganda.
Originally, the organization was founded to serve Utah women in the prison system who had HIV/AIDS or were at risk for contracting and spreading it. When their state funding ran out, they refocused their efforts on Uganda and have been working there since.
Shavers, the gray-haired gentleman near the center of the photo of women supported by IHA microloans, is a clinical psychologist. He will leave in two weeks to Uganda for the 8th time in the past several years.
IHA describes its mission as follows:
OUR MISSION IS TO ASSIST THE RURAL COMMUNITES OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES, PRIMARILY UGANDA, IN OBTAINING ADEQUATE HEALTH CARE, EDUCATION FOR THEIR CHILDREN & AN ADEQUATE WAGE. WE DO THIS THROUGH ENGAGING IN DIALOG’S WITH COMMUNITY MEMBERS AROUND ISSUES IDENTIFIED BY THE MEMBERS THEMSELVES. OUR CURRENT MAJOR INITIATIVES ARE; ASSISTANCE IN STARTING SELF-SUSTAINING BUSINESSES PROVIDING RESOURCES FOR SCHOOLS AND ORPHANAGES MITIGATING THE IMPACT OF DECLINING FUEL RESOURCES.
Presently, IHA is focused on five inititatives:
It is always a pleasure to meet someone like Shavers, with a real passion for action. He is not content to stand by while others suffer.
Yesterday, I posted an article for Forbes about Rotary International, the global organization that sponsors local service clubs all around the world.
For the article, I connected with dozens of Rotarians from around the world who have been volunteering time and donating money to causes they believe in.
It was amazing to see the power of the organization. Rotary International has been leading the fight to exterminate polio around the world. When they started the effort in 1988 there were 125 countries where polio was still a threat; today there are three.
But the work of Rotary at the club level was the focus of my article. It was inspiring to see how this organization with millions of members around the world has the ability to identify a person who needs to have his car repaired and can’t pay for it–and then to pay for it–while at the same time having the organizational wherewithal to donate $1.5 million to build a new food bank.
Rotarians from my Salt Lake Club work in the Wasatch Community Gardens to provide fresh food for low income families.
It is clear that each club has its own culture and priorities, but over and over again I heard the Rotary motto repeated: “Service above Self.” This particular value is universal among Rotarians.
It appears to me that the current generation of professionals–those we call Gen X and Gen Y or Millennials are more focused on social good than any prior generation. They would love what Rotary is doing, but few are even aware.
While the average age at my club, the Salt Lake Rotary club, appears to be north of 65, there are some younger people involved. Not enough, however. If ever there were a natural home for people who believe in doing good regardless of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation or any other potential identifier, Rotary is that place.
Rotarians don’t wear funny hats–not that there is anything wrong with that. They don’t take secret oaths or use special symbols. They do openly pledge to treat others fairly and honestly and to build friendships with others in and out of Rotary. They also sing patriotic songs and, in America, recite the pledge of allegiance.
While the Rotarians I know are deeply patriotic, they are not in the least xenophobic. Instead, they are globally minded citizens of the world whose passion to serve is fueled by a genuine hope for peace.
If you know a Rotarian, count yourself lucky. Ask her if you can join her at the next meeting. If you don’t know one, just show up at the next meeting. They’ll be excited to have you!
Martin Richard made this poster in school last year. On Monday he was killed by the bombs in Boston.
Let’s make sure the world remembers Martin and his message.
As I walked past the Rose Wagner theater on Broadway, I saw a homeless guy apparently sobbing and begging as the patrons filed out of the show. My reaction wasn’t any different than the theater patrons; I thought he was putting on a pretty good performance.
Nevertheless, having walked past him, I felt impressed to turn around and ask him if he wanted some food, to which he responded, “I want some money to buy some food.”
Again, I asked, “Do you want some food?”
Sensing, I suppose, that he wasn’t going to get any money from me nor from the theater patrons, he said, “yes.”
We walked a few blocks to McDonalds where he ordered three cheeseburgers, a large milk shake, two fruit pies, and a sweet tea.
As we walked toward the McDonalds and while we waited for the order to come up, we visited. He started his story by saying, “Have you ever met a mental health patient?” He didn’t wait for an answer before continuing, “Well, I am one.”
He went on to tell me his name was Andy. His speech was hard to understand. That was partly due to a cut in his mouth that he said he got from eating garbage from dumpsters.
He said he had two daughters, ages six and nine when he last saw them. He split with his wife, he said, when he found her doing drugs with the girls watching. The girls, he says, are now in foster care in Seattle.
When I asked how old the girls were now he said he didn’t know.
“How long has it been since you saw them?” I asked.
Andy also explained in ragged detail that didn’t provide anything like a complete narrative how he’d been kicked out of the homeless shelter for a benign reason having something to do with bed bugs.
As we waited for his dinner order, he asked me to wait and talk to him. I agreed and we visited for about ten minutes until his order came up.
As we waited and chatted the night manager emerged from the back of the restaurant; Andy greeted him like they were old friends. The night manager responded, clearly recognizing Andy though not calling him by name.
When the food came up, I helped him get it all to his seat. I then explained that I would now leave. He got angry, displaying a sense of feeling betrayed.
It was an awkward moment for me. I said, “I’m sorry that you don’t think this food is enough, but I have to go.”
And, I did go. I went home to my high-rise condo to sleep in my sumptuous king size bed with my beautiful wife.
The next morning I arose and went for a run. Near the end of my run, half a block east of the Rose Wagner theater where I’d found him the night before, I found Andy outside of the Peery Hotel eating what appeared to be a fresh, hot breakfast burrito.
As I ran by, I yelled, “Hi Andy” and waved.
He responded with a quick “Hi buddy.” He seemed much happier than I’d left him the night before, but I’m not sure he recognized me.
Later that morning, I was walking along Main Street and passed the relatively sheltered entrance to the old Utah movie theaters between First and Second South streets, a favorite spot for the homeless to camp for the night. I noticed a cheeseburger still in its wrapper and a small pile of McDonalds wrappers, including two empty cartons for fruit pies.
As much as I felt I’d done for Andy I can’t help but think I should have done more. What do you think? What more should I have done for Andy?
Live Video Interview with 3 Teenage Change Agents Using Crowdfunding
We’ll be live with these three great teens at 4:00 Eastern on Monday, April 8, 2013. Don’t miss it!
Abigail “Astronaut Abby” Harrison: An aspiring astronaut who is crowdfunding on RocketHub to go to Russia and participate in a space launch.
Logan Gardner: Founder of Kids for Kids, an organization that helps teens with social entrepreneurship as a means to teach youth to be successful in life and business.
Jared Kleinert: Founder of Synergist, a crowdfunding site focused on social good.