My Brother Is Dead- A Good Cause

I know a lot of visitors to this blog have found Miranda’s blog (My Brother Is Dead) via my page, and are fans of hers. This is a way of saying “thank you” to her and her family for sharing their grief (and Miranda’s writing skills) publicly, in such moving ways..

A scholarship fund, in her brother Kyle’s name, has been set up at San Francisco State University for students in Latin American history. My check is in the mail. Act fast, and it is still tax-deductible for 2007, too!

Christmas Presents

You cannot buy happiness. For anyone- not yourself, your spouse, your children, or your boss. You can buy a brief period of satisfaction. How brief? Watch the kids tearing into the next present..and adult attention spans aren’t that much longer.

The GREAT LIE in America is that happiness (as defined by television script writers) is available to anyone whose means and desires coincide. And advertisers keep the sweet carrots dangling just a little bit beyond everyone’s reach, so that no one is ever quite there, where X marks the spot that happiness, true happiness, will finally begin. (Even Lottery winners get the blues: there are many sad stories in that chapter of the New American Dream.)

Last week, I stood in line at the local Fred’s behind a couple who were juggling two credit cards to buy what looked Round One of their Christmas gift orgy. Among the items was a battery operated model of Bill Clinton playing a saxophone. Here’s what it looks like:

Yeah, that’s all it does. How quickly will Uncle Bill tire of that thing? That thing will be in someone’s yard sale by April. Along with probably 25% of December’s Gross National Product, which is quickly becoming China’s Very Gross National Profit. How many gallons of foreign oil were used in this year’s manufacture of those Bill Clinton saxophone toys? And, how much landfill space will they still be occupying 30,000 years from now when the plastic in them finally begins to break down?

So here’s my point: There are alternatives– places where you can spend money and affect the future in positive ways for generations to come. Here are three:

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Kiva is a micro-lender. You can make loans to small business people in places around the world. Your $25, $50, or $100 is added to similar amounts from other lenders to finance the $500 to $1500 loans being requested. The payback rate is close to 100%, and when your money is paid back, you can either get it back or re-invest in someone else’s business.  Some people on my list this year are getting KIVA gift certificates so they can experience the same fun I’ve had giving six women and three men on four continents a real hand up in their lives.

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The SEVA Foundation is also in the business of fighting poverty and disease through self-help projects. And the array of those projects is fascinating. Last year, my wife received a gift from me, given in her name, which enabled two Mayan women in Mexico to be trained as mid wives.

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The Heifer Project is an elder statesman in the world of really good places to share your resources. Last year, each of my three children received a flock of ducks, going to Cambodia. Others received from me a flock of chickens, a goat, and some trees. All of these things are given to the recipients with the understanding that they will use the gifts for both food and income, and that they will give away some of the new chicks, kids, and saplings that result from their work. They are gifts that keep on giving for real.

Two years ago, I received from friends a llama in Ecuador and part of a community water well in South Africa. I’ve never seen either of those gifts, but they are the ones from that Christmas that I remember best. They are making a continuing difference in the lives of people, as they continue to make a difference in my own.

It’s a pretty cool bandwagon. Jump aboard! We’ll meet there at the X where real happiness is always waiting.

Christmas will be on a Tuesday this year..

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It’s always on the same day of the week as my birthday, which was two days ago, a Tuesday. I discovered that “same day” fact at some point in seventh or eighth grade study hall, after I had (no doubt) broken all available pencil leads drawing cartoons of various teachers, gone to the restroom several times, and finished reading whatever James Bond book was in my possession that day.

Be that as it may, and all that is to say, the Christmas spending orgy is about to commence. Jesus will, again, be honored best this year by pushing our Gross National Product through the retail roof! Walmart, Target, and L.L.Bean will again become the hallmarks of American holiness as millions prove their love for baby Jesus by spending, spending, spending themselves into a January nightmare.

But what are a few more 29.9% maxxxed out credit cards compared to the half hour of joy to be experienced by children of all ages as they tear through carefully wrapped gift packages before finally settling down to watch the Christmas Edition of “The Price is Right?” After all, isn’t that exactly what was set in motion by God in that Bethlehem stable 2000 years ago- the right to keep and bear arms full of plastic things molded in China and cloth things sewn in various parts of the Pacific and Caribbean rims?

I notice you can get a jump on Christmas tinsel-spending by jumping on the Halloween lighting bandwagon currently being driven into our collective consciousness by the Chinese-American Plastics Consortium (motto: “Americans Will Buy Anything We Tell Them To!”). There are more orange-colored lights hanging on doorways this year than last year and, barring natural disasters, there are probably less this year than there will be next year. By that time, the Halloween light trend-setters will be needing to replace their antiquated sets from 2006 and this great new niche in the Useless Stuff marketplace will have taken on a full life of its own!

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Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and this year he’s wearing a wool/polyester blend with genuine baby seal trim from Abercombie and Fitch. And you can demonstrate your own holiday spirit this year with a matching outfit- only 495.oo! (hat, boots, and other accessories, extra) Self-indulge yourself this Christmas with 2007’s versions of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; you’ll be glad, for all of ten minutes, that you did!

Or….

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Go to Kiva.org. Find a small business person somewhere in the third world and help them get the amazingly small loan they need to expand their business. Dream for him or her. Hope for their families. Then lend as little as 25 bucks to them in the name of someone on your Christmas list, instead of buying that someone a tie or bauble for their already too-heavy charm bracelet.

Baby Jesus will smile.

 

On the side, I’m an International Banker- Kiva

Didn’t know that, did you? I have loans out in Ecuador, Ghana, and one of those former Soviet countries that ends in “-iztan” and sounds like somebody coughing. I make the loans through Kiva, a micro-lending agency that is doing some of the most empowering, noble, and honorable work in the world today. I hope you’ll bookmark the link below, explore it, and maybe even get involved:

Kiva.org – Loans that change lives

Kiva is a non-profit agency in California that, in turn, works with community groups around the world who identify small business people who don’t qualify for traditional bank loans. $750 to $1500 are typically sized loans. The local community group charges a fair interest rate- about 8.5%- which is far below the traditional interest rates in these countries. Kiva puts people like me together with other people like me, to arrange specific loans to specific people. Here’s the recipient of the first loan I made, back in January:

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Grace Atteh sells dried fish in Ghana. Kiva put together the loans of 16 people from around the world (New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, Indiana, California, Virginia, New York, Florida, and Jacksboro, Texas) so that Grace could get her loan of $725 to expand her business. The loan was made in February, and she has paid back half of it so far. In two years of operation, Kiva has a 100% payback rate!

I can get my part of that loan back from Kiva when it is paid in full, or, I can let it ride and lend it to someone else. I will let it ride. And I will be adding to the loans I make through Kiva. Here’s the reasons why:

1. These are not handouts to poor people. These are hands up to people who don’t want to be poor anymore.

2. The dignity of the people receiving and paying back loans is not only kept intact, it is enhanced.

3. Kiva was started by a person from Paypal, the on-line bank. Paypal continues to move money around the world for Kiva at no charge. The community organizations who handle the loans are the ones who receive the interest on these loans. Nobody is getting wealthy on the backs of poor people here!

4. Each recipient knows a little about the people and the home countries who have enabled them to receive their loans. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me” go the true words of the old campfire song. And it is true.

5. I go to bed at night feeling like a miniature Warren Buffet. Cool..

It is a remarkable website because is a remarkable organization. Take some time to explore it. Then join me in the marketplace of an African village, or in the barn of a young farmer in an eastern European country neither of us can pronounce. We can compare our portfolios.