I have my problems with charity. I suppose it comes from being a journalist too long. You write, or read, too many stories about thieving and/or featherbedding charities, and soon you start to doubt the whole lot. Of course this is wrong; there are many people out there doing truly selfless work on behalf of the disadvantaged. Just because the head of the United Way flew first-class doesn’t mean they all do.
My problem is, these days, that I don’t know where to start. I don’t belong to a church, so tithing is out. I no longer work in an office, so no United Way, either. (Besides, I stopped giving to those folks, after the Aramony scandal and my own issues with the Fort Wayne chapter, none of which had to do with mismanagement of money, I hasten to add.) Lately I’ve taken to writing checks when events seem to demand it — Katrina, tsunamis — and I try to make my giving as direct as possible. (When I cut out the United Way, I still gave to several of my favorite agencies, just minus the middleman.)
I’ve even taken to giving money to bums on the street, which we have no shortage of in Detroit. Needless to say, this makes Alan crazy. I usually give a couple bucks to a legless guy who begs at a freeway on-ramp near his office. “He probably spends it on drugs or booze,” he says. “If I had no legs and had to sit out in bad weather all year with my hand out, I’d probably want to be drunk or stoned, too,” I reply.
“I bet that guy lives in Grosse Pointe,” he replied.
But I’m on a tangent here. The point I’m trying to make is this: If you’re looking for a way to spend just a few dollars, and have it go through as few layers as possible, and help another soul in a really tangible way, I have a suggestion. You might want to consider a donation to these girls:
They’re either orphans or from desperately poor families in Tibet. A man named Dockpo Tra has just launched a school for 30 of them in Qinghai Province. They need warm clothing.
A little background: Last year I met Stephannie Piro, who worked as the secretary at Wallace House, headquarters of the Knight-Wallace Fellows in Ann Arbor. Perhaps typical of Ann Arbor secretaries, she was also a classically trained opera singer and fluent in Tibetan. She also seems to be a Buddhist of some sort, but I’m not sure about that. Anyway, she only stayed at the job a year, because she got the opportunity to go to Tibet, to live and teach and translate.
After arriving, she hooked up with Dockpo Tra, who saw a need and is trying to meet it: Educating girls. Most of the schools in Tibet are for boys, and girls make up only 25-30 percent of the student body, locally. Last summer, he traveled the province in search of girls from impoverished families interested in going to school. The 30 he found range in age from 5-13, and most come from backgrounds so poor that they own little more than the clothes on their back, and not much of those.
Dockpo lays out his ambitions for the school and the girls here.
Stephannie, now going by the Tibetan name Tsering Wangmo, aka Ane (auntie) Wangmo, has adopted these girls as well. Here’s her photo page devoted to the school, and here is her travel blog; the latest entry lays out short bios of about half the girls. This one is typical:
Tamdrin Wangmo (new name Tare Drolma) (age 12) comes from a family of seven; four of them are small children. Her father is dead. Before, the family supported themselves with a large herd of cattle, but disease wiped out all but 20 animals, and they now are unable to cover their living expenses. One monk provides assistance to the family and her mother does all of the work to care for their remaining livestock.
Here’s the good news: A little bit of money goes a long way in Tibet. Immediately, the girls need warm clothes to get through the winter. I Paypal’d Stephannie $50 last week, and this was her reply:
We bought long underwear yesterday, and your money almost covered all of it. Dockpo left today to drive it all down to the girls (a two-day trip). They’ll be thrilled to receive it — they’ve had the same pair of long underwear on for three weeks straight. It’s too cold to take them off to wash them, so the second set will be a welcome change!
I love that. Last week that $50 was rattling around my bank account looking to start trouble, and today it’s going on the backs of 30 little girls somewhere in Tibet. That’s satisfying.
I’m not asking you to give $50. I’m not asking you to give anything. I’m pointing out that even if you only have $5 or $10 to part with, you can see it go a long way in Tibet. A pair of mittens costs about $1.40. I put that much in the Salvation Army bucket every time I pass.
Obviously, giving to a stranger involves some risk. I offer no guarantees, except that I trust Stephannie, and if she trusts Dockpo Tra, that’s good enough for me. Besides, it’s not that much money. And this is the season for giving. And I have a daughter the same age as these girls. Keeping someone warm is a pretty direct gesture. I’m going to chalk this up to improving my karma.
American friends have set Stephannie/Wangmo up with a Paypal account. You can send her money at firstname.lastname@example.org, or e-mail her there, too. I’m sure she’d be happy to answer any questions you have. I also advise you to follow the links to Stephannie’s other photos and travels; what a beautiful country.
Have a good cause you’d like to plug? Leave it in the comments.