Spare change?

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, 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.

Posted at 10:38 am in Same ol' same ol' |

14 responses to “Spare change?”

  1. Candy Schultz said on November 17, 2006 at 11:54 am

    I understand that an inordinate number of the homeless are American veterans. This seems unconscionable to me. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans,, is one organization I am looking into.

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  2. ashley said on November 17, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans.

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  3. Ann said on November 17, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    I have plenty of pet charities–as the E.D. of one and the board president of another, I could easily tell you how and why we would put your donation to good use. But instead let me direct your attention, as we in the law biz say, to this essay by Peter Singer about the obligations of affluent Americans to address issue of third world poverty.
    I’m not anywhere near as generous as he suggests we should be, but the essay did inspire me to sign up for a modestly significant monthly contribution to Unicef.

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  4. colleen said on November 17, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    That picture nearly brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for pointing me in that direction.

    And, uh, curious about the local United Way, if you’d like to drop an email. I usually prefer to directly give to the charity of my choice.

    I would always recommend hospice. People I know who have used their services find them an absolute godsend.

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  5. mary said on November 17, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Partly because of my job, and partly from my own experiences in life, I’ve become very interested in hospice and palliative care. Often, insurance does not cover hospice or palliative care. I have known a few people for whom hospice was as colleen says, a godsend.

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  6. Carol said on November 17, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    In the matter of charity, nothing beats helping those who need help most. But many of us have the capacity to help another kind of nonprofit as well–and so here is my suggestion. I volunteer with an excellent youth theatre that works unbelievably hard for its money–both the money we fund-raise and the money we earn in ticket sales (which cover only a tiny fraction of what good theatre costs.) Every week you have many opportunities to support good live performances in your community. And it’s my opinion that when you buy a ticket and see real people work in real time, an angel gets its wings. When you write a check to an arts group, the whole heavenly choir rejoices.

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  7. Jeff said on November 17, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    Here’s a win/win: send money to Ashley’s Habitat chapter in N’Orlins (see link above), and then make plans to go out and help carry hod, trowel mortar, or bang nails for your local county Habitat chapter. If outdoor and construction action isn’t your thing, offer to stuff envelopes or do some office processing with the applicant process.

    I’ve been in on three Habitat start-ups over the years, and can guarantee that wherever they are, your Habitat chapter follows good financial controls, uses fair and appropriate screening for Habitat Partners, and gives them the chance to put sweat equity into their own build, with a no-interest loan that gets paid back into a revolving fund for the next Partner!

    You gotta love an organization that has both Jimmy Carter and Newt Gingrich as active participants. . .

    Pax, Jeff

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  8. Marcia said on November 17, 2006 at 5:39 pm

    Nancy, thanks for posting this. You have so many readers, and this will get all of them at least thinking about helping others.

    Off-topic–wow, what about Bo? Is the timing phenomenal or what?

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  9. Pam said on November 17, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Be sure to tell Stephannie to get the girl on the left some more bubble gum! And I love that hat! Isn’t PayPal great? That’s how I donated to Katrina and the tsunami. This looks good so I’ll send her some cash. Take care of your local kids also and give to your local county Children’s Services during the holidays.

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  10. mary said on November 17, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    The girl in the hat with the bubble gum got me too. She could be my neighbor’s kid. What a great looking bunch these girls are.

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  11. mary said on November 17, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    Could I put in a good word for Oxfam as well? They do good work.

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  12. Dorothy said on November 17, 2006 at 11:18 pm

    I’ve already e-mailed Stephannie and I’m going to mail a couple of quilts and afghans that I’ve made. She sent me her address in China. I’ll be so thrilled if she photographs the girls with them once they arrive!! Her blog is amazing and I was mesmerized reading it today.

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  13. mary said on November 20, 2006 at 9:36 pm

    Stepannie sent a couple of great photos with a thank you note. I hope the girls stay nice and warm and cozy all winter. The whole Poole household is wishing them the best.

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  14. Stephannie (Wangmo) said on November 21, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    Hello Nancy,
    Thank you again for posting this entry. We have gotten some very kind replies and gifts for the girls. I really appreciate your time and interest in our work here.

    With very best wishes (and Happy Thanksgiving too! I’d love a traditional turkey, but the closest I can find here is Peking duck),
    Stephannie (Wangmo) and Dockpo

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