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Posts Tagged ‘international’

My year-long journey of volunteering brought me to the podium two weeks ago. As part of the Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebration, Meridian International Center hosted 50 men and women from 50 different countries at their historic mansion in Northwest D.C. for a panel discussion on volunteerism in the United States. I was honored to serve as the moderator for the discussion which featured experts from AmeriCorps NCCC, Youth Service America, Points of Light Institute, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Experience Corps.

It was a terrific discussion. I especially enjoyed the part where we opened the floor up to the 50 attendees to hear some of their comments. All of the participants have influenced the Peace Corps programs and led volunteering efforts in their local communities – so there was at least a couple hundred years of collective volunteer experience represented in the room. After the conference, I was fortunate to be able to speak individually with several members of the delegation. Hearing their personal stories was very moving.

My favorite comment of the day though came from Dave Premo of CNCS. We were talking about engaging young people and he said that they have found that email is no longer effective for that age segment. It’s seems that it still works well for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers but Millennials don’t read it. “You got to use social networking to get their attention,” he said. I laughed – another reminder that I’m getting older.

The full delegation with State Department Assistant Secretary Ann Stock and Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams.

The visit, which is part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, is very well done. They spend a week in Washington D.C. participating in meetings, cultural exchanges and volunteer projects and then they scatter out across the country to several cities to get an appreciation for regional differences. The program wraps up in Chicago this Saturday.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

“It is in the shelter of each other that people live” -  Irish proverb

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Irish Aid's offices on O'Connell Street in Dublin - right where the airport bus let me off. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Ireland is an amazing place.  This was my second trip to the Emerald Island and it didn’t disappoint.  The people are terrific, weather cooperated this time and there was plenty of Guinness.

After landing in Dublin and navigating my way through Dublin’s new Terminal II, I grabbed my bags and headed toward the AirCoach bus service that has direct service to a drop-off spot about five blocks from my hotel.  I must have had a shamrock packed in my bags because the bus dropped me off directly in front of building that had “Volunteer” written all over it.  It turned out to be the office of Irish Aid: the government ofIreland’s program of assistance to developing countries.  Although they are not involved with volunteering within Ireland, they did have connections to people at organizations that utilize volunteers locally.   Jill at Irish Aid put me in touch with Kate at Volunteer Ireland and within 24 hours I had a volunteer project all lined up.

DSC_0136.jpgAs my luck would have it my trip would overlap 2 days with the European Union’s Year of Volunteering Roadshow –  a five-day fair featuring more than 70 charities in Ireland that depend on volunteers to operate.  There were information booths about each of the nonprofits that were participating as well as informational seminars on a wide range of subjects related to volunteering.   Kate set me up to help out during Tuesday’s event which worked perfectly for me not only because I would be back in Dublin on that day but also because the focus of the day was on charities that engage older Americans – a topic that I thought would be of great interest to the readers of the column I write for AARP.

I arrived around 10:30 and met Kate.  She put me to work helping another staffer hang a banner out a second story window.  Although it didn’t look perfect, we got it placed as best we could without falling 20 feet to our death!

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That's me on the left helping hang the banner out of the second story window of the EU Parliament building. (photo: Krisztina Szabo)

The rest of the day was spent doing small tasks that came up and trying to get passersby to come in and check out the fair – a painful job but somebody’s got to do it.  Although the event had been publicized reasonably well, attendance was light.  I took the opportunity to speak to some of the organizations that were exhibiting and was really impressed with the work that they are doing.

I got lucky that things fell into place and I was able to volunteer.  Despite trying to arrange things prior to my trip, I was unable to secure any volunteer opportunities mostly because of standard bureaucracy related to volunteering in Ireland.  You see typically you have to formally apply, get screened by Garda (Irish Police) and attend an in-person meeting all before being accepted as a volunteer.  If you are thinking about volunteering overseas you check out two articles I did for AARP on the subject for some tips and lessons learned.

AARP Article Volunteering On Your Next Vacation

AARP Article Volunteering Overseas: My Recent Adventure to Ireland

For more information on volunteering in Ireland please visit:

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC.

Don't be a litter bug

Plastic bags liter the banks of a river in Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia. Photo: CJETTE

Today’s post is a microblog post. I feel that’s only appropriate since today’s post is about a microvolunteering experience.  I logged on to Sparked.com and helped a UK nonprofit called Funky Junk Recycled.  In developing countries where plastic bags collect and choke drains and even animals, Funky Junk takes an innovative approach to turning this trash into beautiful, long-lasting items while providing fair trade income and training for local producers.

Here's a bag made from recycled plastic bags turned into yarn, or "plarn."

They needed help on how to recruit a British expat volunteer in Cambodia.  Click here to see my advice.  Oh, and while you’re there, why not try to do a project yourself.  I promise it doesn’t take long.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

“Imagine making a meaningful difference in the lives of others, while discovering amazing cultures, people and places!”

These are the words that greet you when you fire up the website of Wellington, New Zealand based Global Volunteer Network (GVN).  That’s right; today’s spotlight on volunteering takes a unique perspective.  What if you could combine your interest in traveling with your passion for volunteering?  Well, that is just what GVN has done.Volunteer Abroad with the Global Volunteer Network

Colin Salisbury

GVN Founder and President, Colin Salisbury

Founded in 2000 by Colin Salisbury after he volunteered in Ghana,West Africa, GVN has placed more than 14,000 individuals to about two dozen countries around the world.  Although I couldn’t find a concrete answer on their website, it appears that most volunteer opportunities last for about a week or two.

I like this concept that many people refer to as voluntourism or humanitarian tourism.  Having traveled to 30+ countries and lived in four, I have often seen how tourists to developing countries are perceived.  “They come and open their wallets,” a restaurant owner in Brazil once shared with me, “but they don’t necessarily open their hearts to the local challenges that we face every day.”

A few years ago my friend Kim spent her vacation in New Orleans helping rebuild a community that was devastated by Katrina.    She found the experience to be fun and really rewarding.

Vietnam Youth Tour

Photo courtesy of globalvolunteernetwork.org

One of the program’s that I like most that GVN provides is their Youth Tour which gives 15-17 year olds the chance to explore a new part of the world while learning a life-long lesson of service.  This year their trip is to Vietnam.  Click here for more details.

A recent post on the New York Times blog by Heidi Mitchell focuses on Voluntourism.  If you are considering your volunteer trip, I recommend checking her article out to familiarize yourself with GVN and other groups providing similar services.

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-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Leng's tuk-tuk

A “tuk-tuk” is a motorcycle taxi. Mr. Leng was my tuk-tuk driver while I was in Cambodia. And a fine driver he is indeed; and not too shabby at snooker either. I believe the average monthly income of a tuk-tuk driver is about $60.00 USD a month. Mr. Leng will use the money I gave him to feed his family.

I also helped out some monks that I met this week.  The monks are an integral part of a Buddhist community by providing many services such as giving blessings and participating at weddings and funerals. Since the monks do not work for an income, it is customary to give Alms to them. I gave Alms to a monk in the form of rice, tea, coffee and a few other essentials. Poor village boys are allowed to live at this particular monastery. They go to public schools and learn the ways of the monks. At an older age they can choose to either become a monk or go back into the secular world.

One of the monks I helped.

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-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Southeast Asia.

The Sustainable Organization for Community Peasant Laborer Student Development and Orphans (SOCPLSDO),  a non-profit, non-governmental, non-political organization, was established in 2006 by Mr Pong Sena.  The SOCPLSDO established the Chres Village School and Orphanage in the same year for the regional orphans, students, laborers and peasants from the villages in and around the district of Bakong of the Siem Reap Province, Cambodia.

The aim of the SOCPLSDO is to alleviate the poverty and difficulties of the orphans and children of poor families in the Bakong district providing support of their basic needs such as food, clothing, education, accommodation, health services and school supplies.

More than 50% of the Cambodian population is less than 21 years old. The population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure.

I went over my $10 today, but it was my pleasure to give my temporary English students the help they needed for each of them to buy school supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

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-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Southeast Asia.

Today I gave my $10 to the students at the Buddhism Association School.

The Buddhist monks here offer free English classes to adults.   Tourism is a growing industry in Cambodia and the ability to speak English greatly enhances ones abilities to work, grow their income and improve their lives. While having the opportunity to be a substitute English teacher, I gave the students a donation which they used for school supplies (paper, pencils, pens, etc.) to aid them in their efforts.

Tomorrow I’m visiting an orphanage!

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-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Thailand.

Picture from Big Heart Project in Cambodia

While on a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, I met a young woman named Kathleen from Australia.  She was a fundraiser for an organization called Big Heart Project.  The purpose of their existence is to identify communities and individuals who are living in conditions where basic necessities are scarce, opportunities are limited and many freedoms are inhibited, they then dedicate their time to educate these communities in a holistic way.  The main focus is to prevent children from entering prostitution and situations of slavery and abuse in the first place.  Where they can, they also rescue, rehabilitate, care for and educate girls leaving child prostitution and sexual slavery.

I gave my daily gift to Kathleen who had come to Cambodia to deliver funds that she had collected for the purpose of purchasing land and building an orphanage in Phnom Penh.  They need about $13,000.00 USD for the land and another $20,000 for the building.  Hopefully my gift helped her meet her goal in some small way.

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Many people have told me how they were touched by what Alex from Day 109 did with his $10.  He was the Georgetown student who took his new-found money to the supermarket and bought supplies to bake cookies with and then passed them out to people that he saw every day but didn’t really know.  We all know these people; the receptionist at a doctor’s office, the convenience store employee, the bus driver, your mailman.  Well, today’s recipient used to be one of those people to me – a person I saw fairly regularly but never stopped to meet.  That all changed on December 3rd.

Today’s recipient wanted to remain anonymous.  I’ve agreed to call him “Ilyas” for the purpose of this blog post.

A few times a week I frequent a building here in town that has a variety of very pleasant staff working there, however, Ilyas made an impression on me.  He is always neatly dressed and very generous with his smile and kind remarks to people as they walk by.

Now 58, he told me that he was born in Pakistan.  He was a businessman there working hard to run a successful business and support his family.  In 2000, September to be exact, he had an opportunity to move to the US.  He had visited several other times but it seemed to be the right decision to move here given the questionable security in Pakistan at the time.

Fortunately he was able to continue his business from his new location here in the US, but after 9/11, demand slowed down and he made the hard decision to supplement his income with some additional work.  I say the decision was hard because Ilyas had never worked for anyone else but himself.  He first got a job as a teller at a bank, but he didn’t care much for that.  “There was a lot of pressure there,” he said referring to the nature of handling money all day.

He eventually ended up at the building where he now greets me on a regular basis.  He’s been there for six years now.  I have a special feeling inside me now when I see him.  I know more about him.  I know his name and how to correctly pronounce it.  I know a little bit about his life and his family.  He’s a proud father of three girls.  And I know that it is not only his smile that is warm and generous but also his heart.  He’s kind and gentle and very thoughtful.  It’s no wonder that I often see other people stopping to speak with him as well.

After chatting for a while Ilyas placed the ten dollars back on the counter in front of me.  “I can’t accept this,” he said showing me the same warm smile that I had become accustomed to seeing.  I urged him to keep it and reminded him that he could do anything that he wanted to with it.  After a bit more convincing, he decided to keep it and said that he would donate the money.

 

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In addition to my work with World Wildlife Fund, I am the Executive Director of the Urban Philharmonic Society, a nonprofit orchestra that plays in diverse neighborhoods in the DC area.  The organization was started by Maestro Darrold Hunt back in 1970.  I actually met Maestro Hunt through the Year of Giving and gave him my $10 on Day 189.

Well he and I were heading up to see the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra perform a unique event focused on the complex Austrian composer Gustav Mahler.  It was half orchestral half theatrical.  Basically they played some of the highlights of Mahler but also had a small group of actors that tried to reenact an encounter that the composer had Dr. Sigmund Freud. 

It was an interesting performance.  The orchestra sounded very good, the acting portion was interested but I would have rather had more of the music.  Maestra Marin Alsop seemed a little off, but that was explained during a talk back session after the performance where she stated that she had been battling a severe cold all week. 

Margarita and Jack at Meyerhoff Hall

After the show, I ran into Margarita and Jack in the lobby area.  “We enjoyed the show very much,” they told me.  She said that she was more of a theatre-goer than a symphony-goer, but they thought they would check out this unique hybrid.  Jack on the other hand said he leaned more toward music.  “I played clarinet as a kid and had a drum set,” he told me. 

This performance seemed to have a special significance for Margarita.  “My father loved Mahler…and Freud for that matter,” she said. 

The couple seemed well-traveled and in fact I think they are currently in Colombia, where Margarita was born.  Jack grew up the son of a Foreign Service diplomat and lived in Brazil and Dominican Republic.  We got talking about different places we’d been and figured out that we were both in Brazil’s northeast city of Salvador at the exact same time in 2003 for Carnaval!  Small world.  I had been living in Brazil for just three months and decided to check out the celebration in Salvador.  Margarita and Jack were on their honeymoon!

“I think we’ll donate the money,” Margarita said looking for confirmation from Jack.  He nodded his head and shrugged his shoulders a little in agreement.  I tried to email them and see what exactly happened to it in the end, but I am almost positive they are in Colombia still and may not hear for them for a few days.  Stay tuned for an update!

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Today’s post is from Election Day.  I thought it would be appropriate to give my ten dollars to someone who was exercising their civic duty by voting.

I walked over to my polling location and voted.  As an aside, what is wrong with our voting system?  They only have one electronic voting booth.  The rest is done by paper ballots.  I used to live in Brazil where they had fully electronic voting.  The electronic machines were introduced there in 1996 and fully implemented in 2000.  Ten years later, we have one machine in my voting district!  Parabens Brasil!

I approached several people who came out of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, my local polling location.  I first approached a white woman in her 50s with short dark hair who sat on a bench by herself.  She wasn’t very friendly toward me and asked me to give it to someone else.  Then I saw another woman leaving the voting center.  Amina refused as well, however, she said she liked the Year of Giving concept very much.  “I ran a soup kitchen in Johannesburg, South Africa for four years,” she shared.  “But for me to take your money and then give it to someone else just seems wrong.  I can use my own money to do that.”  We chatted for a little while longer before she went on her way.

Silvia and Salvador choose not to sleep in DC's shelters.

I then found a couple sleeping upright on a bench as they soaked in the sun’s warm rays to balance out the cool November air.   They were on the west side of the church.  I had seen them earlier, but didn’t want to wake them.  I noticed Salvador wasn’t able to sleep so I walked toward him.  As I got close to him, he nudged Silvia with his right elbow to wake up.

Silvia is 41 and is originally from El Salvador.  Salvador is 29 and is from Mexico.  She’s been here since 1984, him since 2002.  They are both homeless and sleep near a church at 16th and O Streets in DC.  “We even made it through the big snow storms last winter,” Silvia told me in Spanish.  “In fact, Salvador made us a really good shelter by the church with all the snow.”  

Salvador works at a restaurant somewhere near Thomas Circle I believe.  She works downtown cleaning offices I believe.  “I’ve got to work,” Silvia said.  “I have to pay $130 every month in child support.”  She has three children between the ages of 16-18.  She told me that she became homeless after a “situation of domestic violence.”

Salvador was rather quiet.  Maybe he was skeptical of my kindness.  He did say that he became homeless three years ago.  

Both of them said they would buy food with their portion of the ten dollars.  “I’m going to get me something from Chipotle,” Silvia said with an electric smile.  

They used the $10 for food.

It was five o’clock.  Salvador headed over to the church to start preparing their shelter for the evening and I walked with Silvia to the Dupont Metro where she needed to catch the train to get to work.  I gave her a hug and wished her luck.

This couple needs some basic items for the winter…please check out the Lend a Hand section if you are able to help them out.

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Connie holds a sign showing William Thomas, the co-founder of the Peace Vigil. (photo: Reed)

193 days ago I shared with you the story of Start Loving who I met in front of the White House.  He fills in tending to the Peace Vigil that Concepcion Picciotto started with William Thomas in 1981.  The vigil can never be left unattended and they must not sleep while there.  It is remarkable to think that she has been there every day, with a few exceptions, since I was seven years old! 

The other day I wandered over to Lafayette Park which is in front of the White House and saw Connie, as she is often referred to, talking to some tourists.  I waited patiently and then approached her.  Our conversation lasted about 45 minutes and weaved back and forth from English to Spanish.

"I've learned a lot about inequalities in our society." - Concepcion Picciotto (photo: Reed)

Originally from Vigo, Spain (on the west coast just north of the border with Portugal), she came to the US in the early 60s.  Although she told me that she lost count of the years when I asked her how old she was, some sources online claim that she is 65.  

She has an amazing story.  In addition to the $10, I gave her $15 for a book that she sells to help support her efforts.  Almost all the information in the book you can find here online.  It is worth checking out.  It spans her immigration to the US, troubled marriage, the adoption and loss of her daughter, etc.  

The part about her daughter really touched me.  She couldn’t have children so they ended up in Argentina trying to buy a baby from a variety of doctors.  It sounded a little shady; doctors showing up in cars with newborns in their arms.  The short story is that in 1973 she finally made it back into the US with a baby girl, Olga.  But ended up losing her 20 months later when her husband gave her away while Connie was being kept in a hospital.  To my knowledge the two have never been reunited.  You can listen to a heartfelt letter she has written for Olga.

Picture courtesy of Connie's website.

Connie said she was going to use the $10 to help either print more books or possibly come out with a new book with additional material.

I believe that Connie has suffered a great deal in her life and my heart goes out to her.  She told me stories of her being beat, subject to harmful chemicals and tortured.  “I lost my teeth because of chemicals they have used on me,” she says referring to the government and military.  “I now have the teeth in a jar.”

I caught up with Nature Boy during his "office hours" in Lafayette Park.

I really enjoyed meeting her. I gave her a hug when I left and cut through the park where I ran into my friend Elijah Alfred Nature Boy Alexander Jr. from Day 185…check out this picture.  I love it!  And if you look closely at his legs you will see hundreds of scratches from squirrels that were climbing on him!

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Hey!  I am still looking for a place to hold the year-end celebration.  If you know of someone with a philanthropic heart who would like to be a part of this special day, please shoot me an email at reed@yearofgiving.org!

On Sunday after a weekend visiting friends in southeastern Pennsylvania, we headed to Philadelphia Premium Outlets in Limerick, PA.  When you go to their website you will see this picture of the shopping center.

 

What they don’t show you is this.

 

That’s what you would see if you turn 180 degrees from the place where the first picture was taken. Twenty minutes before arriving, I could see the two cooling towers and the billowing cotton-like smoke streaming out of them.  As I pulled into the parking lot I have to admit that I was surprised to find this nuclear reactor so close to the mall.  It was literally next door to the outlets. 

Mario has worked at the outlets for two years. (photo: Reed)

After grabbing some lunch and saying goodbye to my childhood friends, I spotted Mario hustling about the grounds of the mall emptying the trash.  Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, he moved here in search of a better paying job.  In Spanish he explained, “I chose this area because I had some relatives already living here.”  Back home, his wife and five children receive regular money orders that he sends from his modest pay checks.  It’s been almost four years since he has seen them.  He’s been working at the outlets for about two years.

Mario took a second to let me snap this photo of him with the nuclear cooling towers in the background. (photo: Reed)

Some of you might have heard about the heavy rains that caused catastrophic flooding in his home state of Oaxaca back in September.  I asked him if his family and loved was were affected by the disaster and thankfully he said that they were all safe and doing ok.

Mario reminded me a little of Paulina from my second day of this year-long journey when he promptly told me that he would donate the money to his church.

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This weekend we had a snapshot of the cold that awaits us this winter.  This morning it was near freezing when I went to the gym.

Today’s post took place during a really busy work wise.  Long days followed by work related events in the evening.  After an event at the Brazilian embassy, I headed across town to meet up with a friend of mine from Spain who I hadn’t seen for years.  Although it was late, this was our only chance to meet up so you push yourself a little and try to squeeze everything in.

Exhausted, I hailed a cab home to my apartment in Dupont.  The driver was a man named Tekele.  He was really nice and I enjoyed talking with him.  Originally from Ethiopia, he’s been driving a cab here in DC for 18 years.  Before that he worked almost nine years for PMI, a leading parking management firm.  “I like driving a taxi very much,” he told me.  “But you have to be really disciplined to do well at this,” since you work your own hours and set your own schedule for the most part. 

Having been in the business for such a long time, he has seen it all.  “Just other day a guy got in my cab and told me to go to Georgia Avenue,” he began to tell me.  “Then he fell asleep.  When we got there I tried to wake him up but he was really sleeping hard.”  Tekele finally got the man out of his cab.

There is a large Ethiopian community in DC.  Tekele says that many people like himself fled his homeland as a result of the civil war that began there in the 70s.  “I originally escaped to Italy,” he told me explaining that he spent six months there until Catholic Charities arranged for him to come to the United States.  He hasn’t traveled back to Ethiopia much.  “It’s so expensive especially with kids,” the father of three told me. 

Ethiopian platter at Etete

I shared with him that I had tried Ethiopian food many years ago and didn’t care for it.  This is odd too because I like almost all kinds of foods from other countries.  Especially spicy food, like Ethiopian food.  I guess I just had a bad experience because I recently went to a place called Etete at the corner of 9th and U Streets and tried it again and really enjoyed it.  The injera, a spongy flatbread made with a thin sourdough batter, took a little getting used to.  “Etete is a good place,” Tekele confirmed. 

We got to my place and I explained my Year of Giving to him and asked him to accept my $10.  He agreed and I paid him the fare and tip plus the ten dollars. 

I got home and realized I totally forgot to ask him what he was going to do with the money!  It was late and I was really tired.  He had given me his cell number so I called him on Sunday October 31st and asked him.  He was happy to hear from me and explained that he had donated the money to his local Virginia police department.  Hopefully he gave it to the actual department and not the Fraternal Order of Police.  I’ve had a very bad experience with the telephone solicitors from that organization and no longer give to them.

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So you may have noticed that I have been slow posting blogs lately.  Well, I have been swamped.  But now something has complicated my blogging even more!  I have a FLIP Mino HD camera that I use to shoot my video.  It’s pretty awesome for the price range (about $200).  HOWEVER, there is one thing that drives me crazy and has now twice brought my blogging to a crawl.  Their current software versions only output the files in MP4 format.  Previous versions of the software made an automatic conversion to Windows Media Video (WMV).  The issue here is that the movie editor that comes with Windows and YouTube both don’t work with MP4 files, but do work with WMV.  So now I can not edit or upload my videos. 

I have spoken to their support team and they even rolled my software version back, but it has now automatically updated itself again.  Aghhh!!!  This cost me several hours last time it happened and will require several hours again.  Maybe I should get a new camera…any suggestions? 

So the bottom line is that I am skipping Days 295 and 296 for now.  Sorry…have had to jump to 297 since this entry has no video.

On Day 297 I tried to give my $10 to an older gentleman in front of the Verizon Center.  He refused and I walked a few blocks away to the corner of 9th and G Streets where I found Boyo.  That’s actually not his real name but he was not comfortable with me using that.  In fact he didn’t really want to share any details about himself.  He didn’t want pictures taken either. 

Boyo was selling the Street Sense newspaper in front of the Gallery Place Metro entrance.  Born in London, he moved to his parent’s birth country of Nigeria at the age of five.  At some point I guess he moved here, but he wouldn’t go into details about that.  Boyo, who I managed to learn was 45, talked about putting his life story together in the form of a book and said that once he did that we could read it and learn all that we wanted to about him.  But until then, he preferred to stay anonymous and advised me to speak with him through his “editor” which coincidentally is a person that I know.  Small world.

Anyway, I did get Boyo to tell me what he would use the money for.  He said he would get something to eat.

I gave him an extra dollar and bought one of his newspapers and caught the 42 bus home.

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I love going out and giving my $10 away.  However, I have to admit there have been a very small handful of days when I am just not motivated.  This is one of those days.  I was not feeling well and just wanted to go to bed, but I forced myself into some presentable clothes and headed out in the drizzling darkness.

KULTURAs at 1728 Conn. Ave. (photo: Reed)

I saw a man sitting in a folding chair on the sidewalk of Connecticut Avenue.  He was wearing a long sleeve shirt opened up with a white t-shirt underneath, jeans and flip flops.  His calm, easy demeanor unaffected by the light rain that fell on his shoulders.  Andrew is the owner of KULTURAs Bookstore at 1728 Connecticut Avenue which is nestled on the west side of Connecticut just north of Dupont Circle.  It’s a wonderful shop featuring second-hand and rare books as well as small but unique collection of consignment clothing.  They even sell some handmade ponchos commonly found in parts of Latin America.  I had been in the bookstore during the snowpocalypse we had last winter.  “We opened during the snow storm, so you must have stopped in during the first week,” Andrew told me.  This was KULTURAs second stint in the Dupont area.  Andrew explained that he and his wife had had a store in the area for a long time but in 2006 they packed the family up and moved 3,000 miles to Santa Monica, CA where they continued with KULTURAs. 

Andrew peering out the store front. (photo: Reed)

The rain started to pick up and we walked inside where he sunk into a chair behind a wooden desk.  “The timing wasn’t ideal given the economy,” Andrew said referring to the fact that after three years they decided to move back to DC last fall.  “It was fun though…we had a blast!”  He told me about their house that overlooked the Santa Monica Bay.  “I’d go surfing with my kids before school,” he reminisced as he propped his right leg up on the edge of the desk.

His upbringing consisted of periods of time living in DC, Detroit and Texas although he said he felt most comfortable in the Los Angeles area where he has family.  After graduating from the George Washington University with a degree in Latin American studies, he spent a year studying at the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia.  “I even took a weaving class there!” he told me.  I mentioned that I had spent a few weeks in Manizales, Colombia this year and he knew the area.

He married his wife in the late 80s and now has two children; one in high school and the other in college.

KULTURAs also sells consignment clothes and handmade ponchos. (photo: Reed)

Andrew is easy to talk to.  The conversation naturally drifted to the topic of owning a bookstore.  “I like interacting with people,” he says.  “Someone will come in and ask for a particular book and then you discover there is an entire story behind why they are looking for that book.”  I could relate to this.  It’s similar to what I have said about the Year of Giving – everyone has a story.  KULTURAs gives store credit for books that they buy.  Andrew says that can be exciting as well.  “Sometimes you find a real treasure!”

I was interested to hear his opinion about the long-term outlook for books.  It seems that technology is murdering the traditional print media.  The timeliness of news makes it a perfect subject to be transmitted via computers and handheld devices.  Magazines and books have also been threatened by Kindles and Nooks.  “I think physical books will diminish significantly,” the 52-year-old says pointing out that younger generations prefer to get their information online.  I do think books will begin to be read more on electronic tablets and devices we haven’t even dreamed of yet, but perhaps there will still be a strong attachment for some people to have a physical book in their hands.  Maybe it’s the sound of cracking open a new book or the musty smell of an old book or perhaps it’s just the idea of turning pages that attract some of us. 

An outside shot of Andrew ringing up a customer. (photo: Reed)

Speaking of books, I wandered around KULTURAs.  I saw lots of interesting books about art, architecture, cooking, philosophy, etc.  They even have a good number of books in foreign languages.  But it was Donald Miller’s first book Through Painted Deserts that caught my eye and ended up going home with me.  A friend of mine was recently talking about Miller and a conference of his that she was attending in Portland, Oregon.  She is a fan and I thought I would pick up his book and give it a chance.

As for the $10, Andrew said that he was going to use that to buy some groceries. 

When I left I realized I felt much better.  Maybe it was just getting out of the house?  Maybe the Year of Giving helped in some way.  For a half hour I forgot all about how I felt, the work that went unfinished that day, or the emails I still had to write. 

For more information on KULTURAs, check out their website or stop in and visit them at:
Dupont Circle: 1728 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Tenleytown: 4918 Wisconsin Avenue,  NW

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“I could die tomorrow, so what am I doing today to help the world" - Jessica (photo courtesy of Jessica)

I sat down next to Jessica at a Starbucks in Cleveland Park.  Originally from Memphis, TN, she lives with her husband in Virginia and works in development for a DC arts organization.  She herself was a dancer for many years.  “I started when I was four,” she said.  “I stopped when I was 25.  It was an amazing experience.  The arts can change people’s lives – put them in touch with a part of themselves they never even knew existed.”

I discovered that she and I have something in common.  We both participated in Rotary international exchange programs.  I went as a student to Mexico for one year when I was 16 and she went as a professional to South Africa for one month.  “It was life-changing,” she tells me.  She stayed with Rotary families throughout the area and got to see the way different people lived.  “Sometimes their impressions of Americans were startling,” she mentioned referencing the fact that often times people’s impressions are shaped by what is seen on TV or in movies.

I asked her what some of the lasting impressions in her mind were.  She recalled a few.  “I remember little kids running behind our van as we entered into the small villages.  We also passed a graveyard for AIDS victims.  One day we visited this school that had just got water.  I remember seeing a kid that couldn’t have been more than eight smoking a cigarette at school.”

Jessica says that she will donate the $10 to the Polaris Project, a Washington, DC based organization whose mission it is to stop human trafficking and modern day slavery.

I asked her how we could lend her a hand.  She said that she would like the opportunity to talk with someone who has experience in “dance therapy.”  It’s an area that she is interested in exploring given her dance background.  So if you or someone you know has experience in this area, give me shout.

I had a “first” happen in this encounter.  Instead of me taking a photograph of Jessica, she asked if she could email me one.  I said sure. 

Don’t forget this Sunday is 10/10/10.  Check out Howard Wu’s “Give a Stranger 10 Bucks Day!”

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I sat at Illy Café at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and M Street sipping a double espresso.  To my right sat a girl who seemed to also be writing in a journal of sorts.  The last time I saw someone writing in a journal we got to meet Roey…maybe this would turn into a recipient 273.

I asked her to accept my $10.  She did and asked to take a few minutes to talk to her for the blog post.  Coincidentally she was waiting for someone that she was going to interview!

I am usually pretty good a detecting accents and determining where people are from, but I had no idea about Elina.  First let me say that she speaks incredible English.  Occasionally I would hear a slight accent that would make me think Eastern European.  But just when I would think that was it, I would detect an ever so slight southern twang!  I give up!

Elina hails from Regensburg, Germany. (photo: Reed)

So it turns out that she was born in Russia but grew up in the small town of Minden, Germany which is about 25 miles west of Hanover.  Her flawless English is probably partly due to her time in the US as an au pair and a year that she spent studying in Virginia on a scholarship.  “It completely changed my life.”  These days she lives in Regensburg, Germany.  “People kind of know who I am there because I was voted “party queen of Regensburg” on StudiVZ, a German social networking site similar to Facebook.

So I discover that she is in DC for about two months doing research for her undergrad thesis paper that studies society’s perception of soccer in Washington, DC.  “So I am actually interviewing people for my research,” she explained.  “I’m actually waiting for the President of a fan group for DC United.” 

The $10 will come in handy Elina tells me.  “I’ve been refusing to add more minutes to my American cell phone since I’m leaving next week.  I’m down to just $5 now and this will hopefully get me through these final days.”  She actually says that unlike most other 23-year-olds she hates having a cell phone.  “I didn’t have one until I started my studies.”

Just then a guy approached our table and she asked, “Are you Paul?”  Her interview subject had arrived.

Elina used the $10 to add minutes to her cell phone. (photo: Reed)

Paul is one of the leaders of the Screaming Eagles, a 1,100 member fan community for DC’s professional soccer club.  All three of us chatted for a while about random topics.  I didn’t want to impose on the time Elina had set up to meet with Paul so I said goodbye to both of them and excused myself.

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Ismail sleeping in the foreground as a cyclist pedals by on Rock Creek Parkway. (photo: Reed)

I made my way back from Pennsylvania to DC on Tuesday.  It was such a beautiful drive home that I thought I should get outside and go for a bike ride.  I got my Moleskine notebook, my camera, $10 and my audio recorder together and packed my Swiss Army backpack and headed out on my bike toward the Potomac River.  

It was a perfect day.  The sun was shining and people were out running and biking.  As I got close to the river I saw lots of people practicing crew and

Ismail still trying to wake up. (photo: Reed)

others just leisurely enjoying the calm waters.  About 100 yards from the manicured grounds of the Kennedy Center I found a man taking a nap on a shaded patch of grass on the northern bank of the Potomac. 

I cautiously approached him, trying to make a little bit of noise so that I didn’t startle him, and called out, “Excuse me.  I’m sorry to bother you, but do you have a minute.”  Ismail slowly roused from a groggy state.  He rubbed his eyes and wet his lips as he studied me and we slipped into an hour-long conversation about his life, politics, religion, economy and one Don Vito Corleone.

“I came here from Sudan 26 years ago to meet Marlon Brando,” Ismail says fighting off a cough.  He shares that he has seen all of Brando’s movies.  He is especially fond of Sayanora (1957) and the classic The Godfather (1972).  To Ismail, Brando was not just an actor, but much more.  “His movies had meaning and Brando himself stood for things.  His movies didn’t have any garbage.”  Still fighting off the sleep, he admits that he unfortunately never got to meet his idol.

I dug around in my backpack for my Moleskine notebook where I take notes about the people I meet.  It also has a handy folder where I keep my ten dollars and cards that I give people.  I realized I had left the book on my kitchen counter.  Shoot.  I checked my wallet, all I had was two twenties and four singles.  Hmmm. What to do?  Well, I will just offer him $20.

A crew team glides by behind Ismail. (photo: Reed)

“Oh!  I’ve read about you.  I remember you.  There was a story about you in the Washington Post several months ago,” he says taking off his black modern looking glasses.  “But you normally give $10, right, let me give you $10 change,” he offered.  I told him to keep the extra ten; it would make for an interesting deviation in my giving.

“Did you think that I would ever find you,” I asked.  

“If I tell you, you’re not going to believe me, but I was thinking about you two days ago,” he says.  He had read an article somewhere about a guy who gave some money to a homeless guy in Rosslyn and he thought that perhaps it was me.  I don’t think it was, but you never know.  I have given to some people in Rosslyn which is just across the Potomac river.

Ismail originally came to the US from Sudan, the largest country in Africa and the Arab world.  It’s a unique country in that it has nine neighbors with a variety of different cultures, religions and languages.

His move to the US was related to his work with the League of Arab States.  18 years ago, he left the organization and began driving a cab in DC.  He recently was forced to stop driving his cab after racking up thousands of dollars of unpaid fines.  He got his license revoked and had to give up his taxi cab.  That was six months ago.  “I sent my wife and son home to Sudan and moved out of our apartment to save money,” the father of three said.  He tried the shelters but said that the conditions are so poor in most shelters that he prefers to sleep on the streets of DC.  “I am saving money to pay the fines, so I don’t need to have extra things to pay such as rent right now.”  He talks of a nice facility on Wisconsin Avenue where they allow eight individuals per day to shower there.  “I go there and sometimes even receive mail there.” 

Ismail has been homeless for six months. (photo: Reed)

He said he owed almost $5,600 in fines.  I never fully understood how he accumulated these fines or what they were for.  “I offered to pay them $150 per day every day at eight o’clock, but they said I had to pay everything at once, which I can not do.”  He says he has saved up a couple thousand dollars through working as a dish washing but still needs approximately $2,075.  Although he didn’t ask, I said maybe some of the readers of the Year of Giving would be able to help him.  He at first declined this offer saying that he was healthy and could work so he didn’t need to receive any assistance from others, but then said, “Well, I would accept the help with one condition.  If they would send me their name and address as well so that I can pay them back once I get my cab back.”  I believe he was sincere with this promise.

“I’m going to put your twenty dollars toward the money I owe,” he told me.  

Ismail laughs easily. (photo: Reed)

We chatted about the challenges of being homeless.  Ismail paused as a plane on final approach to Reagan National Airport passed overhead before saying, “Even if someone is homeless or crazy, he still has dignity.  He still needs to be listened to.”  He said that if you take a person’s dignity away they don’t have anything left.  I agree.  It reminds me of Anthony from Day 6, a homeless man who I met sitting in the snow near Dupont Circle Metro who was sending Christmas cards to his family members.  “I still have my pride,” Anthony told me last December.  

I enjoyed my time with Ismail and I know I will see him again.  If anyone wants to help him, let me know, I have his cell phone number.

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For any Spanish speakers out there, you can see a news report on the Year of Giving by Spain’s CUATRO. 

Jazz in the Garden happens every Friday night in the Summer at the National Gallery of Art's sculpture garden. (photo: Reed)

For today’s recipient we go to downtown Washington, DC on a Friday night to Jazz in the Garden; a free concert series featuring an array of jazz artists performing a range of styles—from swing to progressive to Latin—every Friday evening in the summer at the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden.  Picture a beautiful outdoor setting with people relaxing on benches or blankets with picnic baskets while the sun sets and delightful music plays in the background.  I was sure to find someone to give my $10 to here.

I found Faith, a 30-year-old government worker, standing next to the reflecting pool.  She was on a date, but was kind enough to take a few minutes to learn about the Year of Giving.  “I’m going to use the money to either buy some drinks tonight or possible some gelato,” she said as I placed the ten dollars in her hand. 

Faith is planning a month-long celebration for her 31st birthday and calling it Faith Fest. (photo: Reed)

I asked if I could ask her some questions.  “Sure, what do I care?  My life is an open book.”  I learned that Faith is originally from southeast Arkansas although she later moved to Little Rock.  More recently she lived in Madrid for three and a half years until moving to DC about a year ago.

She is pretty funny.  Most of her responses were witty and made me laugh.  She told me about the previous person she dated.  “I was in a charity auction where guys bid on you to raise money for the charity.  So he kept bidding on me but somebody else won.  He later asked me out though.” 

She is a people person: part social networker part organizer.  “I have never seen a city more into happy hours to benefit random causes,” she says referring to DC.  She’s right, it seems that every charity and nonprofit in DC, with the exception of maybe Alcoholics Anonymous, has a happy hour once a month to raise awareness and money for their cause. 

Speaking of occasions for imbibing, Faith mentions that her birthday is October 23rd and this year she is planning Faith Fest – a month-long array of celebratory events in honor of the occasion.  I think that is a great idea, why limit it to just one evening.  

Spanish Eyes (photo: Reed)

I sensed a bit of an adventurous spirit in Faith and asked her to share the craziest thing she has ever done.  “Oooh…” she said cooling herself with a bright red Spanish style fan, “that would be impossible for me to confess to you if you are going to put it on the internet.”  She did share with me that she biked 500 miles across Spain from the Basque city of Irun along the famed Compestela trail to Santiago de Compostela. 

As we were getting close to the primary election here in DC I asked her who she thought would win the mayoral race.  She said she felt that Vince Gray would win.  She was right too.  Last Tuesday voters went to the polls and ousted current Mayor Adrian Fenty as the Democratic nominee. 

Her date left some friends to come over and say hello and check out what was going on.  After all, I was photographing the girl he was on a date with, so I can understand his curiosity.  About the same time a security officer came by informing us that the sculpture garden was closing and that we needed to exit.  On our way out Faith told me that she and her date were heading to dinner at Brasserie Beck, a great Belgian restaurant/bar.

Before leaving the couple I asked her if there was anything that she needed or wanted that YoG followers could help her out with.  I got an interesting request.  “Well, I have this Argentine leather coat that got left behind in Madrid and I would love it if someone would be willing to bring it to me here in DC.”  So, leave Faith a message here if you or someone you know will be traveling from Madrid to Washington and willing to pick up the coat.

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[Tonight] I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended.  Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.” – President Barack Obama, Aug. 31, 2010

In March of 2003 President Bush ordered US troops to invade Iraq in what was called Operation Iraqi Freedom.  About the size of California, Iraq has about 31 million people.  Since 2003, many citizens of Iraq have been killed, displaced, or listed as missing.  I met up with two young Iraqi women on Day 262.  Meet Rusol and Iman.

Fountain at Dupont Circle (photo: Reed)

Sitting on the edge of the fountain at Dupont Circle the girls talk and laugh with one another like any other 21-year-old girls in the US.  But I learn that these girls have lived a very different life than many of their peers here in DC.

Both originally from Baghdad, Rusol has been in the US for one year and Iman two years.  Iman, a Sunni, came here because her father, a former officer in the Iraqi military, started receiving threats from terrorists.  Rusol, a Shiite who lives with her mother and sister, also moved here in search of a more safe and stable society.  “There are no more beautiful places in Baghdad,” they said.  They have all been destroyed.  Life is very different than what they remember before the war.  “It used to be very safe there.”  Despite all of this, they are both quite unhappy here in the US.  “Living here is a little like jail,” Iman says.  “People just work all the time.  Before I came here I thought the US was very fun and lots of parties, but it has only been work, even on weekends, and no parties.”  Rusol agreed, “It’s not like what we would see on TV.”

Although they are both working now, it took some time.  “It’s hard to find a job here since we are still learning English,” Rusol says.  On this day they had both just finished their shift at their nearby job at a restaurant.  Rusol, an attorney back in Iraq, says that she would never tell her friends back in Iraq that she is working as a waitress.

People of Iraq

Day 262 was September 2nd which is in the middle of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is the Islamic month of fasting in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn until sunset.  This month-long commitment is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality.  I could tell the girls missed celebrating Ramadan like they would in Iraq.  They told me that when the sun sets during Ramadan, nobody is on the streets.  Everyone is inside.  “It’s a good time for dating,” they say.

I was curious about how dating was different for young Iraqis.  “Dating is not public,” Iman tells me referring to the fact that although quite common it is generally not welcomed by parents.  “My mom used to tell me that if I wanted a boyfriend that I should marry him.”  In spite of this, they told me that most young people do date.  They, however, said they were in the minority and didn’t have boyfriends.

I asked them what they are going to do with their five dollars.  

“I’m going to keep it,” Iman said.  Rusol didn’t know yet what she would do with it.  They said that although the Year of Giving would not be something that you would probably find people doing in Iraq, it could happen.  “Especially after the war. Nothing is strange now, you can see anything,” Iman told me.

Something that really struck me was that both girls said that notwithstanding the insecurity and potential dangers of returning to Iraq, they preferred to move back.  This made me so sad.  They have not integrated into society here and made friends.  Sometimes I think it is really hard to make friends here in the US.  Especially for adults. 

As we come to a pivotal point in the future of Iraq I wonder if things are any better there today than seven and a half years ago.  Although I have the utmost respect for all the military service men (US, Iraqi and other nationalities) that have served their respective countries there, it doesn’t sound like things are “better.”  So many lives have been lost.  Almost 5,000 US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.  I have heard numbers from 151,000 to over a million.  The girls estimate was closer to a million.  My cousin made two tours in Iraq and thankfully he is safely back home in Tennessee now, however, I am sure his service there came at a cost to him.  

What do you think?  Are things better there today?  I would love to hear from some people in Iraq.

If there are any Iraqi women in the DC area that have went through this difficult period that Rusol and Iman are going through and would like to reach out to them, let me know and I can try to connect you.

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"Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood" - Albert Einstein on Gandhi

In a few weeks many people throughout the world will celebrate the International Day of Nonviolence.  It is celebrated on October 2nd, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi who is widely credited as the father of satyagraha – the philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance.    

I often walk by the Indian Embassy here in Washington, DC.  In front there is a small triangular park with a bronze statue of Gandhi.  Although it’s been 52 years since his death, his wisdom lives on.  Here is a great quote:

Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.

Harriet next to the monument to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (photo: Reed)

I was walking by the statue the other day and saw a couple who appeared to be reading the inscription on the base of the statue.  I approached the couple and explained the Year of Giving to them.  The man was very skeptical of my intentions, but his wife, Harriet, was more receptive saying, “I’ve heard about you!  I think I read something in the Washington Post about what you are doing.”

“So, will you accept my $10?” I asked.

The coupled discussed it briefly.  Harriet’s husband continued to be a little suspicious and declined.  She on the other hand seemed willing to take part.  “I’ll do it!” she said with a smile.

Harriet, a 71-year-old resident of the state of Maryland, said that she was going to use the $10 for something she would not normally buy for herself.  “The last time I found some money I bought a wooden sheet music holder that was carved in the shape of a g clef.”

Now retired, Harriet spends her time doing what she loves.  Here in Washington she stays active by taking classes and going to her gym.  Harriet also seems to enjoy visiting far away places.  She spends lots of time visiting her children and seven grandchildren.  She talked about visiting her son in Scotland as well as another trip to.  The couple also lived in Israel for some time.  “I was actually a cow girl while we were living there.  I would spend eight hours a day riding but I had to stop when I got pregnant.”      

 “What time is it?” Harriet asked.  Her husband glanced at his wrist watch and said, “I think we ought to get going.”  Although I didn’t ask specifically, I believe they were attending an event at the Indian Embassy.  

Photo by Reed

Before saying goodbye to the couple I asked Harriet if there was anything that she wanted me to add to the Lend a Hand section.  “Well, there is one thing.  I’d love to find some relatives that live in Wales.  Their last name is Targovnik and they used to live in the city of Cardiff.”  If anyone can find the Targovniks, leave a comment here and maybe Harriet will see it.

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Just after midnight on Sunday morning I was on my way home when I was approached by two men as I walked through Dupont Circle.  Tyrone approached me and said that his friend wanted to talk to me.  His friend, Josh, approached me and they invited me to join them in threesome!  Oh my God.

I got a bit nervous and kept walking to a more lit area.  The two men followed me there and I tried to change the subject and told them about my project and offered them the $10.  They weren’t interested in the ten spot. I said goodbye and headed home.  Never a dull moment living in Dupont.

Dupont Farmer's Market (photo by Reed)

The next morning I got up early and headed over to the Dupont Farmers Market.  I weaved in and out of the various vendor stalls and looked for someone that caught my eye.  I didn’t find the right person though.  And it was really hot and I was getting impatient.

I left the market and just as I crossed the street I saw David selling the Street Sense newspaper on the corner of Q Street and Connecticut Avenue.

David started working for Street Sense on June 13th (photo by Reed)

Originally from Western Kenya near Lake Victoria, David came to the United States in 1997.  He was working in banking at the time and thought that Delaware would be a good place to live to learn about corporations since most companies are incorporated in the “First State.”  He later moved to DC in 2000.

At first he stayed with a professor friend here in DC while he studied at Strayer University.  He hoped to eventually become a doctor.  “I like medicine a lot.  I even used to volunteer at George Washington Hospital,” David said with a pronounced British accent.  He went on to talk about genetics.  “They are the key to living longer, eliminating disease and improving intelligence.”  In five years he hopes to be a medical researcher.

Like many Street Sense vendors, David is homeless.  However, unlike many of the other homeless that I have met, he chooses to sleep in shelters.  He currently stays at the Mitch Snyder shelter at 2nd and D Streets.  Mitch Snyder was a homeless advocate who was the subject of a 1986 made-for-television movie starring Martin Sheen.  After nine years of homelessness David says that shelters in DC are improving.  “There’s been a lot of changes that started in 2004, like installation of air conditioning, spraying for bugs and improved services.”

It’s been 13 years since he left Kenya.  He said that he misses the food.  “A typical meal back home is broiled or roasted corn.  We put lemon pepper on the corn and eat it with coffee or tea.”

One of six children and the only son, David has lost touch with most of his family.  “The last time I saw my dad was 1985, my mom raised us.”  He said he would like to know what happened to his father: Tom Nyamongo.  “I know that he went to Harvard in the 1980s, but he had some type of government job and his life was quite secretive.”  He hasn’t spoken to his mother in several years.  Although he hasn’t been able to confirm this, a sister of his told him in 2001 that she had passed away.

David has been homeless since 2001. (photo by Reed)

In addition to learning more about his parents, David would like to find a cousin of his that was like a big brother to him.  His name is Ben Bella Jaoko and he is in his mid forties today according to David.  “He moved to Poland in the 1980s to study.  With the internet today maybe somebody can find him,” he said with hope in his voice.

Before saying goodbye, David told me that he was going to use the $10 to buy him a nice meal consisting of some Italian sausages and some bread, a beer and put the rest toward a pack of cigarettes.

Although I met David at Connecticut and Q, he says that he is usually at 17th and K if you would like to stop by and say hello.

UPDATE 10/04/2011: Since my initial encounter with David, the most incredible thing has happened. Someone who was going to a job interview at a company in Poland Googled the hiring manager for the job to learn a little more about him – something we all do today, right? The hiring manager’s name was Ben Bella Jaoko!

Well, would you believe he found my post about his cousin David and at the end of the interview asked Ben if he knew that he had a cousin in the U.S. who was looking for him. Completely shocked, Ben wasted no time contacting me and we connected by phone and I put him and David in contact.

From that moment on Ben worked tirelessly to make arrangements for David to get back to Kenya to be reunited with his family.

This morning as I sat working away at my kitchen table, I got a phone call from Ben. I didn’t immediately recognize the voice but when I heard David’s name mentioned I connected the dots. “I’ve managed to raise enough money to purchase the airfare for David to come back to Kenya,” he told me. He explained to me the rest of the details and asked for my help to take him to the airport and help pay for luggage fees, etc. I am sure there will be some other incidentals that will come up too as he prepares to return to Nairobi. If you would like to help us reunite David with his family you can donate $10 by clicking HERE or the yellow DONATE button on the top right side of this page.

We hope to have everything completed for David to depart by the end of the month. With your help, we can make that happen!

I hung up the phone and sat for a moment in silence in my apartment. All because of a simple blog post that I made back a little over a year ago David has is about to leave the streets of Washington to be reunited with his family. This is what it is all about!

UPDATE 11/15/2011: David will be flying home to Kenya on Tuesday, November 22nd. He has been away for nearly 15 years. Thanks to so many of you who have offered to help support these efforts. I have organized a going away party for David on Monday evening at One Lounge (1606 20th Street, NW – Dupont) in DC from 5:30-8:00pm. Please stop by and meet David before he embarks on this exciting new stage of his life. We will also be accepting donations if you would like to contribute to covering some of the costs associated with getting David back home. I hope to see you next Monday!!

 

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On Day 241 I met up with the Russian Channel One team again.  They came to my apartment and filmed a little and then we headed over to Dupont Circle to find a recipient.  The first person I stopped was a young guy named Oliver.  He said “no” originally and then he said something that was very interesting.  After we spoke for a few minutes he made me an offer.  “I’ll take your ten-dollar bill if you take my twenty-dollar bill.”  I thought that was a really cool idea.  He was pushing my concept to the next level.  Unfortunately as you may know, I can not receive anything in return for my $10 so I couldn’t do that.  That was his condition on taking my money and unfortunately things didn’t work out, but I loved his creativity.  I didn’t get his information, but hopefully he will check this out and drop me a line!  I liked his style!

I then approached another person who said they were running late and didn’t have time.

Eric at Dupont Circle (photo: Reed)

They say that the third time is a charm.  Well, Eric helped make that statement come to fruition.  He looks to be a twenty-something who works for an IT company where you can dress how you want and the hours are flexible.  Well, I was pretty much right-on.  He works as a software developer for a non-profit that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.  Basically it seems like they try to improve transparency and help the public connect with the government.  And since it was close to 10am, I think I am right about the flexible hours too. 

Eric is originally from the Catskills of New York but has also lived in Boston and NYC before coming to DC.  “I really like it here,” he says.  That might be largely as a result of his job as it turns out.  Either he really likes it or hopes that his boss reads this because he told me, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been working where I am now.  There’s just 35 of us, it’s pretty cool.” 

Eric talking to Andrey from Russian Channel One (photo: Reed)

He keeps himself busy outside of the office as well.  “I like to do improv comedy and ride my unicycle.”  That’s right, Eric rides a unicycle.  He told me that one day when he was in Boston he saw a guy riding to work on a unicycle and he asked him if he could borrow it some time and the guy agreed.  Apparently it’s a small trusting community.  I mean, it would be easy to spot them if they don’t bring it back, right!  I assume he has his own now and didn’t keep the other guy’s unicycle and flee to Washington.  Hmmm…anyone missing a unicycle up in Boston?

Eric has “a few brothers” and is the proud father of a cat.  He also has a girlfriend – sorry ladies.  Speaking of which, he said that my $10 would help him take his girlfriend to dinner.

I finished and then the guys from Channel One had a chat with Eric for a while and we parted ways.  Cool guy.

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Yab with all of his belongings (photo: Reed)

Today is my brother’s 39th birthday! Happy birthday Ryan. He has helped me in so many ways with my Year of Giving; from suggesting that I start on the anniversary of my mother’s passing to countless hours of computer and camera support to reading every blog post and pointing out mispelled words that I missed. He has been there with me the entire journey. Thanks LB! I love you.

Often times when I speak to someone about the Year of Giving and the conversation turns to the homeless people who I have given to people assume that they use the money for alcohol or drugs.  Of course that has happened.  However, sometimes you would be surprised what a homeless person does when they are offered $10.  I was certainly surprised with Yab’s response.

On this particular day I was walking along 23rd Street near Rock Creek Park in northwest DC.  I saw Yab lying on some cardboard on the side of the road.  He was sleeping.  I took a chance and went over and spoke to him.  He took a second to wake up and I introduced myself.  I explained what I was doing and we started talking.

Yab hasn’t shaved since 1997 (photo: Reed)

Originally from Ethiopia, Yab told me an amazing story about his life.  He patiently invited me back to the year 1943 when he was seven years old living in Ethiopia.  It was July, the cold season, when one morning he volunteered to take some of his family’s cattle up the mountain to graze.  When he got to the top of the mountain, he came across a man standing outside a cave.  “There’s a hyena inside there” the man told young Yab.  He walked cautiously over to the entrance of the cave and peered inside.  Sure enough, there was a massive hyena lying inside.  The man suggested that they build a fire to drive the hyena out.  Yab started to gather sticks and small logs to build the fire and the man came close to Yab and touched his arm and out of nowhere the wood caught fire and the hyena fled the cave.  It wasn’t until 50 years later on President Clinton’s inauguration day on January 20th, 1993 that he realized who that man was.  “I didn’t know it then, but that was God there with me.”  Ever since this realization he has lived a deeply spiritual life.  He shares his message asking everyone to accept Jesus into their life in this short clip.

So how did Yab get to the US from that mountainside in Ethiopia?  Well, in the 1980s Yab was in Somalia working on some oil ventures when he was captured and taken hostage by terrorists who were against the country’s leader Siad Barre, who was later overthrown in 1991.  When the UN and the Red Cross got involved he asked for political asylum to the United States.  Since he had lived in the US briefly in 1958 he was given priority and offered asylum in Minnesota.  He said he didn’t really want to go to Minnesota but they promised him free housing, free education, food, a Pell Grant, etc.  However, when he arrived, he said that the assistance only lasted for about a month and then he was asked to leave the Mayflower Church where he was staying and told that he would have to go. 

He eventually got them to give him $1,600 and a ticket to Washington, DC where he even got to meet with then Mayor Marion Barry before Barry went to prison in 1991.

Later that year Yab became homeless and has been so ever since.

The former electrical engineer now carries signs around with him with messages on them that definitely make you look twice.  I asked him to explain some of the signs; most of which seemed too bizarre to be true.  One said:

Monster Obama must stop cuttin’ human throats at the expense of:

1. Dupont Circle chess players 

2. Oprah Winfrey – Arsenio Hall – Horton – Barry   

3. Odinga PM of Kenya.

One of Yab’s signs (photo: Reed)

Probably the most extreme thing he shared with me was that he believed that President Obama was with the CIA and tried to kill him when he was in the concentration camp in Somalia.  “I know it was him, I saw him.”  I tried to understand his thoughts and messages but it was difficult to follow his logic.  It reminded me a little bit of John from Day 121.  Both men are extremely nice.  Both have turned to signs to spread their message.  And I think both are greatly misunderstood because their choice of messages.

photo: Reed

I finally asked the bearded 74-year-old what he planned to do with the $10.  Would you believe that he gave it back to me and said that he wanted me to have it.  He said that he hasn’t accepted money from anyone since he became homeless in 1991.  “God will take care of me,” he assured me.  I tried to convince him to keep it or give it to someone else, but he said he wanted me to have it.  Faith and dignity are strong stubborn things. 

I’ve walked by that place several times since I met Yab but haven’t seen him again.

Update 12/Oct/2010

I ran into Yab on the streets of DC today.  He was doing well, seemed in good health and good spirits.  He recognized me and remembered our conversation well.  Pushing a cart full of personal items, he was walking south on Columbia Rd. toward Dupont.

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I’m heading over to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic later today.  Should be a good day of tennis, both Andy Roddick and John Isner are playing tonight!  They play up at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park.  If you are not familiar with Rock Creek Park, it is a beautiful sanctuary of green space in Washington, DC that is twice the size of New York’s Central Park. 

On my way home from work I walk right by the lower part of the park.  One evening after work I noticed that there were only two people in the park near the entrance of the park at 23rd and O Streets.  One was a young man who was sitting by himself in the middle of the park.  The other was a man who was walking around in a slightly crazed manner.  I watched as the wandering man got closer and closer to the guy sitting by himself. 

By the time I got close to the guy sitting on the grass, the other man had wandered over to the edge of the woods.  I decided to approach the young man sitting by himself.

Raoul preferred not to be photographed, but he was sitting just over the hill to the right (photo: Reed)

I introduced myself and took a seat next to Raoul.  He’s a 32-year-old professional who works here in DC for a non-profit focused on energy sustainability.  “I came out here just to relax a little and catch up on some emails,” he told me as he lifted his right hand to reveal a cell phone.

There are some tennis courts and a swimming pool adjacent to where we were sitting and Raoul told me that he had actually just came from a swim over at the pool.  I have never been to the Francis Swimming Pool (2500 N. Street).  In fact I didn’t even know it was there until a few weeks ago.  Given how hot it has been this summer I am considering making a visit over there though.  It’s walking distance from my place and it’s free for DC residents!

Originally from Mumbai (Bombay), India, Raoul moved to the US about 15 years ago.  His parents are diplomats and they were posted here in DC.  He grew up speaking Hindi and five other local dialects in addition to English.  I asked him how somebody learns five dialects!  “You just sort of pick them up informally by talking with your friends” he shared.  Now he also speaks some Spanish, French and Italian.  It probably won’t come as any surprise to you that Raoul is well traveled and has visited 37 countries.

I love Indian food and never miss an opportunity to ask someone who I think might have a good tip about finding the ultimate in Indian cuisine.  “I like the Bombay Club” he said about the Farragut North locale.  I haven’t been there but will definitely check it out.  He says that he really misses some of the simple street foods from India. 

View of Connecticut Avenue crossing Rock Creek Park

Raoul says that he will give the $10 to somebody else or some organization.  “Maybe I’ll give it to Bread for the City” he says.  That’s odd…because I was planning to go to a Bread for the City event later that week.  It’s a great organization that I will talk about later this week.

Since Raoul is working for a sustainable energy organization I thought I would ask if he had any advice for people on how they could do their part on conserving energy.  He looked over at me and said “Turn the lights off and take the metro.”  Sounds so simple but most of us could do better about reducing the electricity we use and taking public transportation.

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The Clintons walk down Pennsylvania Avenue at the 1993 inauguration (photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute)

I left work and instead of walking home I thought that I would walk in the opposite direction and see if I could find a recipient of my daily ten-spot.  As I walked down 25th Street I passed Trader Joe’s on my left and arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue.  What a historic avenue!  This 36 mile stretch of road (about five of which are in DC) is most known for the 1.2 mile section that connects the White House to the Capitol.  I was standing about a mile west of the White House near where the avenue begins (or ends I guess) at the edge of Georgetown.  That is where I saw Rigoberto. 

I stopped Rigoberto on the sidewalk of Penn. Ave. as he left the bank on the way back to start his shift (photo: Reed)

Originally from Honduras, Rigoberto has been here for approximately ten years.  He lives in the District and works as a cook at a restaurant on the iconic Pennsylvania Avenue.  “Es una ciudad muy bonita,” he says as he talks fondly about Washington.  Although he has patiently waited nine years for his green card to be approved, he dreams of one day returning to Honduras.  “Toda mi familia está alla,” he tells me explaining that his wife and six children (ages 11-22) are there in a small town that is a two day bus trip west of the capital of Tegucigalpa. “It’s right on the border with El Salvador.” 

He looked down at the ten-dollar bill in his hand and said that he was going to send it to his daughter who is a university student in Honduras.  Every month he sends her $150.  This time he will send her $160.  It comes at a good time too.  He told me that she had just asked if he could send her some additional money this month for some other expenses she incurred. 

Rigoberto, who is legally here, has worked in the US for ten years in order to provide for his large family.  Moving thousands of miles away to a strange city with a different language would not be a choice some people would be able to do.  “This is how I support my family,” he tells me.  In his hometown, rent for a nice home for a family of his size costs about $105.  “And this includes someone to help with cooking the meals, cleaning the house and doing the laundry.”  He would not be able to make the kind of salary he has here if he were to be working there. 

Rigoberto (photo: Reed)

Rigoberto had just left the restaurant where he was working to run to the bank so I didn’t want to keep him too much longer.  The last thing I would want is for him to get in trouble for not being at work.  I told him that I would try to stop in some time and eat at the restaurant where he works.  “Well, that’s up to you,” he says with a big smile.  “It’s a pretty expensive place and I’m not that good of a cook!” 

I have listed on the Lend a Hand page two items that Rigoberto needs.  His refrigerator can not keep up with the heat and says that the freezer compartment does not work well enough to keep things frozen.  He also needs a new stove.

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It seems like I am fighting an endless battle to get caught up on my blog posts.  I have some video to show of Anthony getting more items that I need to get edited and share with you and I also have some items for Garrett.  I saw him again today and agreed to meet him later to deliver the items but he wasn’t there when I returned.  I’ll keep trying.

Other day I checked my wallet and I had seven dollars in it so I went to the ATM and retrieved $100.  I then walked inside the bank and asked if I could get the twenty-dollar bills broken down into ten-dollar bills.  I shared with Catherine the idea of the Year of Giving and she got so excited.  “Ooh, I’d like somebody to give me $10!”

I left and headed home.  I went back to the bank with my notebook and camera about three hours later to see if Catherine was still there.  She was helping a customer and at first did not recognize me.  “She can help you at the next window,” she said as I waited while she attended to her customer.  I politely refused the help of the other teller explaining that I wanted to speak with Catherine.  When my turn came, she looked at me and recognized me.  She was so excited and ran around the other teller windows and came out on the left side to meet me.  Her energy was contagious. 

Catherine's smile is contagious. (photo: Reed)

I discovered that  27-year-old grew up in Ghana.  Her native language is Fanti, but she speaks perfect English in addition to speaking French and a Ga, another native language of Ghana.  Nine years ago she moved to Akron, Ohio to pursue a degree in Political Science.  Then in January she moved to DC to try to further her career; however it’s not been easy.  “I can’t find anything related to my career,” she told me.  She ended up accepting a job at the bank in order to pay her bills.  Her $1,000+ monthly rent is grossly more expensive than the $320 she paid for her place in Akron.   

Given her short time in DC and economic situation right now she says that she hasn’t gotten out much and has yet to meet a lot of new friends.  Thankfully she loves her coworkers at the bank.  “They’re great!” 

photo: Reed

She hopes to find a job in international development and possibly work with Africa.  At some point she says she hopes to return to Ghana.  “My dream is to run a HIV/AIDS awareness organization back in Ghana.”  I know that many readers of the Year of Giving are involved in that area of work and I hope they might be able to help Catherine.  Drop me a note and I will connect you with Catherine. 

As someone who works with money all day long, I was quite interested to know what she was going to do with the $10 I gave her.  “I’m going to put it toward gas,” she says.  It sounds like she could definitely use a little extra money too; she estimates that she has racked up more than $450 in parking and speeding tickets since moving here earlier this year.  Hmmm.  I might suggest the Metro as an alternative to get her to and from work!

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Before I introduce you to Andrew, I have two updates.  The first one is a big one.  After 285 days of unemployment I have accepted a position with the World Wildlife Fund and will begin next week!  Don’t worry though, the Year of Giving will continue!  Perhaps this will give me a new perspective on giving.  Thanks to so many of you who have given me encouragement throughout the past 9 months.

The other update is that I delivered some items for Phillip from Day 75.  Click here to see him receiving some of the items that you have sent!

Day 191 was one of the days that I was struggling with my dying laptop.  I had been over at my brother and his wife’s house all day trying to rescue it.  It was nearing the midnight hour and I rushed out of the house in pursuit of a recipient.

Andrew (Photo: Reed)

I saw a man walking along North Lynn Street in Arlington and stopped to see if he would accept my $10.  I tried hard to convince him to participate, but he stuck to his guns and said he didn’t want to “get involved.”  Strike one.  Back in my car and across the Key Bridge into DC.  I headed over to the “Social Safeway” on Wisconsin Avenue where I found Andrew studying the contact lense solution at 11:40pm.  The 22-year-old is in DC for the summer doing an internship for his master’s degree program in international affairs at Georgia Tech.  I asked him if he always does his shopping around midnight.  “No, I just happened to have time now,” he responded.  

When Andrew is not studying and working he is training for his first marathon.  I have never had a desire to run a marathon.  I could see trying to do a 10-miler, but I have no interest whatsoever in running 26 miles!

The grandson of Eastern European immigrants, he has lived abroad in Bulgaria for four months.  He talks about his grandmother fondly.  “She is 86 and still going strong!”  Maybe his grandmother and his time in Bulgaria

Photo: Reed

have fueled his interest to get grant money to go to the Black Sea region and study the relationship between highly bureaucratic governments and the degree of development that has occurred within the country.  If you can offer any suggestions on how Andrew can secure grant funding for this specific project, please leave a comment here.    

“So what are you going to do with the $10,” I ask.  He says that he will put it toward an outing with his “Little.”  That’s right.  Somehow Andrew finds time to be a Big Brother to a six-year-old in Atlanta.  “I feel that the best way to help those who are disadvantaged is to volunteer my time and be a positive role model for them.”  I couldn’t agree more.  “Somehow you got to break the cycle,” he concludes.

Andrew (Photo: Reed)

At the end of our conversation, I learn that Andrew will be joining the Air Force upon his graduation from grad school.  “I just got my bars pinned on,” he tells me.  With his international interest I am not surprised when he tells me that he plans to serve in the Intelligence Division.  I am sure he will go far.  Thanks in advance for your service to our country.

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Two quick updates!  I have finally got some video together from my first delivery of items for Tommy from Day 155.  You can see the video here.  He was so thankful!  Thanks to all who continue to send items for those on the Lend a Hand list.  Also, I recovered some video for Alex on Day 180 and posted it.

On Day 190, I went out to Dulles to meet up with my friend Alex for coffee.  He did his MBA at Vanderbilt with some friends of mine a few years ago and had a long layover at the airport on his way back from the west coast to Europe.  It was a short visit, but always good to catch up with old friends.  He keeps telling me that I should come to see him in Riga, Latvia…it would be fun and interesting to see how Latvians respond to the Year of Giving!  

Later I found myself sitting in Tina’s chair at the Hair Cuttery at Connecticut and R in NW.  I have had this idea before to give my $10 to the person that cuts my hair.  Since you sit there and talk to them for a good while, I have always thought that they make for a perfect person to meet and give $10 to.  I have tried a few times, Day 60 for example, but have not been successful yet.  

Today I would change that streak.  I asked Tina if she would be a part of the Year of Giving.  “I think I have heard of this.  Are you that guy?”  This is always a weird moment.  Part of me is excited when people have heard of the Year of Giving but another part of me is somehow shy to affirm their suspicion.  A bit sheepishly I told her, “Yeah, I’m the guy.”  

I wasn’t sure until the end of my hair cut when she actually took my $10 if she would participate or not.  She seemed a bit hesitant the entire time, but I did learn a little bit about her…but not much.  She seems to be a pretty private person.  

Photo: Reed

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she moved here some 30+ years ago after meeting an American man.  She has been working at the Dupont Hair Cuttery for about 15 years.  By the way, if you live downtown this is one of the most economical places to get your hair cut.  For men, cuts are $18.  Depending on where you live, this might not sound like a good deal, but almost everywhere else here charges more than $30.  I have always had good experiences there and I always get a different person.   

I asked her what was the craziest hair cut she has ever given.  Wouldn’t you know it, she said the “M” word….yeah, I won’t write the word, I already get hundreds of people every day coming to my website looking for this type of hairstyle.  See this post/comments to learn more about this odd relationship the website has with people surfing for these kinds of haircuts.  

Tina didn’t tell me much more (and I definitely wasn’t allowed to take her picture!)  We talked about the weather and trivial things like that.  I did learn that she likes Sci-Fi movies and has always wondered if there was intelligent life in another universe.  I believe that there is.  

She finished up, I gave her the $10 which she plans to pass along, paid the bill, tipped her and went on my way.  

A question for you readers.  I am writing an article about giving and whether intentions matter.  What do you think?  Does it matter what someone’s intentions are when they practice giving?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  

The Hair Cuttery in Dupont is located at 1645 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009-1054 – (202) 232-9685.  Open Weekdays 9am-9pm; Sat 9am-7pm; Sun 11am-5pm.  Walk-ins welcome.

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