Inspired by Betty Londergan's What Gives 365 and the Bible (not necessarily in that order!), I'm giving away $250 a week in 2011.

This is where I'm recording that journey, and I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Friday, January 28, 2011

One Hen and a Bunch of Beads

I find it oddly exciting when friends from different parts of my universe collide -- especially when they don't even know it's happening. Today it's Meredith, Liz and Lynette. Meredith gave me a beautiful pair of beaded 'barefoot sandals', I think for my 40th birthday, partly because she thought I'd like them, but also because she suspected I would copy the idea and make other pairs myself. She was right.

Liz has ordered many pairs of barefoot sandals from me since then. Unfortunately her last order was a bit of a disaster. It was a last minute project at Christmas time, and although my girls and I worked diligently, the elastic thread we had in the house just wasn't sturdy enough, so that when Liz got her stash of sandals down to St. Lucia, they broke. All of them.

Being among the most gracious people I know, rather than insisting that we remake them all, Liz chose to be inspired by this blog and asked me to make a donation on her behalf to 'something for industrious girls' because, as she said, "Sometimes there are budding entrepreneurs all over the world who make things and they just don't work."

Lynette was one of the first people to make a suggestion to this blog. (It is, after all, our week to give to a place that you have brought to my attention.) I'd never heard of the organization, but was delighted to learn more. It's called One Hen, and here's how it describes itself:

"One Hen creates educational programs that teach elementary school children about global issues and equip them to be changemakers. Our mission is to help children become global citizens who succeed in school and beyond and who marry that success to helping others, by instilling in them the values of financial responsibility, personal initiative, global awareness and giving back."

As a mom, curriculum developer, educator, world citizen and lover of the African music that permeates their website, I was hooked.

One Hen also links donors to various international organizations that provide microloans to entrepreneurs. The Grameen Bank was a pioneer in this field, and through their Foundation, they have a Pioneer Fund that targets support to mothers and daughters.

There's another connection. On the One Hen website, kids can play games. When they catch fish, for example, they win beads, and those beads are translated into real life donations to entrepreneurs in places like Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana and Columbia.

So here's to good friends from high school, book club and the neighbourhood. And here's to the beads! The ones that fell off Liz's feet, and the ones that will multiply the efforts of women all over the world. Liz's gift has gone to the Mother and Daughter fund of Grameen Foundation today, and the money she gave my girls and I for the defective sandals is funding two students to attend the One Hen academy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Groceries for a Young Mom

I love it when a plan comes together. Especially when it's clearly not me who orchestrated it.

Yesterday as I was driving to meet two precious friends for coffee and a long overdue chat, I realized that I still didn't know who today's money was going to. I wasn't worried about it -- more curious to find out what was going to happen.

As we were getting ready to say our good-byes, Bri (who didn't yet know about this blog, incidentally) told us about a young mom at her daughter's high school who hasn't been getting to class lately because she's been passing out from hunger. She has three young children and is unable to make ends meet financially. Bingo!

This mom is part of a new Young Parents' Program in Bri's county. It currently has 22 participants, all under 21, who are looking to finish their high school credits. Childcare is provided on-site, and breastfeeding moms can keep their babies with them in class -- hence the crib in the corner of the English room.

Bri and I are both the daughters of teenage moms who did what it took to make a good life for us. What a blessing for us both to be in a position to help someone else who is struggling through that season. Kudos to the teacher who has developed enough of a relationship with this young woman that she was able to find out what was going on at home and to connect her with help, and to Bri for getting the word out and delivering practical help yesterday afternoon. $250 in grocery cards isn't much, but I awoke this morning thankful that three young kids and their mom are eating breakfast and heading to school today because of it. What a privilege to be used in this way! It makes me wonder what next week has in store.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

1000 Gifts

Check out this beautiful video about treasuring gifts in every moment. Thanks Subi!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Holding Out for a Hero

Who's your hero? Do you have one?

I remember doing a project in Grade 8 English. We had to pick a hero. I couldn't think of one. I think more than half the class did Terry Fox. Most of the rest did a grandparent. I remember thinking that Terry and grandmas were definitely heroic, but that it was sad we couldn't think of more.

I still think so. According to the Rules of the Game, the third Friday of the month will be an opportunity to give to an inspiring individual. I'm feeling less-than-inspired today at how hard it is to think of someone. I'm hoping that you travel in more heroic circles than I do. Who inspires you?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Investing in Local Care in Rural Communities

I finished my PhD dissertation nine years ago. The facetious working title of "Do Doctors Matter?" actually stuck -- with the subtitle of 'women's experiences of maternity care in rural Ontario'. Throughout that project, I was struck by the challenges Ontarians were facing in obtaining what I would consider the most basic of health services in Canada: primary care close to where they live and a midwife or doctor to catch their babies, especially in rural areas. (It was particularly ironic to give birth to one of my daughters on our living room floor because the ambulance and midwives took too long to arrive -- within weeks of having my thesis topic approved!)

Around that time, I became involved in what was then known as EWAG, now East Wellington Community Services. One of its initiatives was a proposal to develop a Family Health Team. Once we secured funding for this new model of multidisciplinary health care in our town, things moved both quickly and slowly at the same time. There were endless meetings, countless hours spent and heavy doses of frustration, mostly with government bureaucracy, coping with setbacks and lots of change. But now, looking back over what's happened, it's amazing to me what has transpired in a relatively short time. There is a whole new organization in place, with its own Board of Directors, staff, mandate and vision. There are two gorgeous new medical centres built and operational (photos to follow I hope). There is a team of health professionals providing integrated care on-site, including in mental health and nutrition. There is a state-of-the-art computer system with digitized medical records and a staff who knows how to use them. And there is a group of people who've built valued relationships and are living with the satisfaction of knowing -- seeing daily -- that our efforts have made a difference. Without electronic medical records, a turn-key facility and a solid team in place, the likelihood of attracting new doctors and other health professionals to Erin and Rockwood was extremely low. Now, the infrastructure is in place to ensure sustainable, local care well into the future, and new physicians are interested in relocating to those towns.

Not only was I a volunteer with the East Wellington Family Health Team, but our family is privileged to receive outstanding care as clients there -- thankfully we haven't needed it very often. When my daughter was in just last week though, we marvelled at the spiffy remote control chair and big portable lights in the new treatment room, and the washrooms now accessible directly from the waiting room. She loved getting a 'backstage tour' that even included the staff lunch room. We both got excited about the Tim Horton's being built next door, at long last. But as we shared our chicken caesar salad at Tintagels afterward, it was the gentle, patient, personalized care we received that impressed us most. Having an 8-year-old notice that our doctor is "always very kind to us and remembers things about us" and that the nurse "was really friendly and made me less scared" is worth investing in. I'm thrilled that a whole new generation of 8-year-olds in that community will be able to say the same thing.

So today's donation is one of thanksgiving -- to Duncan, Eric, Rachel, John, Michelle, Jane, Kevin, Ruth, Eva, Carla, Diarmid, Kim, Laurie, Val, Nancy, Chris, Shane -- and the many others who worked tirelessly to see the EWFHT come to fruition. You've all gone above and beyond. It was a privilege to be able to put my academic 'head knowledge' to work in such a practical and fulfilling way. And although I remain committed to publicly funded health care, I'm willing to add a few dollars to those of the Ministry of Health to ensure that small communities are able to continue to offer high quality, local, integrated primary care.

You can get involved with the EWFHT by clicking here, but if you don't live in that area, I hope you're inspired to find other ways to thank the people that help to keep you healthy and those who set admirable examples of forward-thinking community service. Follow in their steps!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Where the Money Does and Doesn't Come From

This is a hard post to write. It needs to strike just the right balance. I don't want to sound preachy or pious or defensive. I suspect I'll read it later and cringe. But I need to put it out there, so here's my best shot:

I bet people are wondering where the money comes from for this crazy project. Either that, or they're making assumptions about that, and/or about us, that may or may not be true. So I figured I'd set the record straight. Where does the money come from? I could say it comes from God. And I could say, "I don't know." Both are true.

There's no question that we are a wealthy, privileged family. I don't want to pretend we're not. Compared to the vast majority of the rest of the world, we have a ridiculous amount of money at our disposal. We come from backgrounds that include home ownership, travel, sports, camps and gifts at Christmas and birthdays. We are well educated and have good jobs. That makes us rich.

Having said that, wealth and poverty are also relative to one's immediate context. Amongst our family, friends, neighbours and associates, we have more wealth than some and less than others. We are in an expensive season of our lives, with four busy kids. Giving away $250 a week is a lot for us. The money isn't sitting in a savings account waiting for a cheque to be written. As a self-employed consultant working part-time, at the moment I don't have any guaranteed work past the end of February -- but it'll come.

Our experience has been that the cliche "you can never outgive God" is absolutely true. When we have been generous, He has been moreso. When we loosen our grip on our stuff, life is more joyful. And we want to acknowledge that every good gift comes from Him. Whether money comes via our jobs, an inheritance, investments, items bought on sale, an unexpected winfall -- it's all gift. We don't deserve it, any more than someone born into poverty deserves that.

We've been gifted with resources, but also with the willingness to share them. I truly see the willingness as a gift too -- particularly that my guy and I have always been on the same page about that. Not something we can take credit for.

Jesus refers to some people as being of 'little faith' and others as being of 'great faith.' I want to fall into the latter category, and I want to model that for our kids, but I have very vague ideas about how that looks in my real life. Living in a context of provision and plenty, I am figuring out what it means to live with faith and without fear. This blog will be part of that journey. It makes me nervous, but excited too. I hope to include stories of provision along the way.

Even many 'secular folk' would agree with the premise that being generous is a good thing. When Catherine Newman did her research for an article on giving in the December 2010 issue of Whole Living, she asked various people how much they needed to give away in order to gain the benefits that generosity brings. 'More than might seem reasonable' was the answer she heard time and again. (Check out the article if you can -- it's inspiring!)

I'm also aware that talking this openly about money makes lots of people uncomfortable. It's an affront -- not 'appropriate' somehow. ("Maybe you'll be taken advantage of." Yep, maybe.) I hope people don't get too caught up in the amount, as that's not the point. I honestly don't want to be 'showy' about this -- pride can creep in so easily -- but I think that it's hard to generate conversation and learning and inspiration around a topic that is often shrouded in secrecy if we're not willing to be transparent about it. I realize I'm probably taking that a bit far.

A note on where the money for this project isn't coming from. We consider it important to tithe to our local church. We won't be short changing that commitment in order to fulfill this one.

In case you were wondering.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Surviving Five in Tanzania

We have four kids. When our youngest turned 5 last year, I cried. It felt like a 'big birthday' to me, although at the time I wasn't sure why. Although I'm sure it was partly about not having any preschoolers in the house anymore (I can still hear my husband cheering...), I think there was something larger going on.

For those of you that know me, it will likely come as no surprise that my choice for our first donation, on this our first 'international Friday,' is World Vision. I landed my dream job at World Vision Canada straight out of university. It took me to Eastern Africa several times a year. I had the privilege of seeing World Vision's work firsthand in countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. I met the people whose lives were being changed as a result of a lot of hard work and of the generosity of Canadians who might themselves never get there to see it. But I also saw kids who were still sick and dying from things that I knew were easily preventable.

Worldwide, more than 1000 children under the age of five die every hour of every day -- read that again -- most of them from things we know how to prevent and/or treat, such as malnutrition, diarrhea, pneumonia or malaria.

It's unbelievable to me  -- wrong somehow -- that I haven't been to Africa in 15 years. It feels as though it's always with me. I miss the singing most. I wish I could go back now to do the job I was hired to do then. I think I'd be better at it in lots of ways. Or maybe just different. Because although the work touched me deeply, I would be less analytical about it than I think I was then. I'm a mom now. I wonder if I'd cry more -- or just get really, really Mama Bear mad.

I try to communicate some of what it was like to my kids. Our three girls and one boy sponsor three girls and one boy in Mtinko Area Development Program in Tanzania. Recently, we wanted to make a non-sponsorship donation to a project in the same region, and were directed to the Survive Five initiative. World Vision is partnering with CIDA, UNICEF and local governments to provide things my own kids don't need, take for granted or even turn their noses up at: vaccines, antibiotics, nutritional supplements, mosquito nets and training. World Vision's involved in 12 communities in Tanzania -- as it turns out, Mtinko is one of them.

My eldest daughter wants nothing more than to visit Africa. And I'm hoping to be able to join her there sometime soon. When we go, we'll visit Asha, Aisha, Yasinta and Yasini, whose pictures are on our fridge. By then, each of them will be over five years old. I hope that lots of other kids in their community will have survived to five as well, in part because of the good work World Vision is involved in there.

Five is a big birthday, and not just because it marks the start of senior kindergarten.

You can get involved in helping kids Survive Five too by clicking here or in Canada calling 1-866-595-5550. And thanks to Ellen for the photo.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Rules of the Game

So here's our plan:

Each Friday, I will make a $250 donation to something. One week per month, the money will go to an international cause. One week it will stay local. One week it will go to an inspiring individual. And one week (here's where you come in), the recipient will be chosen by you!

Here's how I'm hoping it will work:

You send me your ideas of worthy organizations, causes and/or people -- using the Comment feature or directly by e-mail. Your messages are posted, to inspire and educate others about exciting stuff happening out there. Then on the Friday of the 'vicarious giving' week (the 4th week of the month), I'll pick my favourite idea received in the previous month and the $250 goes there. And maybe I'll ask you to be our guest blogger that week. Or maybe I'll use your ideas to help inform the other weeks. We'll have to see how it goes.

If it sounds a bit arbitrary, it is. That's part of the challenge and fun of this whole exercise. I've been wondering how people choose where to direct their givings, especially when there are so many incredible initiatives out there. And at the end of the day, it's really hard to justify why one heart wrenching need or heroic individual is more worthy than another. You can do your homework, identify your values, make your pitch -- at the end of the day, you just pick. So that's what I'll be doing. (And I'll be asking my family to help, because partly this is about teaching our kids to be aware and generous citizens along the way.)

I may blog more often than each Friday, but some weeks maybe not -- I'm trying to be realistic about this new project, and am very prone to biting off more than I can chew. But please check in often and see how it's going. And do pass the link to your friends -- I'll need lots of ideas, and I'm anxious for this conversation to spread.

And for months with 5 Fridays? We'll have to wait 'til April to find out.