Sometimes my travel recollections are less memories and more hauntings. I’m haunted by a legless beggar in Nepal who chased me around a stupa swinging wildly at my legs with a stick. I’m haunted by the smile of an orphan in Guatemala. I’m haunted by the smell of a dump in Cambodia.
I never know what will trigger a travel haunting. The other day I was speaking at a high school in San Francisco and another one surfaced.
I was in the village of Matlab in Bangladesh. My translator, Dalton, was giving me a tour of the village when a serious looking man approached us. He grabbed me by the arm and led us through the worn dirt paths around rice paddies and ponds until we stood in a home next to a dying old man, the serious man’s father.
The man thought I was a doctor. The man thought I could save his father’s life.
And, you know what? Maybe I could have.
I’m not a wealthy man, but in Bangladesh I am. At the time I didn’t have thousands of dollars at my disposal, but for a few hundred I’m sure I could’ve transported the dying man to the best hospital in Bangladesh. Maybe he still would have died. Maybe he would have died more comfortably. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference whatsoever.
I did nothing. I apologized and told the man I wasn’t a doctor and that I could do nothing for his father. It was awkward. I was ashamed.
How much does it cost to save a life? And what lengths would you go to or how much would you give to do it?
These are questions I’ve been pondering a lot lately. Between my new travel haunting, the earthquake in Haiti, and my reading of Peter Singer’s “The Life You Can Save,” I’ve been thinking about what I can and should do to make a difference. Singer argues that living an ethical life involves a mix of personal philanthropy, local activism, and political awareness. He dispels the whole “for the price of one cup of coffee per day you can save a child’s life” myth and takes a realistic look at how and why we should give.
I’m somewhat politically active, and in 2009 I tried to become more active locally. I joined Big Brothers and Big Sisters (my little brother is a cool kid and we have a lot of fun – Hey Alex!) and Teamwork for Quality Living, which is a great organization that engages the community to overcome poverty together. But my giving hasn’t been the best.
I might have donated $200-$300 last year, which Peter Singer would definitely say is not enough. I could tell Singer that we incurred the cost of having a child, starting her savings plan, and health insurance costs that skyrocketed, and we weren’t in a position to give much, but he still wouldn’t be satisfied.
I’m not a good giver. That’s what I’m beginning to see. That’s what Singer has helped me to see. I can’t afford to give a lot, but I can afford to give more than I do and I’m ethically obligated to do so.
It’s not tough to punch in my credit card number online and click “donate.” I can do that as well as the next fella. But there are so many great organizations out there how do I choose which one to support? Where will my money have the biggest impact?
Allow me to introduce my project to answer these questions: ten4tues. That’s $10 for Tuesday.
By the end of the year, I’ll have donated $520, which still probably isn’t enough. But writing and 2010 comes with its own uncertainties and I don’t want to commit myself to something beyond my means. At the end of the year if I can give more, maybe I’ll choose my favorite charity of the year and do so.
I hope to not only educate myself, but others too. In fact, if so inspired by that week’s organization, I hope you’ll join me in donating to them. Once you do, leave a comment that you donated on this blog or on my Facebook wall or send me a reply on Twitter (use the hashtag #ten4tues) and I’ll enter you to win that week’s prize.
Since I just brainstormed this idea and I’m a couple of weeks behind my $520 goal already, I’ll simplify things this week.
I will be donating $30 to CARE’s Haiti efforts. If you’ve donated a cent to assist any organization’s Haiti efforts, let me know and I’ll enter you to win this week’s prize…