A year of giving: My #ten4tues project

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.

Each Tuesday I plan to share to which organization I am donating $10 to and tell why I chose them. I’ll search out charity organizations like Charity Navigator and GiveWell to aid my decision.

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…

 
3 comments
Rob Reed says:

I gave – and my kids gave – to the Clinton Foundation Haiti relief efforts.

Like you – it was not enough. I am capable of more – and I’m a big Singer fan so I’d welcome a well used copy of his book.

Thanks for the inspiration Kelsey.

Rob

Kelsey says:

Great! Glad to hear it Rob. I’m glad so many folks are getting behind the Haiti cause. I’m hoping my project can shine some light on other people that need our help too.

[...] new year, a new project. :) A couple of weeks ago, I saw a tweet by Kelsey Timmerman about his year of giving away $10 every Tuesday. I’m always intrigued by interesting projects that people undertake. And this one really [...]

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