Archive for the ‘One click helping’ Category

Happy Birthday Kiva

Essi Félicité Adzamua in Togo, Photo: Abby Gray/Kiva

My investment in Kiva, as a loaner to a small business, is one of my favorite things. A simple donation of as little as $25 can radically change a life in poverty regions around the world. Kiva makes micro-loans to entrepreneurs for whom loans that would seem quite small and insignificant to us can stock a small shop with vital goods for a community, buy a sewing machine to launch a clothing business, purchase drugs for a medical clinic, or more. Borrowers pay back the micro-loans with regular installment payments, and then you can roll over your small investment to another borrower who is changing their world. Peruse the online profiles and loan requests to find a project that inspires and moves you. You can also give a micro-loan in the name of a loved one.

For Kiva’s fifth birthday (having loaned over $150 million dollars so far to nearly 400,000 entrepreneurs around the world), there is a special promotion going on through October. If you refer five others who invest, again, as little as a base investment of 25 bucks, the Omidyar Network will invest a $25 dollar credit for you to put into a community. Click here to learn about the October birthday offer, and here to get the full Kiva story. October is a great birthday celebration for these game-changers, but think about a charitable gift to another in the approaching holiday season as well…or do BOTH.

It Gets Better

Dan Savage, the sex advice columnist for so many regional papers and author of book “The Kid” (recently turned into a Broadway musical) has launched a YouTube channel I think you/we all need to know about and support, perhaps contribute.

Earlier this month, we had National Suicide Prevention Week (September 5-11), and September 10 was National Suicide Prevention Day. The day before, on September 9, 15-year-old Billy Lucas hanged himself in his parents’ barn. Fox59.com reported:

The 15-year-old never told anyone he was gay but students at Greensburg High School thought he was and so they picked on him.

“People would call him ‘fag’ and stuff like that, just make fun of him because he’s different basically,” said student Dillen Swango.

Students told Fox59 News it was common knowledge that children bullied Billy and from what they said, it was getting worse. Last Thursday, Billy’s mother found him dead inside their barn. He had hung himself.

Students said on that same day, some students told Billy to kill himself.”

In response to this sickening tragedy, Savage has launched a video called It Gets Better wishing he could have just talked to this kid, any kid who doesn’t see a future and rather than endure unending pain and torture from those around them, seek any way out they can find. If only they had role models to tell them, It Gets Better. In just a few days since launching the channel, thousands have joined and hundreds are posting their own message of hope. From Savage’s column:

I just read about a gay teenager in Indiana—Billy Lucas—who killed himself after being taunted by his classmates. Now his Facebook memorial page is being defaced by people posting homophobic comments. It’s just heartbreaking and sickening. What the hell can we do? -Gay Bullying Victim Who Survived

Another gay teenager in another small town has killed himself—hope you’re pleased with yourselves, Tony Perkins and all the other “Christians” out there who oppose anti-bullying programs (and give actual Christians a bad name).

Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother’s property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates—classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.

Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.

“My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas,” a reader wrote after I posted about Billy Lucas to my blog. “I wish I could have told you that things get better.”

I had the same reaction: I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.

But gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.

So here’s what you can do, GBVWS: Make a video. Tell them it gets better.

I’ve launched a channel on YouTube—www ­.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject—to host these videos. My normally camera-shy husband and I already posted one. We both went to Christian schools and we were both bullied—he had it a lot worse than I did—and we are living proof that it gets better. We don’t dwell too much on the past. Instead, we talk mostly about all the meaningful things in our lives now—our families, our friends (gay and straight), the places we’ve gone and things we’ve experienced—that we would’ve missed out on if we’d killed ourselves then.

“You gotta give ‘em hope,” Harvey Milk said.

Today we have the power to give these kids hope. We have the tools to reach out to them and tell our stories and let them know that it does get better. Online support groups are great, GLSEN does amazing work, the Trevor Project is invaluable. But many LGBT youth can’t picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can’t imagine a future for themselves. So let’s show them what our lives are like, let’s show them what the future may hold in store for them.

The video my husband and I made is up now—all by itself. I’d like to add submissions from other gay and lesbian adults—singles and couples, with kids or without, established in careers or just starting out, urban and rural, of all races and religious backgrounds. (Go to www.youtube.com/itgetsbetterproject to find instructions for submitting your video.) If you’re gay or lesbian or bi or trans and you’ve ever read about a kid like Billy Lucas and thought, “Fuck, I wish I could’ve told him that it gets better,” this is your chance. We can’t help Billy, but there are lots of other Billys out there—other despairing LGBT kids who are being bullied and harassed, kids who don’t think they have a future—and we can help them.

They need to know that it gets better. Submit a video. Give them hope.

Back to School With Less (Financial) Pain

I have lots of friends experiencing the growing sense of dread that comes each year as summer wanes. Back to School sales begin and wallets hemorrhage cash and plastic, nests continue to empty, teachers ready themselves for the battlefield, and kids of course are in mourning (while as a kid I was usually pretty bored by the time school started, I still hated to close the door on the possibilities summer laid at my feet). This year I know a few families sending freshly graduated young adults off to college out of state. That situation is, of course, fraught with all sorts of extra layers of drama for parents and kids, so it adds insult to emotional injury when you, as a new college student or new college parents, have to spend arm, leg, and internal organs for textbooks. What a huge scam college textbooks are, and the pricing is akin to highway robbery. When I was at my university, as soon as a booklist came out we tried to get to the campus bookstore and prayed we could find used versions for at least somewhat of a discount (how they justify those prices I’ll never know. The pages are the same paper and the cover the same hard or soft stock as every ten- or twenty-buck bestseller in the pleasure reading sections).

I was pleased to learn about Chegg this year. Chegg is an online textbook rental resource so you rent the books just like a Netflix account. They are mailed to you for flat rate postage, and your return postage at the end of the semester is free. You can also sell your used textbooks to Chegg if you got roped into buying list price books. The best part? For each rental transaction, Chegg plants a tree—over 3 million planted so far by this upstart company daring to do it differently. That’s 4,000 acres of trees already planted, and thus far, hundreds of millions of dollars saved by students (there’s a counter on the website that runs a tally…and it’s rising pretty quickly).

So it takes a bit of the sting out of school and budgets, and reforests the United States. Actually cracking those books before midterms is something nobody can do for you.

Gender-Based Violence in Haiti

Sign the Petition

Get Involved

Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH)

My Trip to Haiti…and You

My apologies for being AWOL last week. I was sick as a dog. While everyone else on the East Coast (and much of America) was sweating through a heatwave, I was buried under mounds of covers with an electric blanket set on “7” and shivering because I still couldn’t get warm from a raging fever. I’m back in the saddle, but bummed I missed a bunch of blogging days.

Photo by Renee Dietrich

I leave for Haiti in less than a week (and hope to be able to blog from there, but may be inconsistent, as I’m told Internet…and electricity, are going to be inconsistent as well) and wanted to be sure folks know what I’m up to. I also wanted to create an opening for anyone who might be inspired, to support the work our little band of volunteers (myself, a 27-year-old woman from Florida, and a 45-year-old mom and her 15-year-old daughter) will be doing. Here is a link to a secure donations/fundraising page for my project (http://www.firstgiving.com/andrewmersmann). The organization is a 501(c)(3) charity, so donations are tax-deductible as charitable contributions.

My explanatory text from the First Giving web page:

The January 12, 2010 Earthquake shook the already frail country of Haiti mercilessly.  Around 230,000 deaths resulted as well as the displacement and destruction of legions of families and lives. Just over six months later, human resilience prevails as Haitians move to pick up the pieces, making a new life out of less than the little most people once had. The emergency stage is over, and now the long-term rebuilding begins. Volunteers who were not medical or engineering professionals were urged to stay away, as one in-country Doctors Without Borders physician told me “It [Haiti] is like an intensive care patient. It has healing to do before there can be visitors.”

Now there is a way for me to be useful. The hard work of locals is being supplemented by carefully curated volunteer projects. On August 15, I go to Haiti for 2 weeks to do a construction project, building a computer lab/classroom space for a school in Jacmel. (Jacmel is a town 2 1/2 hours from Port-au-Prince…70% of Jacmel’s buildings fell or were damaged, but like so many cities that are not the well known capital, they are getting far less foreign aid). Nearly every leader from within Haiti and of international aid programs and efforts agrees that education is at the top of the list of infrastructure that must be prioritized in a new Haiti. This school serves the poorest in the community who would otherwise be unable to access education, as well as the restavek population (“restavek” children are essentially modern day slaves, and this is the first outreach education to this alarmingly large population in Jacmel)

Elevate Destinations, Scopa Group, and Make a Difference Now are joining forces to support rebuilding efforts…and put me to work. I’ve paid for my trip, gotten my shots, bought my mosquito net, and am filling an extra suitcase with as many extra donated items as I can squeeze into American Airlines’ luggage rules. Now I want to ask your help, and just provide an opening for you to support the project. Money you donate will go directly toward paying the professional crews at the project (a huge consideration is that we NOT take paying jobs away from locals, but support them) and building materials. By the time we leave, the computer lab will be finished and ready to open doors, literally and figuratively/electronically, for the kids.

I hope you’ll find a way to pitch in. You’ll be in my heart and head while I’m there, it’d be cool if you were in the mortar and paint and plaster as well.

It wasn’t just rhetoric when everyone said rebuilding would take years. Join me and be a part of that. Thank you for standing by Haitians as they start anew. Please forward this to anyone who you think has been moved into solidarity and action by the tragic events of January 12th.

Thank you so much,

-Andrew

“We think that we’re not happy because of what we’re not getting, but really we’re not happy because of what we’re not giving.”
–Marianne Williamson

Hungry

I’m a little peckish today. No big deal, I just skipped lunch. I’ve never truly known hunger, never had a legitimately empty belly. Sure, I groused as a teenager in the summertime, moaning “I’m hunnnnngggggrrrryyyyyyyy” as if I was the most put-upon soul in the world…but so many are truly hungry. Starving. Malnourished. Dying of hunger.

There are so many ways of addressing hunger, and so many efforts we can support. It can get overwhelming. It ought to be overwhelming–the problem is like that. A thing I love is when organizations and corporations make everyday habits into opportunities for us to give. Something you might do anyway that will, with very little extra effort from you, make a difference. In light of global hunger, this may seem paltry, but it truly isn’t. Mother Teresa said if you can’t feed 100 people, feed one…

Snickers has one of those no skin off my nose programs where we can help, almost effortlessly. Their new “BAR HUNGER: It Tastes Good to Do Good” program has newly printed candy bar wrappers. Inside the wrapper is a code. Once you’ve eaten your sweet snack, you enter that code on their website, and they donate a meal to someone in need. Up to 3.5 million meals are going to be donated while the program lasts (through the end of November). Their partner is Feeding America (they used to be known as “America’s Second Harvest”) and their efforts already make a huge difference in this nation’s childhood nutrition and hungry populations.

SO a candy bar may not be the best thing for you, but it can do something extra for someone who genuinely needs help. Then pop over to the Feeding America Hunger Action Center to find more ways to help.

Save Tigers Now

WWF/Martin Harvey

2010 is the “YEAR OF THE TIGER” on the Chinese lunar calendar. How ironic that the very existence of tigers is teetering on the edge right now as so many have been killed and poached and wiped out from their natural environments. There are probably about 3,200 tigers left in the wild–that’s in the entire world. The number of tigers in the wild has declined by 97% and three subspecies are already extinct.

The Chinese calendar repeats every twelve years. Continuing the decimation of the species means that by the next Year of the Tiger, in 2022, they could all be gone.

The World Wildlife Fund has a subsite: Save Tigers Now where you can learn more as well as donate directly to their conservation efforts. The goal is to reverse this ridiculous decline, and in fact DOUBLE the population of tigers in the wild by the year 2022. Leonardo DiCaprio is the ambassador for Save Tigers Now, and his commitment (to this and so many hugely important environmental issues), and ours, is what it will take to counter the poaching demand (tiger skins, bones, and organs are used in Chinese medicine and as tourist souvenirs) and indiscriminate clearcut logging and habitat destruction in Asia.

Anyone who knows me (or has looked at my photo on the “about” page of this blog) knows that I am wild about tigers. My experience at the Tiger Temple in Thailand and holding 5-week old tiger cubs as well as interacting with an adult tiger are memories that will always be with me. May we take the action required so that tigers can be more than only memory.

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