As we slide into 2008 and review our all new "revised" January 2nd version of our New Year's Resolutions, I think it's the perfect time to reflect on one resolution that doesn't generally make the big list, but should because it's easier to do than dieting, kicking a habit or hitting the gym four times a week. Giving.
In November 2006, I left Los Angeles and headed to Khao Lak, Thailand to volunteer at The Tsunami Volunteer Center. I really had no idea where Khao Lak was, but after extensive research on post-tsunami relief work, I found The Tsunami Volunteer Center online, sent a few emails and signed up for one month of volunteering.
Khao Lak is a beautiful, long stretch of narrow coastline located on the eastern side of southern Thailand. This is the area that was hardest-hit by the December 26, 2004, tsunami.
I initially decided to volunteer because I had been through a rough break-up and was SO tired of wallowing in my own depth of sadness. I had to do something other than whine "Why me?" and all that other self deprecating break up bologna that we get caught up in. I had lost my light and I wanted it back.
I somehow thought that by taking the focus off me and putting it on others, it might erase heartbreak. Without over-thinking things, I trusted my gut instinct and booked a bungalow for $20 a day and an airline ticket for $800. I run a small pr firm and asked my staff if they would oversee things while I was away. They were so over my wallowing that my request was met with exuberant support to go and to not worry about a thing.
My volunteer work included teaching English and art, painting boats, and transforming classrooms from dark and dreary to bright and happy places. I met other volunteers from all over the world and made life-long friends. This month changed my life. And my heartfelt movement toward healing.
I was so inspired by my experience, I created and launched See & Sprout.
See and Sprout is a creative, collective international exchange art workshop for tsunami orphans in Khao Lak. I asked everyone I knew to donate money or old cameras so I could bring 15 digital cameras to Thailand for my project. Over 30 people donated. Photographs combined with stories, captions and personal journal entries will be edited into a group exhibition. All proceeds from photos sold will go back to each child photographer.
During my trip I received numerous supportive emails from so many friends, family, clients, and even editors with whom I work. What I found so interesting was that the one most common statement, in over 60% of the emails, was "this project is SO amazing. I wish I could do something like this..." or "When my life is more organized, I am going to do something like this."
All the emails made me realize we really have a misconception of what giving is. As we move into 2008, I think it's important to clarify how each of us can make a difference. Most of these emails were from very capable, powerful, strong and smart women. I have no doubt they could make a difference if they put their minds into giving.
I picked up Clinton's book Giving to read on the plane. I figured I'd learn something. Giving highlights the work of a number of extraordinary people and organizations - some famous, as well as many private citizens whom readers learn about for the first time - all of whom represent a global floodtide of nongovernmental, nonprofit activity. Their remarkable stories suggest that the act of giving takes many forms and emphasize that offerings of time, skills, objects and ideas can be just as important as contributions of money.
Basically, it shares endless examples of ways each of us can change the world and it doesn't require traveling across the ocean to a small village in Thailand. It validated my efforts and further inspired me to share the simplicity of giving with others.
Our communities need us, your local Boys and Girls Club could use a few good mentors. I bet there's a women's shelter within a few miles which could use your old clothes for job interviews. I imagine your child's school might be able to use your husband's guitar that has been sitting in the corner for years to launch a music program. You get the idea.
In a nutshell, no excuse is a good enough one, so whatever you just said in your head, I'm not buying it and neither should you. Trust me, I had NO idea how I was going to get fifteen cameras, three printers and 800 sheets of photo paper, but it happened, simply because I realize you just have to ask for what you need (this goes for all areas of our lives) and those who know you, will play and the chain will expand.
I want to thank each and everyone who believed in me enough to take time to send a donation, especially my project angels Phil Parker and Stephanie Konefall. Regardless of how or what you give be it through time, money, corporate or individual I promise you it WILL change your life and you will touch and inspire others and in truth you will feel connected to your community and the larger global effort of working together toward change. Here's to 2008, your resolutions and change.
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