Tags: charity

Silly - Dirty Face

A Question of Citizenship

I am finally considering becoming an American citizen, after four and a half years of being eligible to do so. What has brought me to this point is nothing to do with the usual reasons one hears; quite the opposite really. Instead it's the hope that I can deeply connect to my new community, that I can feel a part of making it stronger. To make this connection I'm asking you to please take a little time and read this note and then I'm hoping you will help me complete that connection.

My apartheid-era South African upbringing exposed me to some of the darkest human failings. It opened my progressive's eyes to similar injustices here, though it took me years to appreciate the subtleties on this side. Many of you post about these issues, so I know they are dear to your hearts; sexism, racism, homophobia, persecution, economic injustice, etc. Many other issues still fly under the radar.

Apart from the occasional donation or social media post Idid little to get involved, even though I'm a get involved kind of guy. Why not? Well, if I'm honest, mostly I felt like as a foreigner it wasn't my place.Instead I found myself ever looking over my shoulder at South Africa, as if it was there I should help. It left me impotent because this has become home.

So as I revisit thoughts of whether to either renew my GreenCard or to get citizenship I found that loving this city and the treasure trove of people I have found during my travels were only part of the answer.For me to feel like I belong I must participate. I must feel like a part of making a better, sweeter, kinder, fairer world.

It was a chicken and the egg conundrum, so to break it I've dived into some human rights volunteering seeking a connection strong enough to break my outsider feelings.

I found a group striving to make a difference and using innovative ways to do so. They are Social Justice Fund NW and their agenda is to help resolve issues of social injustice like poverty, gay rights, racial inequity, etc. and do so at the root, not merely treating the symptoms. I'm part of a giving project made up of diverse individuals hugely representative of those most affected by the inequities most of you are also passionate about ending. They are a remarkable group that I'm learning from and growing with. I chose SJF carefully, asking around first to those in the know and they came highly recommended.

SJF's approach is to gather a group of folks just like us to do philanthropic work with social justice outcomes. Our group will raise money, accept and review grant applications from nonprofits, and then grant money to those we believe to be the best of them, particularly the ones most ignored by the current business-minded charitable system.

We must also start the hard conversations with our friends and talk about the issues we'd usually rather not talk about, and yes, I'd love to chat to you.

We're tackling issues I know most of you care deeply about.We'll help nonprofits full of dedicated, overworked stalwarts doing astonishing work at the leading edge of social change. And here's where you come in. Here's where I do something terribly awkward and difficult for me, embarrassing even... but also important.

Here's where I ask you for a donation.

If we do our part right, and we will do everything in our power to do so, then your donation will have a disproportionately large impact because it will be applied where it is needed most. If you'd like a sense of the kinds of groups we'll fund, check out last year's remarkable grantees: http://socialjusticefund.org/2013-Grantees .

SJF serves Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming,so those of you in other locations might ask yourselves why I'd be asking you too to donate when we may be far from you. Well, one current example is gay marriage. It had to start somewhere, right? That first ripple was not the first time a state made it legal, but one of the many battles that proceeded it. Some of you were a part of that. We aim to help those making that kind of ripple, and many ripples will reach you too.

All of our freedoms are inextricably linked and we are in this together. Please help us to help all of us. I'm busy reading and evaluating grant applications for the 31 finalists and so far I'm stunned at the work being done out there. It leaves me wishing we had much more to give because we'll end up saying no to too many deserving groups.

Every member of the team backed up their volunteer commitment with a personal donation we could afford. I donated $500. It would be wonderful if you could please make whatever donation you can afford. I would be thrilled to see some of you go as far as matching my donation, and I will make an additional $50 donation of my own for everyone who does match me, up to double my original donation. Plus my organization's 3X matching gifts program will turn every dollar I donate into four, adding $200 to your donation.

You also don't have to give it all at once, you can make monthly or even quarterly payments. Then please tell me about your donation so that I can tell SJF that it's for the Portland giving project.

We will make sure every donation counts, no matter the size.

Here's the link for donations. Please specify the PortlandGiving Project under the Designation field and for tracking purposes please add my name to the comments: https://app.etapestry.com/onlineforms/SocialJusticeFund/donate.html

If you're in or around Portland and you'd first like to know more or hear directly from some of those our work will aid then I urge you to join us this Saturday for our Oregon Social Justice Summit to learn about local progressive movements, hear directly from some of the most inspiring organizers in our region, and meet others passionate about social justice: http://www.socialjusticefund.org/oregon-social-justice-summit

Or ping me and we'll do coffee or a phone call.

Thank you for your time and for reading all that, even if you choose not to give, but I hope you do. And any of you who want to take this conversation further, please drop me a line. I would love to share a coffee and exchange stories.

Here's a photo of our team of volunteers:
Silly - Dirty Face

The Stories I Saw in a Tired Lady's Eyes

When I entered their offices I saw her sitting at her desk staring intently at her computer screen, concentrating hard. She looked tired, drained by the world, worn down by her obligations. I was in a nonprofit that serves the homeless at a time when they're all still struggling in this down economy. Even at the best of times most nonprofit workers are overworked and underpaid to a degree that leads to a very high burnout rate.

I was there to make a donation. I'd promised myself that if I had savings in the bank come the end of this year that I was going to donate generously (for my finances) to two of my favorite nonprofits serving the homeless. I turned to the volunteer receptionist and asked if she could confirm that their seasonal matching gift challenge was in effect. According to their website, starting today every dollar donated through the end of the year will be matched by 50c by donors, so a $100 donation would turn into $150. She called to the tired lady, who made a quick phone call and confirmed that this matching donation was indeed active.

"In that case, I'd like to donate two fifty," I said, presenting my credit card. I was not going to mention the amount in this tale as I generally see that as being pretty crass really, indeed all too often I see it as cheapening a donation by turning it into a call for personal attention. But the amount matters to the experience I need to share with you and so I put it in.

The tired lady nodded and the receptionist asked, "Two dollars and fifty cents?"
"Um, no, two hundred and fifty dollars." I shook my head. "It would seem absurd to me to use a credit card to donate a mere two dollars and fifty cents." I replied, genuinely surprised.

"Oh, I'm the one who keeps track of the donations and I'm dealing with $1 or $2 all the time," tired lady replied. I'm somehow charmed by this because I figure it's some of the homeless and the poor giving whatever they can, maybe even paying it forward for past assistance. Still it's clear that times are hard and that they don't see donations of this size very often, despite being a desperately needed nonprofit that feeds the homeless and poor, while giving them a place where they can find a kind of family and make real human connections. It's a place where they are connected to those they serve, seeing them as real people who can get through this, rather than poor wretches who heed alms. There can be tyranny in good deeds, but I give to this nonprofit because it is not who they are.

At this point I've noticed that both women have perked up and it's dawning on me that this is a much bigger donation than their norm. But I'm not done yet. There's a reason I made my donation in person and it's that I need extra paperwork from them.
"I need you to fill in this form for me," I said, "It's for our matching gifts program where I work. I'll return this to my office and in the next week or three they will send you a check for another $750. That will bring it to $1,000. Then if we add in your 50c match that will take it to $1,125."

The 3:1 match by my organization is exactly why I picked $250. I love that my donations of hundreds will turn into thousands and yes, I love telling nonprofits about it. It's a wonderful perk of my job that I can't ever put in the bank, but that I always count whenever I tally up what my gross pay is. We're allowed up to $10K per year of matching gifts and we can match cash donations dollar for dollar through three dollars to the dollar. We can also match volunteer hours, which mostly means that every hour I volunteer at a nonprofit my organization will give them $40. How awesome is that? Much as I value my other benefits, like leave, medical, 401K, etc., I'm kind of in love with our matching gifts benefit.

Both women were beaming now, tossing out thank-yous like confetti at a wedding, a new spring in their step as they bustled to process my donation and paperwork. As I headed out the tired lady took my hand and held it, standing close and looking me in the eyes. "Thank you. Thank you so much. This really made my day. My week." As I look into her eyes I can see that she is so very, very sincere, that she means those words quite literally. I was touched.

"You're very welcome," I replied, "but it's you folks that I need to be thanking for all that you do. You're doing amazing and desperately needed work here. So thank you, thank you so much."

Once outside, much to my surprise, I found myself quite emotional. I had forgotten how my donation was not just for those that the nonprofit served, but was also for the morale of the exhausted volunteers and staff. I was filled with a deep feeling of gratitude for this comfortable life I have and for this opportunity to help others in my community, and for an employer who can turn my small good deed into a much bigger one.

I was also filled with some small elation. I felt lighter. It's been a hard past few months, far more than I've talked about here and coming at me from several angles, leaving me doubtful. What I'd expected least from this day was to be so uplifted. It was a balm. I had forgotten this as well, that giving to others is always a gift to oneself too.

And yes, I'm paying it forward too, as I must. I come from dirt poor. I got help. I am so fortunate to be in as comfortable a life as I have. Some folks talk loudly about how opportunity abounds if one but chooses to take it, but I know this to be a destructive fallacy. The truth is poverty is a trap that very few escape, no matter how hard they try.

If you could look back in time at the uncertain and malnourished boy I once was, as I timidly peered around childhood's doorframe at my impending manhood, lacking financial and psychological resources for the battle to escape poverty, then you'd hardly have believed it was possible for me to get to where I am today. And it wasn't really. I had some luck in this game; my stumbling about blindly saw me trip over something useful and life changing, a career in tech that was attainable without the expense of a university education.

And there was much help along the way. Some of it did more harm than good, kindness wielded as a cudgel to beat respectful gratitude out of us. But it helped nonetheless, and -- combined with more selfless giving -- it was vital to us. It helped us survive and saw us get a decent education, our best ally in our war with our paucity of resources and all of our own doubts about our potential and worth. Without it we too could have been homeless. With it we remained on swampy ground, but with hope.

I owe much to people like tired lady, with their full hands and empty pockets, and their hearts wide open. There are select individuals through the years that stand out in memory's esteem, teachers who dedicated their lives to her poor kids, a housemother who saw shining potential in me and blew on the faltering embers, the one social worker who sincerely wanted more for us than for her privileged social resume, the family friend who encouraged me to make art, the damaged and soul-bleeding friend who helped me survive my late teens and even took me in when I ran away from home.

Hell, I even owe my mother, the albatross around our necks and the shackles around our ankles, the stealer of compliments and sower of self-doubt, for she taught us to read, to learn, to think and to question, to open our eyes to the truth. These skills were tools for picking the locks of life's barred doors. When you're climbing out of the pit you need every possible handhold to have any chance of getting out.

So to you, tired lady whose week I made, with your sweet soft smile and eyes that sent a thousand worthwhile stories echoing through my darker memories, thank you. Thank you for all you do. Thank you for your generous soul. Thank you so much for making my day... my month.

And to you, my dear friends, if you have any paying forward you have yet to do, now is the time. With a little help, people not unlike me will thrive in our tomorrows and will thank you for it. And so do I.
Silly - Dirty Face

There Was an Old Woman

I saw her on the return leg of an hour long lunchtime walk through the upmarket Pearl neighborhood where my employer's offices are. She would later describe herself thus, "I'm a little old black woman with a white woolen hat. You can't miss me. I'm the only black person around here."

She had a ton of luggage with her, too much for her to carry for long, and was moving it a few bags at a time. As I walked towards her I saw her try halfheartedly to get folks to stop and help her, but none did. By the time I reached her, she'd given that up and sat down on the curb, bags scattered in 4 different piles. I considered walking by too. My lunch break was almost over, I was tired and rain was threatening. Portland is a city with a lot of homeless people and we've all gotten into the habit of walking right by, often with good reason. Either the potential for a con trumps the potential to help someone, or the scale of the problem is too large, so we avoid it.

Her bags were clean, her clothes were smart and clean and she looked well groomed, and she still had too much loose baggage. I always promise myself that if I can tell the difference between a con and a person in trouble, that I'm going to help. So I stopped and asked her if she needed help.

The gist of her story was that her son had thrown her out of his home just a few days earlier and she was still adjusting to being homeless. She told me she was trying to get to a nonprofit that had facilities for her to shower and do laundry, but that her sciatica was acting up and she could go no further. I was not surprised. She had too many bags and so far yet to go that even with my help it was clear that it was not going to happen.

I considered trying to get her a cab, but we were a bit out of the way and she was too tired and sore to traipse to a busier road. She said that her cell phone had run out of charge and she had no way to reach the nonprofit, so I let her use my phone. She made me dial the number, "So that you can be sure I'm not trying to scam you." Nobody answered, so she left a voicemail.

I decided to try again in 10 minutes, and in the meantime I sat and chatted with her... or more to the point, she talked and I listened and offered reassurances and the occasional thought. She had a lot she wanted to say. Some of it was simple. She had a couple of stories about bedding down in a neighborhood and having people yell at her about it, and then be nice when they realized she was not a different homeless person who was a neighborhood menace.

She was proud of how she'd used her bags to give herself some privacy, security and a wind-break, with a tree trunk at her back. She talked about how a sweet young man had brought her a blanket and some food and had apologized that he had nothing else to give. She said it made her cry, and gave her hope.

Some of it was disturbing. She believed her son was abusing his daughter, her granddaughter. "No decent man shares a bed with his 10-year-old daughter. I didn't raise him that way." He'd thrown her out after she'd confronted him about it. She said her granddaughter was too afraid to talk about it, saying only, "Grandma, I'm ruined. I'm ruined."

"And why would she say that? It can only mean one thing."

She told me that just hours earlier she'd filed a police report accusing her son of child abuse and that she was just going to hang tough and survive all this for her granddaughter's sake. Women in my life have been scarred by such things, and worse, and had nobody stand up for them. It was easy for me to offer words of encouragement and to feel good about helping her.

We tried calling her contact again, but still no luck. She had in her possession an awesome little booklet full of useful tips and numbers, called The Rose City Resource, a small guidebook of useful information and contacts designed specifically for the homeless by the folks at Street Roots. I tried an alternate number and was able to reach her contact through their office. We were told that the old lady would be picked up in about 45 minutes. I decided to stay with her until they arrived.

It rained off and on and we alternated between sitting on the curb where she could rest, and standing under some awning to keep dry. I'd long since moved all her scattered bags into a neat pile under the awning. She kept telling me her story. She'd phoned family members for help, but they were siding with her son and none would help her. She was on her own. How could they trust him more than her, after knowing her their whole lives? She wanted nothing to do with any of them ever again. What kind of people would do this?

She talked about the pain she suffered due to the sciatica, crippling, debilitating pain. "Do you know, a lot of people kill themselves rather than endure this pain? But not me. I'm not going out like that. I'm no coward. And I'm not going to abandon my granddaughter. I'm all she's got."

She'd thank me from time to time for staying with her, telling me she was grateful, but sorry she was keeping me from work. I told her not to worry, that I could work the time in, that I worked for a nonprofit and they would understand because helping people is what we do. I phoned my boss and told her I'd be late.

The people coming to get her were late, so we phoned again to see what was going on and got an apology and a cryptic, "We'll be there soon, and there may be good news." We waited. The old lady kept talking and as she grew to trust me more and more she told me more and more, things she was less willing to say. A different dimension emerged.

Maybe paranoia? It seemed like paranoia.

She told me how her son and his wife had been slowly poisoning her, that she had been keeping water samples to prove it to the police, except she didn't trust the police as they had sided with her son in some previous incident. She'd been watching some crime show and had heard symptoms of cyanide poisoning, and had had an epiphany. This she believed, was what was happening to her. She described symptoms like weight loss, aches, skin spots and the like that all sounded like aging to me.

She started keeping the water samples in the storage unit she had with all her property in it. More recently, her son and his wife had locked her out of the storage unit and the unit was in their name, so she was fighting an uphill battle to regain control of her stuff.

"They want to find where I've hidden the evidence and destroy it. And they want to steal my things before I'm even dead. But I sent the storage place a letter. I told them it's my stuff, and they know it's my stuff, and they can't let my son and his wife in there anymore. That it's illegal."

She talked about other places she'd lived where people sneaked into her apartment while she was out and took things or just poked around in her stuff. How her son had entered her locked room on the pretense that she was possibly in danger, when he knew she was safe and elsewhere. This other home was hard to put a finger on, but it seemed to predate their more recent setting.

She told me how, since her son had kicked her out of his home he'd had her followed and harassed. I looked around several times, but I saw no one. She said they'd had her chased from places she was sitting at by police (one of whom had apparently brought her from North Portland to the Pearl) or by the McDonald's staff who had told her she could not rest in their restaurant, or other places staff who'd told her she had to move along. This was all her son's doing, she told me.

"He wants me to die. He's going to harass me to death. He took out a big insurance policy on me. Did you know they could do that? Then he kicked me out and he's hoping I'll die, but I won't. I want to see my granddaughter safe first, then I'll die happy. No, I also want to see them all in jail first, then I can die happy."

It was not all one-sided though. Someone had apparently been helping her too. Two people who had been part of this prior harassment had apparently died soon after each other, one from what might be old age and another from a heart attack.

"Two people die soon after one another, both of them making my life miserable? That's not a coincidence. You can't tell me that's a coincidence. Someone was looking out for me. I didn't want them to die, but I was glad they were gone."

Eventually the woman from the nonprofit arrived. She had that hard look that many poor whites get. I grew up with them. I recognize them. I was them. I knew where she came from. She spoke only to the old woman, never once looking me in the eye. She had good news. The old lady would be off the streets this night. They'd found a bed for her. Earlier they'd told her they were full, but now they had a bed. I could not help but wonder if my being there had got them to her faster and maybe motivated them to try harder. I hoped so. It meant some other homeless person would be on the streets that night, but I was glad it was not this old lady. She needed the help right then, more than most. And there was hope they'd get her off the streets for good.

I stayed a while longer while they waited for the shelter's cab to arrive. Then I said my goodbyes and walked back into my own life. Part of me felt like I should be doing more, doing something... but what? My organization supports the nonprofits that were helping her, and those like them. I'm helping just by working where I do, but I felt like maybe I'd just staked out more responsibility for myself. Which is absurd. I have nontrivial challenges aplenty in my own life, but there it is.

I do know that I made one day of her life better.

This was not some shirker, some lazy layabout, some willful vagabond, this was a dignified old woman with some class, a lady who prided herself on never having done anything to get in trouble with the law and having lived a good life. This was a woman with a lot of pride. After our hours together, I knew that much. If we stop and think for just a moment, then we remember that every homeless person has a story. Every one of them is an individual.

As to what the truths and the delusions of the old lady's story were, I'm not sure. I don't even want to make that judgment. I hope that the police investigate the granddaughter's situation thoroughly. Better an unnecessary brouhaha than a huge failure. I hope they can sift through the contradictions and the paranoia that will make the old lady a less credible witness.

I do know that as a society we fail when a woman like this is on the streets. It's not just a matter of taking care of our elders. If she's mentally ill we should be protecting her. If she's a hero trying to save her granddaughter, we should be protecting and cherishing her.

We can remember that each homeless person is a fellow human with a story to tell. And every once in a while, maybe we could just stop and offer some help.
Silly - Dirty Face

Love and Haiti

Silver Lining
Yesterday, most of the staff of my employer (MMT) worked as volunteers for Medical Teams International. Our work went to assist with the Haitian relief efforts.

There was an element of serendipity to all this. Every few months we have what we call Mission Days, days where our organization closes and we spend the day working as volunteers for worthy nonprofits. These are days where we live up to our mission, reach out to nonprofits and experience first hand what we normally aid from afar (we fund a wide range of nonprofits). It's just one of many reasons why I love my current job. I blogged about our first mission day.

Our mission day was planned well in advance and MTI were selected from a range of options for a variety of reasons. We had funded MTI in the past and indeed the building we worked in had been refurbished using our funding. As fate would have it, the Haitian earthquake happened just before our scheduled volunteer work and all of efforts were immediately redirected towards MTI's relief effort. We felt fortunate that the timing gave us a way where 17 of us could make some small difference. All of our Mission Days have been rewarding, but this one took on an entirely different sense of purpose and urgency.

Calls For Help
I was one of four who worked the phone banks, while the rest of the team sorted through piles of medical donations and prepared large containers of medical supplies to be sent to Haiti. These supplies were well thought out and intended for exactly the kinds of injuries likely to be most commonly found in Haiti right now. I hope one of them blogs about the experience. It was important work and the need very great.

For the four of us working the phones it was a pretty exhausting day, one we spent right in the thick of an emotional hurricane. The phones rang off the hook. People wanted to help. We were backing up the receptionist and took all calls, so sometimes we were just doing the banal, transferring calls to staff and departments. One call I had was from a team leaving for Rwanda who needed logistical support and I fielded several calls from people needing dental care. Bad timing or not, other efforts also had to continue. Of course, the vast majority of the calls concerned Haiti and were from people who wanted to help... no, who needed to help.

Armed with a staff list, a press release and a cheat sheet, as well as a quick training session, we determined how callers wanted to help (time, money, supplies) and either took a donation over the phone, or forwarded them to other departments. MTI were well prepared and already had procedures in place, which made it much simpler for us.

Easier Said Than Done
Most of the callers wanted to volunteer. There were a wide range of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals calling in. Many of them were Haitian or had already worked in Haiti and knew the language, or had other useful skills. Sadly, most of them likely would not be used by MTI, and quite possibly not by anyone.

What most people don't realize is that organizations that specialize in disaster relief have to be ready to go when a disaster happens. This means finding, screening, training and sometimes even testing out potential volunteers (they need a strong team able to hit the ground running), not to mention an immense amount of paperwork (putting people into danger is not done lightly). When a disaster happens the people who would normally do all this admin are usually multitaskers who have been redirected to more urgent tasks. Further, for a variety of reasons, like logistics and limited funding, they generally need volunteers who can stay on the ground from 3 weeks to 3 months. In most cases, to help in times of disaster you have to already be on a response team and already be ready to take a lot of time off work at very short notice.

MTI were prepared and existing volunteers were sufficient for their initial needs, as is likely applicable to most other disaster-response organizations. This meant that very few of these callers were going to be able to help. I discovered this myself after Katrina. I was just 2 hours away from the neediest areas, but I was unable to help any of the larger organizations, like the Red Cross, because I could not afford to be off work for 6 weeks, and because I lacked training.

Don't get me wrong; the outpouring of willingness was heartwarming. There was the guy with his own heavy equipment and shipping containers that he was willing to ship to Haiti and others like him. Some had airplanes willing to fly people and supplies to Haiti. We forwarded them all to the relevant people/departments and I'm sure some will be used.

It was worth trying and they were going about it the right way, by contacting organizations who were already positioned to help. We've all heard of gung-ho volunteers simply flying out to Haiti, and most of them are going to become part of the problem, not the solution. If you don't take all the supplies you need with you and if you don't have some place to go, then you are going to drain the few resources available, or you're going to need rescuing yourself. Get into a good organization's system and be in a position to help later, or with the next emergency. And there's always going to be another.

Cold Hard Cash
The overriding moral of the story was that donations of money are really what is most needed now. Volunteering at a local organization, doing what we did, that's a possibility, and I'm sure more too as things get more organized. But mostly, they need cash. I took close to $1,600 in phone donations and gave directions to many others on how to donate via mail, banks or the web page. Others received information they needed to have local organized efforts to raise funds and/or collect supplies. There were schools, hospitals, dentists, families and more. Every penny will count.

Some wisely asked hard questions, as we all should. How much of each dollar they donated would go to the relief effort. 97%, a very high ratio indeed. How good a charity were MTI? Going by Charity Navigator, outstanding, with 4 stars and a rating in the 60s. Were MTI already responding? Yes, a team was already on the way, one with contacts and experience in Haiti... and with a clinic waiting, plus another team leaving on the weekend.

Many just wanted to find out if someone they knew was okay, or if the orphanage they had helped create was still standing, or if this or that school or church was okay. We had few answers... nobody had. I wish I'd known what I only found out since then, that CIDI are now the go-to guys for the Haitian disaster, that Americans seeking info on family in Haiti can call toll free 1-888-407-4747, that Google has also made resources available. We told folks the best information we had and we put them through to better qualified people whenever possible.

The need is so great. Haiti starts off as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, one with 8 in 10 under the poverty line, a large number of orphans, widespread malnutrition and health issues, and more. This is a nation that was struggling to begin with, one that now is shattered. Their government is not coping. Many members of that government are still unaccounted for and their leader is himself homeless. The scale of this is just staggering.

And it's all so heart-wrenchingly painful. We've all seen the images and the video clips. Many who called in were filled with sorrow. A couple choked up as they spoke. One man cried. It was very hard not to cry with him. I reassured them, I thanked them for their donations, I told them they making a difference, I agreed that it was shattering, horrific and heartbreaking... I stayed compassionate, but professional. I blinked away those tears. I just kept talking, focusing on the mission, not the tragedy. And everything I said was true. They were helping. We were all helping. But I felt it too.

Cold-hearted opportunists like Pat Robertson said Haiti magically brought it on themselves, some inconceivable act of a brutal and ignorant god... but only a brainless ideologue can imagine such a thing. MTI is a Christian organization. Thank goodness they are a very different kind of Christian from evil bastards like Robertson.

Earlier in the day, during a Q&A session, one of our group asked about their faith-based mission. The woman who answered said, "I know some people have a problem with faith-based charities..." and several people turned and looked at me. Say what? Yes, I'm an outspoken atheist, but it is prejudice that pisses me off. Back in Africa it is not uncommon for faith-based groups to only help members of their own faith, or for them to help everyone, but in a way that greatly empowers their faith's members, usually through jobs. It often creates divisions and problems. MTI have no such policies that I'm aware of. They help everyone and have no discriminatory hiring practices. They're going to save lives.

Yes, I'd prefer a secular group, but we were there as a team and we were part of something that will help save people in Haiti. It's the work that matters. I've done charity work with churches before, even in Mississippi. Good work is good work, whatever the motivation. As long as there is no prejudice or unpleasantness, if I can help, I'm there.

Plus, everyone I met seemed like good people to me, and very capable. They were very well organized and really made very effective use of our group. This too is a very strong indicator of what they are capable of in Haiti.

I only have two speeds when doing this kind of work, full speed, or stop. I was among the last to stop working at the previous mission days and this time we all felt it. None of us working the phones wanted to take a lunch break. They had to force us, but even so, we were back at the phones as less than half an hour later. My full-speed mentality saw me answer the phone faster than most, something I was not really thinking about until folks started to tease me about it. As a result I was on the phone most of the time. At one point I phoned agrathea and asked her to look up MTI on Charity Navigator for me, and she had to wait through three calls before I could finish the short conversation. Being her, she didn't mind, saying it was a pleasure to have a small window into what we were doing.

Damn, I'm lucky to work at a place that put us all in this position. It got me off my ass, got me involved, woke me up. Even better, we have a matching funds initiative to encourage volunteers and they will get a check (tomorrow I believe) for $3,000 to $3,500 for our efforts (EDIT: Between the full day and some extra hours put in by myself and others, the final amount was $3440.)

When it was over I felt like my body was vibrating like a tuning fork. I didn't want to stop. I very much wanted to stop. Yesterday was a very compelling experience. We had our fingers on the pulse of a better side of humanity. It was a privilege really, a gift. I'm slated to be back on Sunday. (EDIT: I did!)

My coworker Marie also blogged about yesterday and it's a blog well worth reading. She is a person whose heart is always connected to the best in us all.

So do you want to help? Donate to an organization of some size, preferably one that already was working in Haiti and has some existing infrastructure in place. Don't forget to check them out on Charity Navigator or a similar resource and check out resources like Charity Navigator's Haiti page and Google's page, as well as some of the better major news outlets (many local news outlets are horribly ill informed). More advice on selecting the nonprofits to donate to can be found here and further thoughts on the matter can be found here. My coworker Phoebe has also blogged about this and how some artist are responding.