And They will Change the World

LIFEwienberg

I recently met a young woman who has, by the strength of her conviction and passion, challenged the way I see the world and my place in it.

At 22 years old, Morgan Wienberg is co-founder of  Little Footprints Big Steps.  She has created a safe place for street children in Haiti; a transitional home to help them reintegrate into their families when possible. She has worked with international donors to help these children find hope, safety, health and education. The families of these children are poor. Many were tricked into turning their children over to orphanages in order for them to have an education, a better life.  It seems the more starving children an orphanage can show to the world, the higher the income of the orphanage owner. In Haiti many orphanages are run by profiteers who abuse the children, pocket the aid and sell whatever goods are donated by international aid groups. Morgan saw this when she did an internship in an orphanage and it changed the course of her life.  She has now spoken at the United Nations, is legal guardian to several Haitian children and has had a profound impact on the lives she has touched…mine included.

When I listened to Morgan’s presentation a few weeks ago, I heard her words. I thought about her story. I was impressed by her poise and her certainty, her dedication to the children and families she serves.  Later I tried to tell the story to my daughter. Morgan’s words came back like a kick to my stomach when I tried to share them.  I couldn’t talk about the children whose stories she shared without tears. I still can’t.  I’ve found my mind wandering to the place she talked about, the people she described, the troubles she faces every day.  I find myself researching how to get to Haiti; researching visas, immunizations, airfares…  She told me the annual operating budget for her entire program; housing up to 50 kids, school fees, food, salaries for staff, even buying small plots of land for families to build homes is a mere $160,000 per year. That is less than the base salary for any CEO of any US or Canadian based charity.  I can’t get over how much she can accomplish with that meager budget, and yet she does, with grace.

At 47, there is a lot of stuff in my head, a lot of stuff in my heart. I am as busy as anybody else, with as little spare room in my schedule as ever but I can’t stop thinking about this. I can’t stop thinking that somehow some time I need to do something bigger than I’ve done. I’m very happy that Little Footprints Big Steps will now be receiving funding from the organization I work with, glad to see new relationships sparked from the presentation I helped organize, but I still feel compelled to do more, personally. I think a visit to Haiti is in my future. I genuinely have no idea what my presence could possibly do, how I could be of any use, but I’m guessing an extra pair of unskilled hands will come in handy at some point.

We hear so much about the bad, the lost, the directionless youth. There are so many young people doing so much good in our towns, our communities, across the globe. At the presentation Morgan did  recently at my workplace, the audience was packed with youth. Three local high schools brought students – Canada World Youth brought us eager young people from across Canada and Mozambique, eager to learn more and participate fully in their world. This is so exciting to me… it fills me with so much hope.

We can (and should) worry for the young people who are not participating, but we really have to celebrate people like Morgan Wienberg, young citizens like the students in the audience that day, intently listening, taking action in their very own homes after listening to her speak. We have so much to be proud of  and thankful for in these young people… they are amazing, and they will change the world.

Please visit Morgan’s site, and look at the work she is doing. She and the staff of Haitians she has been able to employ are currently caring for many former street children, providing them a safe house, an education, love and medical care. If you are moved to give, please do so. If you are moved to act for another cause, please do so. I am grateful to Morgan, grateful to anyone who gives so much of themselves.  Through them, I believe I can be better. I can do something big.

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Take my money, please keep your ribbon.

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I wear a poppy  every November without fail. I make a donation (or a few, as I seem to lose poppies left and right) and thank our veterans, showing my respect with a red flower on my lapel.   In December I wear a red ribbon to show my support for people living with Aids then quickly switch to a white ribbon to remind everyone of the tragedy of violence against women. I put my donation in the box for a beautiful yellow felt daffodil pin every April, fighting back against cancer like a good Canadian and I don little plastic bracelets with messages of support and solidarity when I am asked to buy them.

But please, someone explain to me how wearing a little ribbon on my lapel or a band of rubber around my wrist will cure anything. I make donations to causes I support, I am a regular donor to my local food bank, have a foster child through World Vision and contribute to the Red Cross. I believe in helping, I am a left leaning bleeding heart who understands that my commitment to my fellow Canadians includes sharing what I have.

But a plastic bracelet? The math just doesn’t work for me. If I make a $1 or $2 contribution for this little trinket and wear it for a few days, who benefits? Does  a sick child feel supported because I am wearing it? Are doctors really closer to a cure because of these items? The costs of resource extraction, manufacture, shipping, imprinting, shipping again, distribution, posters to advertise said trinket etc. must surely consume at least 90% of the tiny donation it triggers me to make. 

Perhaps the ribbon campaigns are less expensive…perhaps initially they were effective too.   I have quite honestly lost  track of which colour ribbon represents which illness, honours which victims and benefits survivors of which catastrophe.

I am all for awareness campaigns…they’re good. I know they’re difficult & expensive, and it’s hard to get people’s attention. Surely there is something else… something new, something concrete, something more meaningful than a strip of grosgrain or a band of embossed neon plastic.  Maybe the plastic and ribbon really do make people more aware and likely to contribute greater sums, but I think it just confuses people. 

Ask me for money… tell me why you need it. I’d really rather give you $5 straight up for your cause than feel compelled to wear something silly in order to support you. More stuff. More junk in my life, it turns me off. I don’t know if the cost analysis would work out in favour of the charity seeking my donation, but isn’t my money, without no exchange of meaningless stuff more valuable for you in the long run? Would fewer people donate without the doodads? Maybe, but what do you get at Christmas when you drop coins into the Salvation Army pail? No message jewelry, no strips of cloth. You feel good, knowing you helped out in some tangible way.

If this makes me sound like a stingy scrooge you are misunderstanding me. I’m not saying don’t ask me to give. I’m not saying I WON’T give. I’m saying please, don’t give me anything in return. I want my money going to that sick child, to that tragedy, to that cause. No swag necessary, thank you very much.