John Francis: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. You: ??

18 09 2011

Your environmental footprint. Ever think about it? Care at all about the earth and your  contribution to keeping it healthy and vibrant? John Francis is an environmentalist and author of two books: Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. and The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World.

John Francis – Credit: Art Rogers, Pt. Reyes

In 1971, he was living in the San Francisco area and witnessed a devastating oil spill in the Bay. He decided to lessen his own demand for oil by giving up riding in motor vehicles, which he did from 1972 to 1994. In 1973 he also decided to be silent and didn’t speak again until 1990.

He walked across the country (and across South America) during his years of silence, getting first an undergraduate degree, then a Masters, and culminating in a Ph.D. in land management with a focus on oil spills.

Everywhere he went, playing the banjo in towns to earn money, people were drawn to this silent ambassador for the environment. He learned what it was to really listen to people instead of constantly waiting for them to stop talking so he could say something. Today, John is married, the father of two children, founder and director of the nonprofit environmental education organization Planetwalk, and a National Geographic Society Education Fellow.

I just finished reading both of his books. I find this man really inspirational…to take such drastic measures because you care about the environment. So what are you doing to reduce your impact on the environment? Anything at all? Consider these facts from About.com:

  • “According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein. This means that ten times the amount of carbon dioxide is emitted as well.
  • A report in the New Scientist estimated that driving a hybrid car rather than an average vehicle would conserve a little over one ton of carbon dioxide per year. A vegan diet, however, consumes one and a half tons less than the average American diet. Adopting a vegan diet actually does more to reduce emissions than driving a hybrid car!”

There is a big movement to encourage people to not eat meat on Mondays (it could be any day) to help reduce their impact on the earth. The website meatlessmonday.com provides this information:

  • “REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide . . . far more than transportation. And annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow. Reining in meat consumption once a week can help slow this trend.
  • MINIMIZE WATER USAGE. The water needs of livestock are tremendous, far above those of vegetables or grains. An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. Soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound.
  • HELP REDUCE FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENCE. On average, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feed lot beef in the U.S. Compare this to the 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy needed to produce one calorie of plant-based protein. Moderating meat consumption is a great way to cut fossil fuel demand.”

MSN Autos says that 41% of your ecological impact on the earth is due to driving a car. They say that estimates attribute 77 percent of a car’s footprint to the CO2 released from burning gasoline. And statistics show that 40% of trips people make in cars are a distance of two miles or less. What if they just walked or rode a bike instead?

There are many other things you can do to reduce your negative impact on the environment. I sold my car almost two years ago and I walk or take public transportation. I wrote a blog post about this called A Year of Living Carless, which was featured on the front page of WordPress. I have been a vegetarian for almost a year. I take cloth bags to the grocery store (which I walk to) instead of using paper or plastic bags. The walking and eating vegetarian have health benefits, too.

So what are you doing? You don’t have to give up riding in cars for 22 years or stop talking for 17 years to make an impact. Eating one meal a week vegetarian or walking or riding your bike instead of taking the car even one time help. I haven’t owned a car since December, 2009 and eat vegetarian (with a rare piece of fish).

As John Francis says, “How we treat each other is how we treat the environment.” Are you treating your neighbors and mother earth well with your habits?

Here is John talking about his journey in a TED talk:


Advertisements




A Lesson after 9/11: Compassion

11 09 2011

At the software company I worked for, we watched in horror after the first tower was struck. With my co-workers, we watched as a plane drove into the second tower. We were in shock as was the entire nation. We were glued to the television…waiting for information. We saw people jump from the towers to their deaths and knew that many more had died as the towers crumbled to the ground. We saw the look of sheer terror on the faces of those present and running from the towers. It was an apocalyptic event being broadcast live as we watched.

To make it even more surreal, my manager at the time kept crossing through the lobby and glaring at me as if to say “Why are you wasting your time watching television?” My peers were all there watching. Something monumental was happening. We needed time to witness and attempt to cope with what we were seeing. Feeling the pressure from this demanding boss, I was one of the first to pull away and go back to my desk and it was incredibly difficult to focus and do technical marketing work. It was corporate America saying “You’re not human. Don’t feel. Just do your work…no matter what else is going on.” It was the birthday of one of my co-workers, but definitely not a day to celebrate.

Credit: TellingNicholas.com

Today, 10 years later, I am still disturbed by that glare. It’s one of the reasons I choose to work for myself. Yes, there are business demands and the software business is incredibly demanding. But people are not robots. Bad things happen and we have feelings. We need time and space to witness, to grieve, and to recover.

I just watched another one of HBO’s incredible documentaries. This one is called “Telling Nicholas” and first aired on May 19, 2002. Created by director/producer/writer James Ronald Whitney, it also won an Emmy.

It tells the story of how the mother of 7-year-old Nicholas died in the World Trade Centers on 9/11 and how the family struggled to accept that she is not coming back and is indeed dead. They also struggled with how to tell Nicholas. It his heart wrenching and I cried throughout most of the movie. The family is very sensitive to and protective of this little boy’s feelings.

I’m not a 7-year-old boy and I didn’t lose my mommy or anyone on 9/11. Still, we all grieve that day and the loss of innocence, security, and safety we had up until then. We grieve the loss of so many people who were doing nothing but living their lives and working and being mommies and daddies and brothers and sisters and children.

If 9/11 has had any positive impact, hopefully it has taught us to appreciate the freedom we have, to value life, to be grateful for the love of others, and to never take even one day of our lives for granted. And to stop the glares. We all need time to process when things happen…even if we’re at work…and we all need to practice and feel compassion.





Hip-Hop, Yoga, and Being Super Rich

30 07 2011

Think of the “godfather of hip-hop” Russell Simmons and you definitely think RICH. He founded the music label Def Jam as well as clothing lines such as Phat Farm and American Classics. With a net worth estimate of $340 million, he is the third richest figure in hip-hop, only behind artists Diddy and Jay-Z. But do you also think of yoga and spirituality when you think of Russell Simmons?

Simmons is the author (along with Chris Morrow) of Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All. His business website www.rushcommunications.com relates his many business successes, which “have spanned music, film, television, fashion, video games, online and financial services” and his activism, which “has encompassed all of the areas touched by his businesses, including poverty, education, social justice and inclusion.”

It’s easy to daydream about being incredibly rich, but Simmons is more than just about having a lot of money. He grew up in a lower-middle class African-American community in Queens and recently was named one of the 25 most influential people of the last 25 years by USA Today. He has two beautiful daughters he adores (and a beautiful, well-known, and accomplished ex-wife Kimora Lee Simmons). Not only does he practice yoga, meditation, and philanthropy, he also eats no meat. He believes that there is a connection between his spiritual practices and his worldly success.

The title of his book Super Rich might make you think it’s all about accumulating money, but to Simmons that term means “the state of needing nothing.” That’s powerful! THE STATE OF NEEDING NOTHING. Imagine being in that state. Surely, you’d feel super rich. But how do you achieve that state? Simmons says that we have to “clear out the clutter and quiet the noise” that keeps us from “hearing” or connecting with the happiness…or the richness…that is already inside of us.

He says that we attract the world to us by giving until the world can’t live without what you have to offer. Huh? To get rich, you just give away what you have? YES! He quotes yogis: “You never lose what you have given” and says that if you “just show the world a fraction of the sweetness and honesty that’s in your heart, it’s going to come running after you.”

What else can you do to attain the STATE OF NEEDING NOTHING?

  • Access stillness…that “quiet, peaceful mental state that allows you to be completely present in life.” Then you can become “totally connected with the inspiration and imagination that’s inside [you].”
  • “Stay focused on your work without any expectations for, or concern with, the fruit of your labor” and “operate out of a zone of pure focus and clarity” like Michael Jordan did on the basketball court.
  • Be a business yogi and “only do shit you believe in. Period!” Vegan Simmons, for example, says he would never invest in a restaurant that serves meat. If you are a yogi, you won’t do work that creates instability or suffering in the world. Let go of the results…and watch what happens!
  • “Be reborn every day.” Simmons went from being a drug dealer to a mega-rich businessman, yogi, author (he previously penned the New York Times best seller Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success), and humanitarian. How did he do that? He “began moving away from [his] unconscious state and toward enlightenment.” He says it is important to “get open”…to be fluid and creative and never rigid.
  • Build bridges…with people of other races, religions, beliefs, etc…that will bring people together. Recognize that we are all connected.
  • Practice and realize the power of acceptance and love of others and what is.
  • Enjoy and be grateful for the material things, but don’t become burdened by or attached to what you have. Instead, achieve balance in life.
  • “Make a real commitment to being conscious and compassionate.”  He quotes the story of the Bhagavad Gita and Arjuna’s final words to Lord Krishna: “Through your kind conversation, I’ve woken up and am conscious of who I really am.” Simmons says that even if you fall short in all the above things, if you are conscious and compassionate, you will…like Arjuna…become more awake, which is “central to all your success.”

Simmons says that, armed with the knowledge in the book, we can be like Arjuna and:

To fight not for what you can get for yourself, but what you can give to others.

To fight not for your own abundance, but for the abundance of others.

To fight not for your own security, but for the peace and safety of others.

To fight not for your own joy, but for the happiness of others.

To fight not for your own upliftment, but for the enlightenment of others.

Russell Simmons, hip-hop, fashion, and multi-business mogul, yogi, father, UN Goodwill Ambassador, vegan, and philanthropist, ends the book by saying:

When you are devoted to fighting for these things with a smile on your face and love radiating out of your heart, then all these things will be yours. You will have it all. You will be Super Rich.

How refreshing to see someone who truly is super rich in every way practice what he says. Thanks, Russell Simmons.

NOTE: This post also appears at http://project-prosperity.com/2011/07/30/hip-hop-yoga-and-being-super-rich.




I Walked a 50K (31 Miles)

19 07 2011

On July 9, 2011 I walked a 12-hour race and completed 50K. That’s THIRTY-ONE MILES. I set some really bodacious goals at the start of the year. Walking a 12-hour race and completing a 50K (31 miles) was one of them. I had no idea at the time if I could even go 6 hours, but decided at least it was a good goal.

I decided to go for it and set a very aggressive training schedule. I stuck to it except for dealing with some setbacks along the way…lingering arm pain from a hard fall, an unexpected trip out of town, getting sick, and some foot pain that laid me up awhile. I wasn’t a beginning walker when I started. I sold my car when I moved out to the San Francisco Bay area so I walk everywhere and was already doing some long walks. [NOTE: See my blog post A Year of Living Carless, which is featured today on the home page of WordPress.]

My training started very aggressively the week of April 25 when I walked 27 miles with my longest walk being 10 miles. Because I was behind in training, I had to quickly ramp up. A month later, I walked 21.5 miles as my long walk. Three weeks after that I walked a marathon. And three weeks after that was the race. The last few weeks I walked loops very similar to the 3.1 loop in the actual race with 200 feet elevation gain every loop.

I did a lot of research about how to prepare for and walk a 12-hour race. To say I was nervous about it is an understatement. I did way too much carbo loading, put on weight leading up to the race, and had to order a new wicking shirt a few days before the race. I got a smartphone around this time and loaded tons of music on it, had extra batteries, and bought an extra headset. I bought a running hat, trained with the kind of food and sports drink at the race, and took good care of my feet (lots of soaks in Epsom salts, petroleum jelly, Tom’s Blister Shield foot powder, and taping my feet in blister-prone areas). With the help of  Facebook friends, I came up with an athletic alter ego to motivate me during the race: DIANAMO KICKASS SISTA DISTANCE. I tapered my walking down to almost nothing and now the BIG DAY HAD ARRIVED. GULP.

RACE DAY – 7/9/11 – BRAZEN RACING DIRTY DOZEN RACE STARTS AT 7:00 A.M. AT PINOLE POINT, EAST BAY

Up at 4:10 a.m. Breakfast of peanut butter sandwich and an apple, a cup of coffee, and 20 ounces of water. Watching a little TV to relax while I ate. Got dressed. Prepared my feet. Gathered stuff in my bag. Walked my dog. Picked up at 6:10 by my son-in-law and 22-month-old grandson, who took my daughter Val and me to the race.

I had just a few minutes to pin my bib (#2) on my shorts, sign the waiver, get my headset, thread my timing chip through my shoe laces, pee, get my water bottle, and get lined up for the start.Val did this race last year and was excited and cool; I was NERVOUS. There were runners lined up to do a 6-hour race along with us brave souls planning to do the 12-hour race. And we’re off!

It was a cool, overcast morning…perfect for running (or in my case, walking). We ran parallel to the Bay for much of the race and braved the 20-30 mph gusting winds throughout the race, which had me chasing my hat several times later in the race when the sun came out. Since I was walking, everyone else raced ahead of me and I took a wrong turn at one point and had to backtrack. I felt much more confident after I got through the first loop and knew the course.

My first headset gave out after only 1.5 hours (charging issues) so I just listened to the natural sounds until I completed four loops. I grabbed the second headset then and fiddled with it for about 15 minutes. I never got it to synch (I use a Bluetooth headset)…turns out I needed to hold down the button a couple of more seconds…aargh. I did another loop and tried again for another 15 minutes (tick, tick, tick…time’s a wasting!). No luck. So I had NO music for the rest of the race…tough because music takes your mind off the pain and the distance.

At 11 a.m., noon, 5:00, and 6:00 there 5K (3.1 miles) and 10K (6.2 miles) races going on the track. Those people looked fresh and were fast, average, and some were novices and just happy to be running/walking a race. After 1:00, the 6-hour racers were done (and eating barbecue back at the start/finish) and the course thinned out a lot. That’s when you knew the really hard-core people were left and I got a lot of “GOOD JOB!” kudos from other racers who sailed past me.

I saw my daughter Val out on the race every two laps and she came up and hugged me, told me how great her race was going, and we got our photo taken together by one of the volunteer photographers once out on the course. It was so much fun doing the race with her and helped me keep going, even when I wanted to stop after four laps due to foot pain, tiredness, and heaviness in my legs.

I stopped every lap to pee and grabbed food and sports drink at the start/finish and mid-course…GU gel, cut up peanut butter/jelly sandwiches, peanut butter and bagel, Payday candy bars, chips, and Peanut M&Ms. I had very short conversations with the encouraging volunteers and I’d be off again to do another lap. Toward the end I doubled what I ate and drank when my energy really started sagging on loop 8 and that gave me the energy to finish the last two loops much faster.

The last mile was LONG and I got tearful thinking about what I was achieving. I had the time to do a shortened lap, but I was happy with just reaching my goal. 31 MILES. When I crossed the finish line, my arms went up in the air and I yelled out “YES!!!!” It was 6:34:37 P.M. I had walked nearly 12 hours. I DID IT!!! I put on my jacket, got my medal, and watched my daughter finish a few minutes later. She RAN 55.8 miles (her longest ever) and finished SECOND of all the women. WOW!

In an incredibly well-run event (thanks, Sam!), the first place guy ran 74.5 miles. First place gal ran 62.7 miles. I walked 31 miles.

Me with other 12-hour finishers

At 58 years old, I was the oldest female to compete in the 12-hour race. (And oh by the way, I am a PLUS SIZE woman.) I’m proud of what I did. REAL PROUD. And my name is going to be published in “Ultrarunning” magazine as having completed an ultramarathon!

Twenty minutes after I finished, I started getting dizzy and nauseous and thought I was going to pass out and/or throw up. It quickly passed. And yes, I was stiff for a few days afterward (no muscle pain though) and have been nursing some amazing looking blisters on my feet and that nagging foot pain.

But when a friend asked me if it was all worth it and would I do it again, the answer is absolutely YES. Dianamo Kickass Sista Distance, you go girl!

UPDATE: In October 2011, I walked the Portland Marathon (26.2 miles) in 8 hours and 42 seconds. This time I felt great at the finish. I also walked the Portland Marathon in October, 2012 in 7 hours and 38 minutes and felt great again!





Could You Survive the Worst Thing Imaginable?

25 10 2010

Emma, Katie, and Kyle Coble - Credit: Chriscoble.com

Imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. The worst did happen to Lori and Chris (her husband)  who were on today’s Oprah show. A truck driver coming around a blind curve on a freeway slammed into the back of Lori’s car, which was stopped in traffic on the freeway.

Lori was in the car with her mother and her three children…Kyle aged 5, Emma aged 4, and Katie, aged 2. All three children were killed in that crash and Lori and her mother survived.

Somehow…with the support of family and friends and by making a pact with each other to not kill themselves and instead to help each other out…Lori and Chris got through it and decided 3 months later they wanted to have another child. One year after the tragedy, they had triplets…two girls and a boy! The children are now 2 1/2 and they brought them out…adorable. They said there is joy in their home again, but they still grieve the loss of the first two girls and boy. Amazingly, they forgave the truck driver, who is also the father of young children.

The story has several lessons:

  • That you can survive even the worst thing imaginable.
  • That supporting each other through tough times is important. The couple immediately went to counseling and learned to tell each other what they were feeling. You could tell that they are very close to each other and loving.
  • That miracles do happen. They had triplets who were the same sex as the three children they lost.
  • To hold your loved ones close and appreciate them and realize what a gift every day with them is.
  • That family and friends are invaluable and can love you and support you through whatever you are going through.

The couple has demonstrated unbelievable courage as has Lori’s mother, who was also featured and is also a survivor of the car crash. She of course has grieved not only for the loss of her grandchildren, but every day did all she could to help her daughter and son-in-law get through this unbelievable tragedy.

So when you’re having a bad day, as we all do, think of all you have to be grateful for and hold those you love and who love you tight…both figuratively and in reality. We’re all here to help each other out and in the end, having that love and support is what matters.

P.S. I originally wrote this (with some additions, which I didn’t share here) as an email to one of my daughters. This story touched me so much, I wanted to share it more broadly.





The Power of a Mother’s Kangaroo Love

3 09 2010

Twenty minutes after twin Jamie Ogg was born prematurely at 27 weeks into his mom Kate’s pregnancy, he was pronounced dead when doctors could not get him to breathe. He was placed across Kate’s bare chest and she held him to her skin while she and husband David spoke to him about his sister Emily and the hopes and dreams they had for him.

David and Kate Ogg with their twins on the Today Show - Credit Today Show website

Kate (who is from Australia along with her husband) continued practicing kangaroo love, where the holding of an infant with their skin next to the mother’s or father’s generates heat and bonding for the baby like he received in the womb…or like a baby kangaroo receives in its mother’s pouch.

After five minutes, they began to notice Jamie move, but the doctor said it was just a bodily reflex. This continued for two hours of the parents holding the baby next to their bare chests and talking gently and lovingly to him. They kept trying to get the doctor to come back in the room and see the baby moving, but the doctor kept insisting the baby was dead. Finally, the doctor consented and was shocked to see the baby alive.

The Today Show featured this family and their story today and I burst into tears upon hearing this story. The babies are now five months old and both are healthy and doing well.

The Today Show’s website quoted Dr. Lisa Eiland of the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, who said this seeming miracle may be well grounded in science:

What’s important is the warmth that the mother provides and the stimulation that the baby may have received from hearing the mother’s heartbeat. So those are all things that may have helped the baby in terms of going down the path to living as opposed to the path of death.

My own daughter used this practice with her one-day-old son when he was taken to the ICU after a difficult start. This story and that of my own daughter and grandson are powerful reminders that love…especially that of a mother…can be so powerful to even save a life and how important love, nurturing, and human touch are for our very survival.





Already Home

9 08 2010

Financial uncertainty, a physical move to an unfamiliar area or to a new house, a health crisis, a divorce or relationship breakup, middle age, and a death can all create a longing for home…a sense of belonging, of the familiar, of claiming a place that is ours, of feeling comforted and comfortable, of feeling safe, and a place we can truly be ourselves.

Barbara Gates - Credit: BarbaraGates.com

This is what Barbara Gates, author of the exquisite book Already Home: A Topography of Spirit and Place, writes about. She struggles to understand her new home in Berkeley, California after a move from New York and to understand the body she calls home as she goes through treatments for breast cancer and strives to live while being mother to a five-year-old daughter and wife to her lawyer husband.

Barbara does extensive research on the house she and her husband remodel limb by limb and on the colorful Ocean View neighborhood she lives in. She wants to know who lived there before she and her neighbors did and what home was like for those people. At first the search is about the physicality of the place, but “home” and “inhabit” take on much bigger…and yet much simpler…meaning.

In an interview with Shambhala Publications, Barbara is asked about finding home right we are and she replies:

Already Home tells a story of neighborliness, about finding connection — with one’s family, oneself, and the folks next door, with whatever presents itself, no matter how off-putting or surprising. I find connection with a homeless woman who sleeps in our family car, a rat in our refrigerator, the bay, trees and streets, and, learning the vast history of my home place, with generations of neighborhood ancestors. In contrast to our global ethic of opposition and reprisal, Already Home offers a much-needed taste of underlying commonality grounded in a sense of home, always available right here and now.

In that same interview, Barbara (who is a Buddhist) talks of interviewing Buddhist monks, who call themselves the “Homeless Ones” because they leave behind their homes. Barbara tells of how that homelessness showed her a different meaning of home:

I was reminded that a house is not a home. No house of bricks or boards could offer me the enduring safety and sustenance I yearned for.  As I became intimate with the place where I lived and settled more fully into a wide sense of myself, I began to glimpse an inner sense of home. No matter who we are, through a shift in perception, we can see it.  We are already home.

In reading this book, I connect with Barbara’s search for home. I, too, recently left behind an area (Austin, Texas), which I had called home for 20 years, to move to the Berkeley area to live near my daughter, son-in-law, and almost one-year-old grandson. This area is so different from my birth home area of east Tennessee and my adopted home area of central Texas. It is much cooler here, the yards are lush with flowers and greenery, and the homes are

A Berkeley Home - Credit: Trip Advisor Website

charming. People I pass on the streets often say “Isn’t it beautiful here? I feel so lucky to live here.” There is a relaxation, comfort, and sense of gratitude that comes with these perfect temperatures and beauty every where you look. If you walk up into the Berkeley hills, you get gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay.

Almost anywhere you can hear the whoosh of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains zipping through the community and offering easy transportation to most anywhere you’d like to go. I sold my car before I moved out here and walk or take the BART (or the occasional bus) everywhere and the worries and expense of gas, car payments, car repairs, car insurance, parking, and traffic are gone for me.

Besides a freedom and sense of adventure in getting around, home takes on additional new meaning for me here. It is being a grandmother who gets to really be a part of my grandson’s life. It is being able to walk over to my daughter’s home after yoga at the YMCA or to the local farmer’s market with her and to have conversations in person that used to be months apart. It is cool air blowing through open windows in the summer and walks at any time of day and never breaking a sweat. It is exploring downtown San Francisco and new neighborhoods…each with their own charm. Home here is a scaling down of things and an expansion of sensual delight, new experiences, and sense of awe and possibility.

I’ve moved enough times in my life to not feel an attachment to any one building as “home”. Instead, I am developing the sense of home that noted Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of (and Barbara Gates quotes in her book):

In East Asia, we speak of the human body as a mini-cosmos. The cosmos is our home, and we can touch it by being aware of our body. Meditation is to be still: to sit still, to stand still, and to walk with stillness. Meditation means to look deeply, to touch deeply so we can realize we are already home.

I did a slow, walking meditation through the Berkeley hills this morning and connected with all the outward beauty I saw. The beauty inside me, which has always been, yearns for deep recognition and reconnection. It is that place that calls out to me and reminds me that I am already home…no matter where I go.





A Holocaust Survivor and a Kenyan Boy

20 07 2010

Director Jennifer Arnold, Chris Mburu, Hilde Back, Jane Wanjiru Muigai during the Sundance Film Festival - Credit: Matt Carr, Getty Images

For Chris Mburu, a young, rural Kenyan student, the opportunity to make something out of his life would’ve ended if not for a small act of kindness.

Hilde Back was a young girl and a Jew who was helped by a stranger to escape from Nazi Germany to Sweden. She never saw her parents (who did not survive the Holocaust) again after leaving. She never forgot the kindness of that stranger and of the people who helped her once she got to Sweden. Hilde eventually became a school teacher on a modest salary, but sponsored…for about $15 a month…a young Kenyan student.

Because she paid his fees to go to secondary school, which his parents could not afford, that student…Chris Mburu…went on to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and become a human rights lawyer for the United Nations. Inspired by Hilde’s generosity, in 2001 he decided to start a scholarship program to help other bright Kenyan students who can’t afford school fees and to name the scholarship program after her. With help, he tracked Hilde Back down and the two are now fast friends. She never knew that her small gift each month made such a difference in the life of one boy…and is now making a difference in the lives of countless other children.

Kimani, Ruth, and Caroline - Credit: http://asmallact.blogspot.com/

HBO is now airing an incredibly moving and important documentary film entitled A Small Act about this story and “the ripple effect one small act can have.” The world premiere of the movie was in January 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival. Jennifer Arnold wrote, directed, and produced this film.

It features three students…Kimani, Ruth, and Caroline…who are the top students in their school and who all have no hope of progressing in school due to the lack of ability to pay the $40 per month fees unless they get one of the coveted Hilde Back Education Fund scholarships.

I mostly subscribe to  HBO because of their documentaries. They are thoughtful, well done, and carry powerful messages. The message is easy to see in this one. So many of us think we don’t have the ability to make a difference in the life of another person so why bother? We may think we are barely scraping by ourselves and what little we could give just isn’t enough. This story shows that a small donation made monthly totally changed the life of Chris, who has gone on to change the lives of Kimani, Ruth, Caroline and so many more and they have all pledged to change the lives of students who come after them.

A few other ripple effects and how you can learn more:

Watch the trailer for the movie, and if you have HBO or if the film is being screened near you, watch the entire film. It will move you…hopefully to make your own small act.





A Would-Be Robber and The Power of Love to Overcome Fear and Desperation

24 10 2009

It was October 19, 2009. 23-year-old Greg Smith was out of work, desperate, and needed money. He held Angela Montez at gun point, fully intending to rob a cash advance store, but something miraculous happened. Angela, a mother and grandmother, started crying and began talking to Greg. She told him “‘No, you don’t have to do this. Nothing can be bad enough for you to lower yourself to something so bad.” Even though the cash register was open and Greg could have taken the money and ran, he didn’t. His heart softened and he got down on his knees and prayed with Angela for ten minutes. The two even hugged. He left without taking the money.

Oprah had Greg, who is now in Marion County Jail in Indiana, and Angela, who was in the Harpo Studios with Oprah, on her show on Friday. What Greg Smith - From Oprah websiteunfolded there…and what had unfolded during the planned robbery…was a testimony to what can happen when people let go of fear and see the good in each other.

Out of work for a year, Greg said that he felt like “less than a man” because he couldn’t provide for his family. His driver’s license had been suspended so he lost his job, which required him to drive. Feeling like he had no options, he robbed someone the week before and has since apologized to the woman he robbed.

Something really changed in him when he tried to rob the store where Angela worked. Greg said:

Honestly, it was a feeling when she started talking to me, like I told her, no disrespect to my mother or anyone in my family, but noone has ever talked to me the way that she did. She talked to me like a mother would to her child or a grandmother would to her grandchild. She made me feel comfortable and something just made me open up to her. I don’t know what it was. And I felt honestly something that I had never felt before. Honestly, I don’t even think it was Miss Angela talking to me; I actually think it was the man upstairs talking to me through her.

Upon hearing that, Angela said she wanted to give him a big hug, she forgave him, and that she understood. She told him to take the punishment for what he’s done and “…don’t let the past stop you from being great in the future.” Greg teared up and said “I”m sorry, Miss Angela.” He said he never meant to hurt her. During the encounter in the store, he even gave her the bullet in his gun.

Angela was touched and said “See that is remorse. He has a good heart and good love. You know he has served in the service. You have give four years of your life to our country; we love that. Thank you.” Greg’s mouth was trembling; he too, was touched at the power of forgiveness and love from Angela.

Oprah also had Donna, Greg’s mother, and Sherrie, Greg’s long-time girlfriend and mother of their two-year-old daughter, on the show. Donna saw the video of Greg walking out of the store after the attempted armed robbery on the eleven p.m. news and urged him to turn himself in.

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Donna knew Greg was depressed and was suicidal at one point because he had no work. Yesterday was Greg’s daughter’s birthday and he was distraught that he had no money to buy her a present.

Sherrie works, goes to school, and pays all the bills. She and Greg are both 23 years old and have been together since they were 15. She said she never thought he would do this and partially blamed herself, saying she felt she pushed him over the edge with nagging him to get work.

Donna told her son she loved him and said that she knew he has a big heart. She was sorry she was so wrapped up in her own problems that she didn’t help him. Greg told her he was not mad at her, didn’t blame her, and loved her. He apologized to Sherrie for putting her through this. Their daughter Mya was there…on her 2nd birthday…so precious. She saw Greg on the monitor and gleefully exclaimed “Daddy! Daddy!” Greg said:

I’ve always been a firm believer in God and Christ, but I’ve never walked that walk. I’ve felt like for the longest time I was in control of everything and everything was supposed to go my way. I feel like a lot of the things that I did have before the situation I’m in now I took for granted and I lost it.

Oprah wrapped up the story and told Greg:

We’re hoping the best will come to you really. You seem to have a good heart and you didn’t harm Angela in that circumstance and allowed yourself to have your heart open enough that you could put the gun down and walk away. I know Angela is grateful and we all are grateful too that it worked out this way.

Greg, Sherrie, Mya, Donna, and even Angela have all had their lives impacted because of the economy and the desperation that people can feel from being out of work and not having money. It doesn’t help that Greg is a young black man without a college education and without the creativity and resources to get the help he needs. He is in jail now and is charged with six felony counts and two misdemeanors. On October 22 a judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf; he does not have an attorney.

By letting go of fear, opening her heart, and seeing Greg as a human being who needed understanding rather than as a criminal, Angela forevermore changed her life, Greg’s life, and the lives of his mother, girlfriend, and daughter. Most likely, Angela’s love and forgiveness have impacted thousands or millions of others who have heard this story, which has been repeated on other shows in addition to Oprah’s. Angela and Greg are each testaments to us that love is a much more powerful force than fear and that what appears bad can be transformative for good in our lives.





I Pray for Grace

13 10 2009

Do you know someone who thinks about God or religion or spirituality differently from you? How do you feel about that? Are you respectful toward their beliefs? Are they respectful toward yours?

Did you pray to Buddha? Someone asked me this today. I was sharing how I have been meditating and doing spiritual work to affirm and attract Praying - Purchased from iStockPhotoprosperity. I incorporate various precepts in my spiritual practice. I love the  Buddhist concepts of loving-kindness, that suffering ceases when we let go of our attachment to ideas, people, places, and things, and that we can increase our own peacefulness (thereby increasing the peacefulness in the world) by practicing mindfulness and allowing life to flow. For some reason, these precepts are threatening to my Christian friend and he often mocks me not so subtly as if to say “Do you think Buddha can hear you?”

Why do we do this? Isn’t there enough derision, separation, and I’m-better-than-you (and so is my religion) mentality in this world without mocking someone’s beliefs…and especially the beliefs of someone we’re close to? Each time I encounter this, I feel battered and feel a need to hunker down and redouble my meditation. I…and my brothers and sisters of the world…really need instead so much healing, understanding, acceptance, tolerance, love, kindness, and grace.

Here’s Michael Franti singing what I ask for right now. I pray for grace…for myself, for my friend, and for my brothers and sisters all over the world.

Thanks to Gerry Starnes for sending me the link to this wonderful video.





Don’t Stop Believin’ – Formerly Homeless Journey Lead Singer and Harvard Student

5 10 2009

The early 80s Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin” was sung on the Oprah show today by their amazing new lead singer (and formerly homeless person in the Phillippines) Arnel Pineda, who was discovered by one of the band members in a video Arnel posted on YouTube. Arnel, who had to fend for himself on the streets after his encouraging mother died when he was 13, is a testament to the power of those words, now living a life he says is way bigger than he could ever have imagined.

The song provided a perfect setup for the story of Khadijah, an African-American young woman who was homeless from the time she was six and slept with her mother and sister in bus stations, on the streets, and in many Khadijah - Homeless to Harvard (Oprah website)shelters. She attended 12 schools in 12 years and was encouraged by her mother to better her life through education. She took this advice to heart, studying hard, and spending a lot of time in the Los Angeles Public Library reading every book she could.

When Khadijah was in the 10th grade, she was determined to finish out her schooling at Jefferson High School, and got up at 4:30 a.m. every day to make the two-hour trip from Skid Row in Los Angeles to school. In May she graduated with honors and is now a freshman at Harvard University. Here’s part of the essay she wrote as part of her admission process. You can read the entire essay at Oprah.com:

Being homeless has given me the skills I need to succeed on the pathway towards my higher education pursuits and life-long goals. My experiences have made me a dedicated student both inside and outside of the classroom. I do not let anything stop me from achieving my goals. Hearing such negativity where I have lived has enabled me to focus on my goals and remain optimistic, even when faced with grave adversity. Having to depend on myself for food has enabled me to take charge of my education. I have learned to be resourceful and diligent and I am confident in saying that I am a very self-motivated and determined individual that will stop at nothing to receive an education. When I go to college, I know that this acquired knowledge and skills will enable me to succeed in whatever I do.

Oprah was so moved by Khadijah’s story that she invited Khadijah to accompany her the next time she visits the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and tell her inspiring story to the girls there.

Arnel and Khadijah…two formerly homeless people with little to hope for. They both had mothers who believed in them and encouraged them, they both believed in themselves, and they both were willing to work hard to achieve their dreams.

No matter what your situation, no matter how hard or hopeless it may be, don’t stop believing. You never know what miracle is waiting for you!

Here’s Arnel and Journey…





Congratulations to the New Graduates…in Prison

28 09 2009

A letter to the women in the Lockhart, Texas prison who just graduated from the Truth be Told program

You had no choice but to wear matching dull blue v-neck formless pullover tops and pants, white t-shirts, and tennis shoes. I had the freedom to choose to wear a peridot-green peasant blouse, black capri pants, and close-toed (a requirement) black heels. I wore jewelry. You did not. I freely came in from the outside, handed over my driver’s license, and was escorted into the gymnasium with 17 other women and 2 men who chose (and were pre-screened) to attend your graduation. You, too, were escorted there, but after graduation, you stayed in the prison. I went home.

Despite our marked differences in freedom, we came together to celebrate your graduation from the Truth Be Told program. I recognized the 10 of you in the Talk to Me Speaking Class from when I had the privilege of evaluating five of your this-is-my-life speeches. Many of you ran to me, hugged me, and said how happy you were that I was there. I felt real joy in seeing you and delight in sitting between two of you. Three of you spoke and my heart filled with pride that you so openly and skillfully shared the story of what came before that led to you being in prison.

Three of the nine women from the Talk to Me Circle Class also spoke and shared your stories and three women from the Talk to Me Movement Class delighted us with your expressiveness and impressive moves in the Michael Jackson “Beat It” number. Charlotte leaned over and told me it was the first time she’d heard music (from a loud speaker) in three years.

Walking through History - Purchased from iStockPhotoYou told us stories of being sexually abused as a child, a mother who allowed such abuse toward you and even toward your children, a father who beat your mother, using drugs to dim emotional pain, being forced to sell drugs or to prostitute yourself to support your children, being beaten by men who you thought loved you, never feeling loved, joining a gang to find a sense of belonging, having to give up children, being in and out of prison, and more.

Your stories touched everyone who attended. We gathered afterward to name our feelings: grateful, joyful, amazed at your courage and honesty, a sense of sisterhood with you, pride, recognition and acknowledgment of your pain and what you’ve been through, and honored to have had the opportunity to bear witness to your stories.

The Truth be Told volunteers who facilitate the classes are amazing: Peggy Lamb, Julie Wylie, Natalie Weinstein, Katie Ford, Mary Gifford, and co-founders Carol Waid and Nathalie Sorrell. You are fortunate to have women who are so passionate, so talented, so intelligent, so giving, and so caring guide you in walking your life toward making healthy choices and feeling hopeful for a better tomorrow.

As amazing as your facilitators are, I wonder if you ladies in the Truth be Told program realize how much you give to those who work with you. We feel your humanness, that you are our sisters, and that but for different life choices and circumstances, the roles could be reversed…we could be in prison and you could be on the outside. We see your courage, your vulnerability, your willingness to be open and honest, your admission of bad choices, and your desire to turn your lives around. We admire you, we are Truth Be Told Logoin awe of you, we are touched by you, and we take you with us as we leave.

The experience of being in prison with you and hearing your stories lasts long after we leave the facility.  We share our experience with those we care about and they share it with still others. Something changes in us. We develop an even deeper understanding that we are all one and must do what we can to lift each other up.

Thank you, dear Truth be Told graduates. Take in all the applause we gave you at the graduation and continue to give you every time we think of you. You are changing your lives…and ours…for the better. And that’s the truth.

Become a fan of Truth be Told on Facebook.





NBA Star Tracy McGrady Creates a Darfur Dream Team

7 09 2009
Tracy McGrady Houston Mansion

Tracy McGrady's Houston Mansion

30-year-old NBA Houston Rockets star Tracy McGrady, who makes an estimated $21.1 million a year, is an unlikely advocate for refugees in Darfur. He could just live a cushy life in his 35,000 square foot mansion with his four children and wife. Instead, he heard about the plight of Chad and Sudan refugees in Darfur, wanted to see for himself, thought that surely there was something he could do, and traveled there with John Prendergast and Omer Ismail from the Enough project, which bills itself as “the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Tracy grew up in a rough neighborhood in Auburndale, Florida where he witnessed shooting, robbing, and dealing drugs. He said that when he got aTracy McGrady - Credit NBA website well-paying job, he wanted to have nice things, but said that “…those things don’t really mean anything to me anymore.” Before he went to Darfur, in the western region of Sudan and bordering Chad, in the summer of 2007, he said he had no idea what genocide was and was nervous about what he would see…and he saw a lot.

His trip resulted in the documentary 3 Points, which has just been released and can be seen on Hulu. Tracy is so passionate about the film and his work that he has changed his jersey number to 3 to remind people of the three goals for the Darfuris: peace, protection, and punishment (of those who have harmed them).

Tracy goes there with a big heart and a lot to learn. He…like most of us…has no idea what the life of the refugees…all 2.2 million of them…is like…that the women are being raped, the men are being killed, and their villages have been burned down. He sees children running and wants to build them a soccer field (which would cost just $1,000) and an indoor swimming pool (which would be considered extravagant), but learns that these children have more basic needs such as clean water, food, safety, and schools and supplies. There are no secondary schools (high schools). The people tell them that they have nothing…NOTHING.

He sleeps in a tent for the first time and displays a lot of naivete, but a willingness to learn about the Darfuris. He learns that children and families walked 200 miles to be in the camps, that the women choose to go out to get firewood because they will only be raped; if their husbands go out, they will be killed. Refugees are bombed by planes that look like United Nations planes, are surrounded by land mines, and eat once a day if they are lucky. People are attacked, killed execution-style, and even buried alive by Sudan’s military and Janjaweed, the government-backed militia. Children watch their parents being killed and are instantly orphaned and traumatized. Even small babies being carried on their mothers’ backs are shot.

Tracy asks questions that reveal a lot about the refugees:

  • “Who is protecting you?” No one
  • “What did you [young children] do when your village was attacked?” We ran, hid in the bush for a month, and walked for 10 days to get to a refugee camp.
  • “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 3 boys: I want to be a teacher. A girl:” I want to run my country.
  • “What kind of help do you need?” We have nothing. Everything was burned.

These are brave people, courageous people, strong people, survivors. They have seen unspeakable atrocities and injustice…the worst from their own government. Tracy reflects…

Tracy McGrady with Darfuri Children - Credit Darfur Dream Team

Just imagine that this could be us. What if the roles were reversed? What if the dice were rolled another way? This is not a joke…it’s not a game…this is real. This is our people we’re talking about. I guess that I am beginning to feel that I was put on this earth to really like help people. There’s more to me than just playing basketball, doing Adidas commercials. This is who I am and who I’m going to be. This is the beginning stages that we’re in. There’s definitely a lot more that needs to be done.

After returning from Darfur, Tracy visited with the State Department with his teammate Dikembe Mutombo and got input about how he can make a difference in Darfur. He recruited several other NBA stars to help in this effort as well as other non-profit organizations. He started a Darfur Dream Team Sister School program, which connects middle schools, high schools, and universities with students in the refugee camps of Darfur.

Tracy also visited his alma mater high school in that rough neighborhood of Auburndale, Florida with his Enough project allies who told the students that by being passive and nothing, they help evil triumph. Omer Ismail, the human rights activist from Darfur who joined Tracy on his travels there, said this to the students:

One day somebody is going to look you in the eyes and ask you “When Darfur was declared genocide, what have you done? I want you to look them in the eyes and say “I knew about it then and I’m proud to tell you that I’ve done something about it.”

Here’s a trailer about the 3 Points movie. Watch it. It will touch you. If it moves you, consider donating to the Darfur Dream Team’s Sister School program. Refugees in Darfur need all the heroes…like Tracy McGrady and you and me…they can get to help lift them up and into a better life.





Chris Gardner and The Pursuit of Happyness

14 06 2009
Chris Gardner, Jaden, and Will Smith

Chris Gardner, Jaden, and Will Smith

I heard the powerful, and formerly homeless, Chris Gardner speak at the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in Austin on January 20, 2007. His booming voice and charismatic personality filled the large hall during his talk and enthralled me when I shook his hand afterward.

Chris is best known as the subject of the 2006 $300 million+ grossing movie “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The movie, for which Will Smith won an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe award, is based on Chris’ New York Times #1 best selling book The Pursuit of Happyness. Jaden Smith, Will’s Son, plays Chris’ son in the movie.

The book details Gardner’s remarkable life journey. In his early years, he had to deal with poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, sexual abuse, and family illiteracy. He had a violent, physically abusive step-father who beat him and his mother frequently and nearly killed her. His mother was imprisoned twice…once for trying to burn down their house with his step-father in it. He was put in foster care twice and was eventually adopted by relatives.

He became a hospital corpsman in the Navy and afterward, went on to become a research lab assistant in San Francisco and a medical equipment salesman. He left his wife to live with dental student Jackie Medina, with whom he had his first child Christopher Jr. in January 1981.

One day he encounted a well-dressed man (Bob Bridges) with a red Ferrari and asked him what he did. Bob told Chris that he was a stock broker and at that moment, Chris decided that’s what he wanted to do. On the very day that he had an interview (which Bob arranged), he had just gotten out of a 10-day stay in prison due to $1,200 in parking tickets he could not pay. Jackie had accused him of beating her (which he still denies) and disappeared along with all of his possessions and their child. He showed up at his interview wearing the casual clothes on his back and with no formal education or experience, got into the training program at Dean Witter Reynolds.

Chris Gardner and Son 1984

Chris Gardner and Son 1984

Through hard work, he was the top trainee and got his license and a job at Bear Stearns. After four months, Jackie returned with his son and Chris gained custody of him. Still not making much money and without the knowledge of his co-workers, Chris and his son were homeless for a year. They spent nights in a bathroom at the transit station, his office, at flophouses, and at parks. Eventually they were allowed to stay at the Glide shelter for homeless women while he saved money for a place for them to live.

In 1987, after just five years and with just $10,000, Chris started his own brokerage firm called Gardner Rich in Chicago. He sold part of his stake in the firm for several million dollars in 2006 and became founder and CEO of Christopher Gardner International Holdings.

Chris Gardner and Nelson Mandela

Chris Gardner and Nelson Mandela

Chris is a remarkable man who is making many positive things happen in the world. He met with Nelson Mandela and is working on a venture in South Africa that will bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars into the country.

Chris has helped out Glide, which gave him and his son shelter, and helped fund $50 million to build homeless low-income housing and provide emnployment to homeless people in San Francisco, where he was once homeless. He is involved in other philanthropic ventures, serves on several non-profit boards, and has received many awards, including the National Fatherhood Initiative’s Father of the Year honor.

Gardner’s second book, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, was published on May 12, 2009. Today the 55-year-old Chris Gardner, who also has a daughter Jacintha who was born in 1985, is worth an estimated $165 million.

 Thomas Jefferson penned these words in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Despite unbelievable odds, Chris Gardner has worked hard and lived his life by these words. You can find out more about Chris on his website at www.ChrisGardnerMedia.com.

See this bigger-than-life, charismatic man in action in this video of Chris giving the commencement speech about a new vision of the American Dream at UC Berkeley on 5/22/09.

I’m so glad I met him. He gives me hope for our country and inspires me.

 





Somaly Mam: One of the World’s 100 Most Influential People and a Real Hero

5 05 2009

She was raped and tortured for five years in a horrendous brothel. Her parents and then her grandmother had disappeared. She was left to fend for herself. A “grandfather” (really a stranger) said he’d help. He raped her at age 10 or 12, made her be his personal slave, and then sold her at age 14 into sexual slavery in Cambodia. She escaped in 1993 and returned to help others living through the same nightmare. Somaly Mam is a true and courageous hero(ine).

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

In 1996 she founded a nonprofit organization called AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire, which is French for Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances) to help law enforcement rescue trafficked women and children from brothels and bring them back into society. One of every 40 Cambodian girls is sold into sexual slavery; some are as young as five years old.

So far, she has helped more than 4,000 women escape a life of sexual slavery. Somaly has suffered enormously for the stand she has taken and the work she has done. She has received death threats and assaults, had her house burned down, and endured the horrific kidnapping, drugging, and raping of her 14-year-old daughter in 2006. She courageously continues the work.

She details her experience in the September 2008-released book The Road of Lost Innocence. She offers vision and leadership to the Somaly Mam Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending slavery.

In November 2008 she was the first recipient of the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award “in recognition of her fight for a world without slavery” from the new human rights and Munich-based Roland Berger Foundation. The 1 million euro ($1.269 million) she received to continue her work is almost exactly the amount awarded to recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has won several other prestigious awards.

Somaly Mam was named this week one of the world’s 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and was lauded with the others named tonight at the TIME 100 Gala in New York. Angelina Jolie, who with her partner Brad Pitt adopted their son Maddox from Cambodia, wrote the TIME article about Somaly Mam. She is an Oscar-winning actress, goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, and co-chair of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

Somaly Mam suffered tremendously in the first part of her life. She not only lifted herself up, but so many others with her decision to help those who lived the horrors she did. She has made a tremendous impact in the lives of thousands of trafficked young women and has given a face and voice to human trafficking throughout the world.

Stand up and applaud. This woman is a true hero.

Here are Somaly Mam and Somaly Mam Foundation board member and actress Susan Sarandon on the Tyra Banks show.





Three Cups of Tea’s Greg Mortenson: An Unlikely Hero, A Builder of Schools

24 04 2009
Greg Mortenson didn’t set out to be a hero, but life pushed him into it. His sister Christa, a lifelong epileptic, died and he decided to honor her memory in 1993 by climbing Pakistan’s K2, the second highest mountain in the world and possibly the most difficult to climb. After 78 days, he did not reach the summit and stumbled into the village of Korphe…ill, worn out, exhausted.

The people there nursed him back to health. He visited the local school and saw 84 children writing their lessons in the dirt. They so desired an education, but poverty prevented them from having what they needed to learn. He promised the people he would come back and build them a school.

Greg Mortenson with Pakistani Schoolchildren - Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

Greg Mortenson with Pakistani Schoolchildren - Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

That promise led Greg to build 78 schools…and counting… in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 28,000 students so far have gotten an education because of Greg’s promise and passion.

The thing that is remarkable about Greg is that he had no money when he returned to the U.S. He lived in his car for a while. But he was determined to keep that promise. He wrote letters to 580 prominent people. He said he could build a school for $12,000 and finally Jean Hoerni, founder of Fairchild Semiconductor, sent him a check.

Greg had no experience fundraising or building schools, but he had a strong will to help the children get an education and he continually found the way to make it happen. On Hoerni’s death, he endowed the Central Asia Institute with $1 million and named Greg the director. It gave Greg the funds to build more schools and eventually more people were brought on board to help in the efforts, both in the U.S. and in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Greg has given tirelessly of himself in the last 16 years and has had tremendous support from his wife and two children. He spends part of each year in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region and the other part in the U.S. giving fund-raising speeches. He is a current nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and has won numerous awards.

This post just cannot do justice to the miracles that Greg Mortenson has brought into reality through his tenacity and passion. He has withstood personal danger, financial hardship, long separations from his family, and much more to make an education a reality for children…especially girls…who would otherwise have no future.

Greg has found that educating a girl does three important things:

  1. Significantly decreases the population explosion over a generation or two
  2. Reduces infant mortality dramatically in a decade or two
  3. Significantly improves the basic quality of health and life itself

Greg’s efforts have also helped build bridges, pipes to provide clean water, women’s centers, and other structures necessary to make it possible for children to attend school.

three-cups-of-tea-book-coverGreg is a testament to what one person can do…an unlikely hero, but a hero still. Read the book Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time by Greg and David Oliver Relin about Greg’s journey. It is captivating. You can read more about Greg on the www.threecupsoftea.com website.

You can also learn more about the Central Asia Institute and make a donation to help build more schools. Pennies for Peace is a program of the Central Asia Institute that educates children about the world outside their experience and encourages them to make an impact globally by contributing pennies.

It only costs $1 a month to educate a child and $1 a day to pay a teacher’s salary. Consider giving. Your money will go a long way to making a huge difference in a child’s life.

Bravo, Greg Mortenson! You are my hero!

UPDATE 11/28/09: In a 11/25 letter from the Central Asia Institute, they say that they established 21 new schools in 2009 in Afghanistan. They also “started two dozen more women’s literacy centers, scholarship programs for hundreds of eager students and a new maternal health-training program in northern Pakistan.” Their Pennies for Peace program grew from 250 to over 4,600 schools in 2009. The program brought in the equivalent of 160 million pennies to help students all over the world. Greg’ new book Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books Not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan is being released 12/1.





Susan Boyle – A Wake-up Call

17 04 2009

Matronly, unstylish, shy, double chinned, unassuming. If you passed her on susan-boylethe street, you may not have looked twice. She would be invisible to most people. Middle aged. Looking older than her 47 years. Not beautiful. Ordinary.

The judges of Britain’s Got Talent – Simon Cowell (also judge on American Idol), Amanda Holden (actress), and Piers Morgan (also judge on America’s Got Talent and winner last year of Celebrity Apprentice) rolled their eyes. Surely this frumpy looking woman had nothing to offer. They judged her on her looks.

And then she opened her mouth and it was as if an angel was singing. The looks on the judges’ faces said it all…shock, awe, delight, sheer joy. The crowd went wild. After she sang, judge Amanda Holden summed up what everyone was feeling by saying:

I am so thrilled because I know that everybody was against you. I honestly think that we were all being very cynical and I think that’s the biggest wake-up call ever. I just want to say that it was a complete privilege listening to that.

We know now that Susan had oxygen deprivation at birth and had learning disabilities. That helps to understand the simple mindedness of this woman who kept her cheeriness despite the obvious initial jeers against her.

It’s a reminder not to judge a book by its cover and that sheer magic can come from people in all kind of packages (bodies).

Of course, it should come as no surprise to anyone that there is still a double standard in what people will accept in a woman’s looks vs. a man’s. The New York Times has an article today about how there are many heftier men stars now and they still get roles in movies. Not so for women.

While most of the comments left on YouTube of her singing are overwhelmingly positive, there are those that show the cruelty and prejudice of people:

  • “bitch u ugly as fuck! u ugly as sin! ur ugly!”
  • “she ugly”

Why do people feel a need to hurt people like that and judge people by how they look? Was it a wake-up call to you? Did you judge the never-been-kissed Susan Boyle before she opened her mouth?

Here she is…a total YouTube sensation, featured on the Today Show, Oprah, and so many other shows. Enjoy!





Tomb Time

12 04 2009

Christian or not, the resurrection story is metaphorical and instructional. Years ago I heard a progressive minister give a talk on “tomb time.” It really stuck with me. She talked of the darkness and uncertainty of the time when Jesus was in the tomb and presumed dead after he had been taken down off the cross.

We’ve all had tomb time. We’ve been through a trauma or a lifetime of trauma. We feel depressed and discouraged and down-and-out. It seems like nothing is happening. We can’t see the light. We see no way out. We think we are doomed. We feel alone.tomb4 We feel persecuted and cut off from others.

We feel misunderstood. We have no answers. We are in darkness. It is uncomfortable. We hate it. We want out.

Instead of struggling to roll away the heavy stone and screaming for help, we can benefit by sitting with ourselves and being in tomb time. Be still. Be quiet. Be open. Be humble. Be present. Listen. Accept.

Time passes. Quiet and acceptance of things as they are lead to a more peaceful mind. The stone rolls away and the light shines in. We were not doomed, we were not done, we were not dead. We are born anew. We arise from the darkness, a resurrected being.

We see with clarity and with fresh eyes. We appreciate the beauty of life…a beauty that we could not see when we were in the darkness.

If you are in tomb time, realize that it won’t last forever. Cherish the gifts of tomb time. Know that you can come out of it and with a renewed clarity and vision. Every moment is an opportunity to allow the stone to roll away, step forward into the light, and live a new life.





Opportunity in the Economic Crisis

11 03 2009
Credit: Circles of Blessing by Ishara de Garis

Credit: Ishara de Garis

If you’re like me, this economic crisis is playing havoc with your confidence and has you wondering if you are on the right path in life. The good news? We have the opportunity in every moment to rebirth ourselves…to start anew and become new. I’m awake late on my birthday (the 10th) and reflecting. What do I need to give birth to?

I feel I have been carrying for a very long time a new life that is ready to push through into existence and yet it hesitates, stays put, and grows ever larger within me in the form of discontent, frustration, a gnawing, and at times a sense of futility.

I’m reminded of the quote from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

Indeed. The world needs all of our talents, our love, our kindness, our peacefulness, our being positive, our giving, and our caring toward others. We are in crisis all over the world and if you think about it, it is wonderful.

Wonderful? Yes. We are being called to stop being greedy, to be humble, to be grateful for what we have, to let go of the fear that is gripping the financial markets and employers, to care for our fellow man, and to realize that everything we do has a ripple effect all over the world…we are all interconnected.

 So here we are in this wonderful chaos…the Chinese symbol for chaos means danger and opportunity. Do we as a country and we as individuals sit frozen in fear of pending danger and gloom or do we seize this incredible moment as opportunity? How do we let go of the fear? How do we move into opportunity?

We do it by refusing to accept that things are “bad” and hopeless. All of the negative talking heads such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter want our country to fail and they spew vitriol and hatred. We cannot afford to listen to these people. They are poisoning our airwaves and the very air we breathe. We must rise up and give birth to a new vision for ourselves, our country, and our world. Even if things look hopeless, we must see with fresh eyes.

Really wake up. Look at the beauty around you. Look into the eyes of your child and see the wonder there. Consider all the people throughout the world…including the ever increasing numbers in the U.S. who are refugees, homeless, have nothing, and live in constant danger and fear. These are our brothers and sisters and they need us to be “…powerful beyond measure.” See what is, but see it through the eyes of a beautiful being that is being rebirthed and awakened to a new way of living and being in the world.

Will you join me in releasing all that is holding ourselves back and in embracing and welcoming into the world our rebirthed selves and nation?

Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to you. May we remember that every moment is an opportunity to celebrate our birth anew.