Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day

What is Blog Action day?

In 2008, the Blog Action Day theme is Poverty. Bloggers are free to interpret this as they see fit. We invite bloggers to examine poverty from their own blog topics and perspectives, to look at it from the macro and micro, as a global condition and a local issue, and to bring their own ideas, views and opinions on the subject.

Many years ago I heard a story that, for the very first time ever, made me uncomfortable to be living in Davis. Whether the story is true or not, I don't know. But it concerned a pregnant woman and her small child who showed up at the community meals. They asked about where they could go to spend the cold night, because they were homeless.

At that time there was no facility in town that was available to women and children (there still isn't) and so the pregnant woman and her child were put on a Greyhound bus for San Francisco. I was trying to imagine what she would do when she arrived in San Francisco, with her child, at night, not knowing where to go.

But she was out of Davis.

As I say, the story could possibly have been not true, but it was one of the reasons why I started volunteering at Davis's homeless shelter a few years later. I felt the need to feel like I was contributing something, even if it was only typing services one day a week.

It was a real eye-opener. The homeless shelter is down by the rainroad tracks. You don't "see" homeless people around this town, at least not then. But I met a whole different class of people, many had just been released from the county jail, many were drug addicts trying to get their lives together, many were just guys who were down on their luck and were trying to get back on their feet.

I remember working with one guy on learning how to use the computer. He had been on and off the wagon for years and this was his last chance, he told me. If he fell off the wagon again, he wouldn't be back. I really liked him and was so proud of the progress he made on the computer. Then one morning he wasn't there and I never saw him again. I always felt so sad about that.

It was bad management that made me quit that job. I was reinventing the wheel every time I went in and I just got tired of doing it, but it was an eye opener for the year that I volunteered there.

You see homeless people around Davis now. They all have signs and they stand at the entrances of mall parking lots. I never know what to do. I hate giving them money, but I never mind buying them a meal. One day at a truck stop we saw a mother and her small child standing in the rain with a sign begging for money so the little girl could eat. We went to Denny's, which was across the street, and bought a gift certificate for the mother, so she could take her daughter in out of the cold and give her a meal. As we drove off, I saw her put the certificate in her pocket and continue asking others for money for a meal for her daughter. I can't imagine how terrible it must be to feel that desperate.

I remember one Christmas when I went into the supermarket and bought a full Chinese dinner for two guys who were sitting outside, being ignored by everyone wha walked into the store. Then I did my shopping and when I went outside again, they were sitting there eating dinner and thanked me profusely for the best meal they'd had in days.

I remember being in Tijuana one afternoon, with all the family. We were actually leaving Mexico and walking back across the border. We had been followed by little kids begging for money all the way. But I was completely out of money. I didn't have a cent left--I hadn't brought much with me to begin with. At one point I turned around and saw the kids talking to this little kid and I took a photo. The mother came over to me and demanded money. I had taken her child's photo; she should be paid. I felt awful that I didn't even have a penny to give her.

All around us we see people in such need. Most of us don't have the wherewithall or the opportunity to do something "big," but sometimes something "little" can make a big difference in someone's day. We can't personally wipe out world poverty, but we can be aware of it around us and, when we have the opportunity, do something to help out, even if it doesn't feel like much at the time.

In 2000, I wrote this, as part of a longer entry

LuckysTony.jpg (57278 bytes)On the way home today, I ran into Tony and his friend. They were sitting outside the supermarket and they asked if I’d take their picture. Walt talks with street people all the time, but I have always been more reserved. But I remembered watching the interactions that Peggy (who claims not to like meeting new people) would have with total strangers everywhere we went, and so I stopped to talk with them. Tony smelled of alcohol and cigarettes and he told me he spends his day on the bench outside the supermarket. He was so excited that I took his picture and asked if I’d make a copy for him. We talked about the homeless shelter (where I used to work and he goes to have a shower every day). And it was nice. I thought, when I left, how pleasant that had been...and how easy it was to open up to someone rather than to remain closed.

For those who are looking for a more direct way to help someone trying to pull themselves up out of poverty, might I recommend that you check into Kiva. I learned about Kiva from a TV broadcast by Al Gore.

Kiva's mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world. You make small loans, usually only $25 and your money joins with other lenders until the amount requested is reached.

The people you see on Kiva's site are real individuals in need of funding - not marketing material. When you browse entrepreneurs' profiles on the site, choose someone to lend to, and then make a loan, you are helping a real person make great strides towards economic independence and improve life for themselves, their family, and their community. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates and track repayments. Then, when you get your loan money back, you can relend to someone else in need.

I've made four Kiva loans. One has already been repaid and I used the funds to make a second loan.

It seems likc such a small thing to do, but when you realize how you are changing people's lives, $25 at a time, it seems such a small thing to do to make a big difference.

These are my current Kiva Partners: Rubaba runs a general store in Azerbaijan.
Firmine runs a store in Benin; Martha rents videotapes and DVDs in Bolivia.
All have children they are trying to feed and school. All are now paying back their loans.


Rethabile said...

Thanks for the post and for the action.

Anonymous said...

i think it's lovely that you support kiva (and it was kind of you to get those two some dinner).

i'm currently unable to donate, but i put up the banner for kiva (as well as freerice and goodsearch) on my blog.

saw this post via the front page of blog action day. it's great that you're participating. :)

Anonymous said...

HI all.
KivaB4B is contributing $10,000 to support Blog Action Day. KivaB4B is a new partnership between Kiva and Advanta Bank that lets you double the loans you make through Kiva, up to $200/month. It's a very cool program. Check it out at There's also a very unique affiliate program they offer to blogs and other sites. There's a description on the blog,

KivaB4B Team