Category: Do Good Better

TAKING PICTURES WITH POOR KIDS

I am kneeling down beside her. My tattooed forearm is turned towards the camera. Her drawing of my snake tattoo is positioned just right for a side-by-side comparison. She’s in her Sunday best. Her arms are interwoven behind her back. Her head is titled to the side. And, she holds an incredible smile.  It is one of the cutest pictures I have ever participated in. And, I felt this overwhelming urge to share it with others. So, I turned to Santiago (our Program Director in Honduras) and asked “When there’s a break in the lesson, can you ask her Mom if I can share this picture with my network?”

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She and I

She sidles up quietly.

She takes my hand.

She laces her wrinkled fingers into mine.

I raise my shades.

She looks at me.

I look at her.

She smiles.

I smile back.

We stand in silence.

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Do-Gooder Duel

I am a do-gooder. I am part Non-Profit Hero. I am also part Sidekick. The Non-Profit Hero in me needs to raise funds for a microfinance organization. He projects a “can do” attitude. He exudes confidence and displays enthusiasm for his “making a difference” work. The Sidekick in me understands the very limited role he plays in ending someone else’s material poverty. Sometimes, he even wonders whether he should play a role at all. For years, the Non-Profit Hero dominated my understanding of things. His voice carried more weight. He influenced how I communicated my work to others. Nowadays, the Sidekick reigns supreme. This is how I want things to be. This is how I think things should be. However, maintaining Sidekick Supremacy is a constant struggle. And, nothing makes it more challenging than having to write a fundraising letter to donors.  Let’s listen in on the duel of dialogue between my Non-Profit Hero and Sidekick parts as they attempt to do just that.

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My Do-Gooder Adolescence

I bit the inside of my mouth. It did not work. I dug my fingernails into the side of my leg. It did not work. I was running out of anti-crying techniques. And, I did not want my students to see me cry. So, I asked to be alone. They agreed and left the one-room cabana we were sharing. I stepped into the bathroom, turned on the shower to mask any noise, and cried. I was a hard cry.

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My “Ability to Do-Good” Checklist

It was 2007. I had just launched and participated in the Two Dollar Challenge. The experience was transformative. Poverty inducing constraints, dynamics, and relationships once hidden from view became visible. Childhood memories long buried away bubbled to the surface. Poverty was officially under my skin. I became obsessed with finding a way to transform my job as an Assistant Professor of Economics into a platform for poverty eradication. So, I took to taking stock of the assets, resources and capabilities at my disposal:

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The Handshake

As soon as I sat down, I felt the weight of the week slipped off my shoulders. You know that feeling you get when you hand in your thesis, finish grading the last exam at the end of a long school year, or complete that contract.  It is as if you can finally relax. You can finally breathe. I was enjoying what felt like my first full breath of air in Honduras. It was the kind of breath that not only takes in oxygen, but also takes in your surroundings and solidifies the moment in your mind.

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PACKAGING POVERTY

We were just finishing up our conversation with Clementina when another van full of Gringos arrived. A middle-aged man in a ball cap and shades bounded over to us. “What are you all doing here?” he asked with a hint of accusation.

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WHAT WILL WE DO WHEN THERE ARE NO MORE…

A recent cover story in the Economist heralded the possible end of extreme poverty. It got me thinking about a world without poverty, a world without poor people. This prospect is definitely a cause for celebration. Yet, is this prospect also a cause for at least a bit of consternation? Surprisingly, yes. A lot of us need poor people. Our children need poor people. Here are just a few of the reasons I could think of:

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