My name is Marc Gold, founder and director of the 100 Friends Project. For as long as I can remember, it has been my dream to travel the world and help people.
I have been an avid reader of National Geographic magazine since the age of six. I cannot remember a time when traveling to foreign lands was not on my mind. I read many books about travel and world cultures. Many of my happiest memories were associated with trips I took as a child. I am as excited by travel today as I was when I took my first trip as a youngster.
I left home at the age of sixteen and had traveled across the United States several times by the time I was eighteen. Shortly afterwards, I went to Europe and North Africa. I was hooked.
The first time I traveled to India, I met a local woman who was suffering from an ear infection. She was unable to afford medical treatment and was suffering terribly. I took her to see a doctor and for $1 I was able to purchase the antibiotic that cured her infection. For an additional $30, I was able to buy a hearing aid that saved her hearing. I was amazed that so little money could go such a long way, but people were dying for lack of it. When I returned home, I sent letters to 100 of my friends and told them about my experience. I had already decided to return next year with funds to carry out similar work and asked them to make a contribution towards this trip. Thus 100 Friends was born.
By now, I have carried out 19 humanitarian missions in the Third World. I have been to over 50 countries including India, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Thailand, South Africa, Kenya, Laos, Cambodia, China, Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nepal, Indonesia, Israel, Mozambique, Turkey, South Africa, Costa Rica, Mexico, and various destinations in Europe. During the seventies while I was living in New York, I became involved with the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey (also known as the Mevlevi). I performed this incredibly beautiful ritual for many years in New York. In 2001 I had the honor to be invited to Istanbul, Turkey, where I became the first Westerner to take part in this sacred practice.
While living in New York, I produced a radio program for several years on WBAI called Global Music. Even when I was not literally traveling, I was “traveling” the world to listen and broadcast music from the far corners of the globe, learning about foreign cultures. I became particularly interested in Indian Classical Music and studied the sitar and Indian vocal music for several years. I became a concert manager for an amazing Indian musician named Nikhil Banerjee.
In New York, I became a public school teacher working in Harlem. In 1977, I was voted teacher of the year in Manhattan. I was presented with the award by Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. who sadly outlived his more famous son.
In 1979 I moved to Berkeley, California to attend graduate school at U.C. Berkeley. Several important experiences happened during and after my graduate studies. These projects had a profound affect on my later humanitarian work. Some of the activities I was involved in during this time involved working as a psychology intern working with terminally ill and dying cancer patients. I also organized a group of 100 adolescents to volunteer to work with the elderly, homeless, and other people in need. I was also involved in programs to help wean heroin addicts off drugs. I also conducted research with melanoma patients to try to discover links between emotion, psychological attitudes and survival of cancer. As well as these, I ran workshops for the International Health Program in Santa Cruz, California and Walden House Drug Treatment in San Francisco. I was also responsible for developing the first AIDS counseling and testing program in California shortly after the HIV test was approved in 1985.
I have spent years mentoring many young people both in the U.S. and abroad, encouraging them to do their own projects based on the 100 Friends model. Many of them have already done so.
At home, I work as a professor in community colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area, teaching a wide variety of courses on subjects including health, psychology, social work, human sexuality, college success, AIDS and psychotherapy. I have also raised two sons who are now 25 and 29. They both have the travel bug as well. I am a member of Doctors without Borders and Human Rights Watch.
My motivation for doing my work is this – years ago I asked myself the question “what do I know for sure?” I wished I could give a spiritual, religious or philosophical answer, but I couldn’t find one that I felt with any real conviction. The one conviction I do have is that the poverty and need I saw with my own eyes in developing countries is the most real thing I have ever witnessed. I know as an undeniable fact that this project benefits those I have reached through my work. Having this opportunity to help people, save lives and create brighter futures has brought me real fulfillment. This work brings meaning to my life. If I can die knowing I have been able to help some needy fellow human beings, then that is enough for me.