The 100 Friends Project has a unique approach to assisting the needy in Third World countries. Our main focus is on helping the most vulnerable, namely children and the elderly. However, there is only one specific criterion which defines those we aim to bring aid to, and that is that they are in need of help which they are not getting from any other source.
I am involved in several building projects. Last year, I financed a school in Afghanistan that will provide educational opportunities to 1,000 boys and girls who were previously attending school in tents for the last eight years. I also co-financed the construction of a village school in rural Cambodia. I aim to continue this work by building a new school in an impoverished area every year. My next school building project will take place in Nepal. As well as schools, I also funded the construction of a community center and washing facilities in the slums of Kolkata, India.
One such instance was when I provided fishermen in Aceh, on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, with boats, nets, fishing equipment and bicycles in order to restart their businesses in the aftermath of the tsunami of 2004. I also helped a lady in Nepal who had recently been released from prison after killing her husband while trying to defend her child from his violence. I bought her a sewing machine and materials and provided her with the necessary training so that she could start her own tailoring business. I also help existing local organizations that are working to improve their communities and the lives of the people there by providing them with money, equipment, training programs and other necessary resources.
Often the donations I make are not money but practical materials. For example, I purchased new bedding, clothing and toys for the orphans in the Jeewan Utthan orphanage in Nepal. I also bought 500 mosquito nets for villagers in the province of Kompot, Southern Cambodia in order to protect them from contracting malaria. These materials ensure a better quality of life for the recipients.
I travel to areas that are have suffered from war or natural disasters to bring relief. I visited Indonesia numerous times after the tsunami in 2005 and was able to do a lot of productive work there, including providing livelihood grants to over fifty families, support for several local orphanages, and medical expenses for children in hospitals. I am going on a similar mission later this year to Burma where the people are suffering in the aftermath of the devastation of the recent Cyclone Nargis. I hope to bring them relief and have raised enough money to help at least 400 families there in any way I can. I have also been involved in several projects in Iraq. Some of the project’s achievements there include providing services for hundreds of children in several drop in centers. These services include hot meals, education, medical treatment and counseling. I also provided livelihood grants, training and materials for 200 families living in extreme poverty.
Occasionally, I find a cause that I think merits a system of recurring payments. For example, in the Philippines I met a girl named Aubrey who was unemployed, homeless and hungry after losing her job. I helped her to enroll in a nursing college and have since been sending her money on a regular basis to support her education and help her to attain her diploma. In 2005, 100 Friends was involved in rescuing eight children who were living and working in deplorable conditions on a garbage dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We relocated them to a residential care facility called the Centre for Children’s Happiness. We continue to sponsor these eight children by making regular payments to the CCH and have since added four more children to this program.
Before I travel, I make a rough plan how I am going to spend the money. However, some funds are reserved for disbursing when I come across people in the streets who are desperately in need. One example of this principle being put into action occurred when I got talking to my rickshaw driver in Kathmandu. I asked him to tell me one thing he was worried about. He chose to tell me about his mother who was suffering from some undiagnosed eye ailment. I took her to see a doctor and it turned out it was cancer. By luck, we had caught it in its early stages. I paid for her treatment and she has since made a full recovery. On another occasion, I met a young girl in Gyantse, Tibet. Her father had died and her mother had recently had a major stroke which had left her paralyzed. The girl was forced to wheel her mother out on a cart in order to beg for money. I was able to enroll them both in a residential care facility where the mother received proper medical attention and the daughter was able to attend school.
I spend half of the year involved in philanthropic travel in the Third World. For the other half, I am based in the USA. At home, I undertake a variety of activities to raise funds, promote the 100 Friends Project and inspire others to carry out their own humanitarian works. I organize presentations where I tell people about the latest achievements of the project and how the donations I have received are being put to work. I also make numerous presentations in schools around the country, in which I tell the children about the work of the project and involve them in fundraising activities and sister-school initiatives. I feel this is a very important part of my work since not only does it raise their awareness of the situations of people living in extremely difficult conditions in the Third World, but it also means I get the chance to plant the seeds of future humanitarian efforts in their minds.
While I am in the USA, my work in the Third World does not stop. As well as sending money to the people who I am supporting on a continuous basis, my work is continued by the people I have met and helped myself. When I make a donation to someone or help them start their own business, I ask them to continue the cycle of giving. This involves them performing their own altruistic acts in their communities and helping those around them who are also in need. One example of this is that I pay a boy called Ravuth in Phnom Penh, Cambodia a monthly wage in order to continue my work there. His job involves locating and helping elderly people with no families of their own who are living in deplorable conditions. He brings them food, clothing, medicine and other practical materials and equally importantly he brings them human companionship. Another example of this system occurred when I chanced upon an elderly man operating a bicycle rickshaw in Kolkata, India. I was his passenger and at one point the vehicle completely collapsed and broke in two. He was very distraught, having lost both his business and his home. I offered to make his rickshaw like new on the condition that he would go to Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute and Dying in the slums of Kolkata once a week for a year, and take the sisters wherever they needed to go at no charge. When I returned the next year, I found out he had kept his word.