INSPIRATION: Marc Gold & 100 Friends

Marc Gold at the GuChuSum Organization with Phuntsok Wangchuk, a 28-year-old ex-political prisoner who had been brutally tortured and imprisoned by the Chinese for over five years. 100 Friends donated funds to the organization and to Mr. Wangchuk.

INSPIRATION: Marc Gold & 100 Friends

Twelve years ago, Marc Gold wrote a letter that not only changed his life, but transformed the lives of hundreds of others. Through his project, 100 Friends, Marc has collected and distributed over $30,000. His actions have also inspired many other people to do something tangible to improve the lives of others around the world.

In the face of seemingly overwhelming need, Marc is living proof that one person can make a difference. With his grassroots philanthropy, he helps make the world safer for all Americans, by demonstrating what is the very best of us.

In this interview, Marc talks about how he got started with his project, shares some of his amazing true stories, and reveals the simple steps anyone can take make a difference.

THAT WAS THE MOMENT THAT CHANGED MY LIFE…

LIZ: Can you describe a little bit about your first trip to India?

MG: I was a little “National Geographic” kid… I can remember the librarian saying “Marc, we’re closing!” and people calling my father saying, “I almost hit your kid with my car…he was walking across the street reading National Geographic!”

As soon as I saw India… the Maharajas and the elephants and the Himalayas and the Hindus and the Moslems, I said “That’s it, I’m going.”

And at age seven I had a dream that I was standing on Mt. Everest and I could see all of India. And there was a village that I later figured out would be somewhere near Andhra Pradesh. And this father, mother, son and daughter were looking at me, gesturing: “Come.”

I told my old man I was going to go to India. He said, “India? Forget it! It’s the other side of the world! Try Indiana.”

I said, “No, I really want to go see it.”

“Well, if you go there, you have to do a mitzvah.” [in the Jewish tradition, a worthy deed]

And I said “What am I going to do for those people?”

He said, “You become a man, you’ll figure something out.”

My father died when I was 14, and when I was 38, I was in a period of a lot of turmoil: my marriage had ended, I was working in AIDS (I developed the first AIDS counseling in California, back in ‘85, working for UCSF in the Department of Public Health). It was a very emotional time, and a lot of the staff died of AIDS, and there were a lot of funerals.. I had 40 staff working for me and there was a lot of pressure, there was all this fear about AIDS. Anyway, I finally quit this job, because I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore, and I had this dream again, the exact same dream.

So I said “That’s it—I’m going.” I was in-between jobs, I took four months, like you, and I took a trip around the world, and I ended up going from San Francisco to Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, Bali, Malaysia, Thailand, and Nepal. And while I was in Nepal there was a revolution, and a bullet went over my head.

I said, “That’s it.” And I flew to India, and by the time I got there I was in quite a state of mind, as you can imagine. After being there a couple of days, I went out looking for a Tibetan, I wanted to meet one. And literally this guy walked out of the fog that night, and he took me to see this thangka painter, whose name is Thinlay Gyatso—we’ve been very dear friends ever since.

This guy’s wife, she used to hold her neck real funny, she’d cock her head, and I asked him finally, “Why does she do that?” and he said, “She has a terrible problem with her ear, we don’t know what it is.”

Anyway, long story short, I took her to a doctor, a retired ear, nose and throat doctor, three hours down the mountain from Darjeeling to a town called Siligiri. He looked in her ears, and said “Oh my god, she has a raging infection in both ears. Good thing she came, she’d be dead within a year.”

I said, “Well, can you do anything?”

“Yeah, we can cure her with an antibiotic, but there’s only one problem.”

I said, “What’s that?”

He said, “It’s another 50 rupees.”

It was $2 for the doctor’s visit, this was another dollar. I said, “No, it’s O.K., I got it.”

So he cured her, and we went and bought her a hearing aid, because in one ear she was totally and permanently deaf, with the other ear she could hear 50%, but with a hearing aid she would hear just fine.. When he put the hearing aid on her, that was the moment that changed my life. I mean, her eyes got big, and a tear was in her eyes, and she said, “I can hear again.”

And I realized, for three bucks for the doctor, and 40 bucks for the hearing aid, literally, we could restore hearing.

The Tibetan woman is 65 years old and walked over the Himalayas into India to escape Chinese oppression. She ran out of money and we gave her enough money to live for a year and to attend the Kalachakra, a special teaching given by the Dalai Lama ($180 is all it took for both!). Mr. Dhunkhang said he would find her some work so she could support herself by the time the year was up. (July, 2000)

Mr. Dhunkang (Marc’s Tibetan friend), Valerie Gold (Marc’s sister), a Tibetan woman and Marc in Dharamsala, India.

THE MOST FUN OUT OF BED I EVER HAD…

So I went back home, and I really thought about it.

And two years later I wrote a letter to 100 people. I typed a letter—remember typing? And I mimeographed the letter (this was 1991), and I said, “Dear Friends”… this is literally to my friends, I know a lot of people—you know: friends, relatives, co-workers…“Going back to India, the average income is 400 bucks a year, I can’t help a billion people, I can help 100 or 50. You want to give me a buck or more, please do.”

I thought I’d get two, three hundred bucks, I’ll throw in a hundred and I thought, “Wow, Iook what I could do with 50 bucks, what could I do with 300 bucks?”

Well, by the time people passed the letter around, I had $2,300. At that time there was a black market with dollars, you could get more on the street than you do on the bank, and I ended up with 65,000 rupees…

And I was traveling with a friend this time, and we went to Mother Teresa’s place in the slums of Calcutta. We volunteered, and we left a donation for medicine. And then we just started meeting people in the street, going to pediatric units… And once you find one honest person, they turn you on to other honest people. And we gave it all away, and it was the most fun out of bed I ever had.

And I thought, “This is like a new drug. If the cops find out about this, it will be illegal like ecstasy and acid.

Marc with Orphans in Southern India
100 Friends funds bought 100 pairs of shoes for these kids.

I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve done it seven times, given away over $30,000. I’ve got literally over 100 stories. And I did it in South Africa, I did it in Mozambique, Kenya, Cambodia, Tibet, Nepal, Vietnam, and all over India. I figure I’ll keep on doing this, ‘til I croak.

And now I’m 53 years old, I’m a college counselor, I teach about 4 or 5 classes, and I always tell my students about this, the lesson being: I found something for me—Your real assignment, besides the academic work (I teach psychology and health) is to figure out what you want to do with your life, even if you don’t settle it forever, and get started on doing it.

I say, “It doesn’t have to be: go to India and help the poor. It could be make a good software program, or be a good dad or be a great runner, be a teacher, or go to Mexico and build houses.” And a number of them have.

I’ve met fellow travelers, what I call “Lonely Planet Kids.” I met one Israeli girl, she said, “Oh, this is a great project, I don’t have 100 friends.”

I said, “Have you got 40?”

“Yeah, in Tel Aviv.”

I said, “O.K., start a project called 40 Friends. Even if you raise $300…”

So I forgot about her. Two years later I get a long email from her. Her parents went to Rio de Janeiro on business, and they said, “You can come, but we’ll be busy with business stuff.

So she hooks up with some kind of activist, and this guy takes her to a village, where about 60 kids a year die, simply because the water is contaminated.

And she raised $1000 in Israeli pounds, and for $1000 they built a very good water filtration system. Now instead of 60 children a year dying in this middle-sized village, none of them die of that cause. And the village has promised to come up with the money each year, which is about $40-$50 a year, to maintain that filtration system.

So, it just goes to show you what you can do.

I LOOK FOR THE MOST DOWN-AND-OUT…

I travel anyway, and cover my own expenses. Except for about 10% that I take out for newsletters and mailing and a few other costs, all the donations go directly to the people.

There’s nothing wrong with CARE, or Doctors Without Borders, they do incredible work… My currency is that people trust me. That people know when they put money in my hands, I’m going to put it directly in their hands.

And I go to the slums, I look for the most down-and-out people I can find, and I don’t just hand it to them, I research it, sometimes I get a bad feeling and I don’t give it. Sometimes I help individuals and sometimes organizations. I’ve learned how to do it. And I’ve got more and more contacts…

For example, I’m going to Paris today to see my friend, his name is Thierry. Nice guy, I met him ten years ago in Calcutta. He’s got an orphanage for 65 kids in Calcutta. Great kids, I’ve known some of them for 10 years now.

Children Saved from Calcutta’s Streets
“Thierry’s program really does transform the lives of these kids…”

And now Thierry has started a project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to protect kids against pedophiles. It’s a big problem. You have poor kids on the street who are hungry, and you have these mostly European and Australian pedophiles who want little boys. They’re dangling money in front of them, and when you’re hungry enough and little enough, you’ll do that.

So he got a bunch of money from Spain to help him with this project, and now there’s like three safe houses, they’ve started some businesses so the kids don’t need the money from the pedophiles, and it’s just a great program.

So while I was in Tibet last summer, he emailed me, and he said, “Can you come here a few days early and do a workshop with the staff on how to do counseling, especially with kids?”

So I said, “Thierry, I’d be happy to, but I don’t speak a word of Cambodian, and from what I’ve heard the staff doesn’t speak English.”

He said, “Oh, we’ve got a Cambodian guy who speaks great English, and he even has a degree in psychology from Thailand.” So I went and I did it, and it was great, a really great experience.

Marc Training Counselors in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

A woman’s home by the side of a mountain, built of rocks and mud, like the most down-and-out thing you ever saw in your life…

SOMEONE YOU CAN REALLY TRUST…

LIZ: I’ve heard a lot of stories about people who have gone to India, they tell me that if you give money to a person on the street, that you will be swarmed with people…

MG: Well, if you do it the wrong way, you’ll be swarmed.

LIZ: What’s the right way?

MG: O.K. well you have to be a little bit discreet. Because you don’t just want to go out in the street. I mean look: you’ll be accosted by beggars. And so, just like here, you see homeless people: You don’t give to every one, you don’t give to no one. You give to some. And you don’t wave your money around…you discreetly put the money in someone’s hand, and say, “Here, get yourself something to eat…” or whatever you say, right?

So, I give to people on the street, and I make a judgment. If somebody looks drunk, I’m probably less likely [to give to them] than a mother with a kid, although there are professionals.

I go around looking for people who are not begging. One of my favorites is, there are these people, you’ll see people digging through trash looking for bottles? Lots of people like that in third world countries. They’re recyclers. And I’ve actually been to the place where they take their bags. So these are not people who are going around begging, they’re working. And sometimes I’ll just go up to them and put ten bucks or or whatever, in their hand.

So you want to be a little discreet. You might be staying at a guest house, and get to know the owner, and get a good feeling, and you might just say, “Do you know a particular family, or a mother with a child, you know?

Two children aged 11 years (Raju was the boy and Rano the girl). These children were picking through a garbage dumpster looking for things they could sell so they could eat. They said that they are from Leh and they do not go to school and have no parents. 100 Friends donated funds so they could stay in a shelter for homeless children and go to school and learn a trade.

Homeless Children in Ladakh, India

I’ll give you an example. I was in Ladakh, the very northern part of India, right near the Tibetan border. I spent a couple of days looking around, and I’m not doing this 100 Friend thing 24-7, I might just be on vacation, or a traveler, or a Buddhist or whatever.

I didn’t meet somebody that “rang my bell,” so to speak. Then one day, I’m sitting in a café and I meet a guy from D.C. We’re talking…and he’s been to Ladakh like 11 times to go on meditation retreats. He really knew a lot of people there. After a while, I told him about my project, and I said, “Do you know a local guy here that you really trust?”

His eyes got big, and he said, “I know the perfect guy.” And indeed it was.

A guy named Phuntsok Wangchuk. He was a tour operator, he took people on treks, and he himself did some giving on the local level. He ended up doing a whole program for me, and he took me to some very remote areas.

One of the pictures I’m sending you is of a woman’s home by the side of a mountain, built of rocks and mud, like the most down-and-out thing you ever saw in your life, and I’m giving away some blankets in this place, because this is a place where there is no money.

Giving Blankets Near the Tibetan Border
Shara Village near Tibet. Yangzon Thering 59 year old Ladhaki woman who lives alone. 100 Friends donation of Kashmiri blankets.

And so, anyway, he kind of opened up the whole thing for me, and he took me to meet some old people who live by themselves underneath buildings, people I would never be able to find…

So you can research it, but there’s nothing wrong with going with your intuition, you can get a pretty good feel as your time goes on and you get to know…

OH, YOU CHEAP WESTERN BASTARD…

Sometimes I’ll give to many people like that, through a contact, and then people on the street will see me and I’ll say, “No.” and they’ll look at me like, “Oh, you cheap Western bastard.”

They don’t know that I just gave away a grand, or 500 bucks. That’s O.K., I know it.

Look, there are a billion people in India. Obviously, even Bill Gates can’t help them all.

So, you can only do what you can do, you’re not God. You’re Liz, and I’m Marc, you know.

LIZ: How do you keep from getting burned out and overwhelmed with all the need that you see?

MG: It’s just how I’m built. I’ve been to the largest slum in the world, which is in Bombay, and is right near the largest red-light district–a quarter of a million sex workers. A lot of them are little girls, they’re being sold for as little as 30¢ per sexual encounter… it’s unbelievable.

And you know what? I go there, and I do some good, and I feel good afterwards, I know I’ve helped some people a little bit. And it just doesn’t get to me, because I know I’ve done something. And I know I can’t do everything. And I know the world has some f*cked up things about it.

But, you know, when I go to the slum in Calcutta, people are not sitting around weeping… they’re having their festivals, and they’re doing their jobs, and they’re doing their family things, and they’re fighting, and they’re dancing and they’re living, you know?

I worked with dying patients at Alta Bates for a year and I saw about 30 people to the very end. I was there and it affected me, but I don’t take it home, that’s how I’m built.

This is Satnya Ram Prasad Kersari.
He is 32 years old and he was a rickshaw driver until a jeep severely injured him in a hit-and-run accident. He has received no compensation and now needs crutches to walk and begs for a living. He makes about 50 rupees per day ($1). He is homeless and wishes he could marry and have a family.

Shyam Das and Sumara, two homeless men from Bihar. When asked what he would do with funds donated by 100 Friends Shyam Das said, “I’ll eat. I haven’t had much to eat because I’ve had no money.” When asked about America he said, “America is a country that helps India.”

THEY WERE IN THE MOST HORRIFIC CONDITIONS…

LIZ: Has there ever been a time when you’ve given money and it wasn’t used as you intended?

MG: I’m sure. I’ve given away $30,000, which is over 1.5 million rupees. All I can do is act as wisely as I can. I mean, for example, my friend Thierry, I know him, I know the staff, I know the kids, he’s like a brother to me, he gives me a letter detailing where every rupee goes.

So last summer, he says to me, “Oh, you’ve got to meet this social worker, she’s in Khalighat, the Calcutta slum I was telling you about… And there’s no AIDS information program—can you believe it? 2002 in Calcutta and these women have hardly any education. And the kids are in the house when their mothers are getting f*cked.

This social worker starts a program, working with the children of the sex workers, and with sex workers…from 6 to 10 at night, when most of the sex work occurs. She rents this space, and the kids get a hot meal, and there’s a nurse that comes, there’s teachers and they play games. They’re separated by age, so there’s the babies and the toddlers in one room, the 4-8 year olds in another. And she co-opted the neighborhood gang, and the gang provides security and they get a little stipend–it’s this whole great program.

So I know her, her name is Urmi, through Thierry. So I don?t have to go through a big screening, because I completely trust him. Now I?ve gotten to know Urmi, I know about her project, I know about her staff.

Probably, if I go to Calcutta this summer, which I usually do, Urmi will say, “Oh, you gotta meet so-and-so.” And if fact, Urmi took me to see David, who has a house with eight kids with like, Cerebral Palsy, and things like that. The kids, they were in the most horrific conditions, on the street, in the train station. Now they’re learning computers. So you can see how one thing leads to another kind of thing.

Theres’s a certain amount of repeat business, but you just learn how to do it—you’ll see when you get out there.

IN AMERICA THEY DON’T CARE WHAT YOUR CASTE IS…

LIZ: I’m curious, since you travel a fair amount, if you have any perspective on what the attitude of the rest of the world is toward America? Especially in regard to whether it has changed since 9-11 or since the Iraq crisis?

MG: Yeah, I have a lot of thoughts about that. One thing is: I met people, for example, in Tibet last summer, never heard of September 11th.

Or, one guy who said, “Didn’t a helicopter crash into a village?”

I had to laugh, I said, “Well, sort of.” And bunch of people, they felt sorry for America.

Two, no matter what you read in the press, not only are there still a lot of positive feelings about Americans, but the American Dream is an International Dream.

I have a unique perspective: not only am I out there doing my project, but I’m a community college counselor… You know what that means? That means every week I meet somebody who says, often through a translator, “I just got off the plane two days ago from the refugee camp in Thailand or in Cambodia, and they told me, ‘Go to City College’ and I don’t know how to say ‘Hello’ but I’m here at City College.”

And I see some of these kids end up six years later graduating from the Engineering Program in Berkeley, getting a job for 100K working for CalTrans building overpasses—I’ve seen it.

So there is that part of it. For most of the really poor people, they don’t know about geopolitics, they’ve just heard that America is a place where all the people are mixed up together, and that you can work in McDonald’s and what I make in a week, you can make in one hour. And that you can have a chance there, and they don’t care what your caste is.

As you go up the educational ladder, then I get challenged sometimes, and sometimes I don’t want to deal with it and I say I’m Canadian, because I don’t want to discuss the American Government with every single person I meet.

And sometimes I will definitely own it—for example when I was in Turkey, I met a lot of people, very critical, and mostly I just listened. But finally I met one kid who was very, very critical [of America] but not at all of the Turkish government.

So I said to him, “Listen, I’m going to tell you five things that I am very critical of America for…” And I discussed the environment, and the corporations and Viet Nam and a number of other things.

“Now I’m going to tell you five things I’m proud of…” And I talked about Kosovo, which I feel pretty good about, overall, considering what was going on there. And I talked about some of the foreign aid stuff that we do, and I talked about civil rights progress.

And then I said, “Now, can you do that about Turkey?”

And he couldn’t do it. He knew the things he was proud of, but he wouldn’t talk about the Armenians or he wouldn’t talk about the Kurds, or he wouldn’t talk about the poverty, you know.

This is a man named Kamal who was referred to me by Roma, a social worker at the local hospital in Pokhara, Nepal. His family died in a village fire and he almost died in the hospital from a skin disease. The social worker pressured the doctors to provide him with proper treatment. This saved his life. After his recovery the social worker found out that he was skilled in fixing bicycles. 100 Friends paid for supplies and rent so he could support himself and have a place to live in his new shop featured in this photo. (June,1998)

Kamal now has a home, and a business, in Nepal.

WE HAVE A LOT AND YOU HAVE A LITTLE…

So all I can say is there is still a lot of good will out there, even now. I met a guy once, he was from Kerala in Southern India—there’s a lot of people from that area who go work in the Persian Gulf. This guy comes up to me because he knew who I was through the hotel guy.

“Oh, you American!” Big smile, he says, “I love George Bush!” (this is George Bush, Sr.)

“You love George Bush?” and I’m thinking. “The Republicans don’t love George Bush.”

“Why do you love George Bush?”

He said. “We had nothing. Then my brother got a job in Dubai. He made a fortune. I got maybe $15,000.” He said, “We got nice house, motor scooter, television, kids go to school, doctor, nice clothes—everybody happy.” Then his eyes narrowed.

I said, “What happened then?”

“Saddam Hussein go to Kuwait, everything ruined, lose jobs, now we have nothing!”

Then he smiles and says, “Then, Great George Bush comes and he says, ‘I draw a line in the sand, you must not cross, go back to Kuwait!’”

“And then Saddam goes back, and then we get jobs, and everybody happy! And I love George Bush!”

I had to say to myself, “O,K., he doesn’t know any of the politics, but to him George Bush is a hero, I can’t take it away from him!”

So you never know what kind of a slant someone is going to have on something. I didn’t have the heart to say to him, “Well, it’s not as simple as that…”

So everyone’s got a slant, and I just try to give it some balance, but you know, there’s something about saying, “Forget the government, I’m representing roughly a hundred people who give, ordinary Americans who realize that we have a lot and you have a little, so you can now get this medicine for your T.B. and not die.”

And that’s enough. So when Brad Newsham uses the word “ambassador” that’s a great word.

So, what else can I tell you?

And he takes me to meet a man he knew in New Delhi. This guy is in his thirties, partially paralyzed from T.B., he just doesn’t have the money for the medicine. He’s got a family of three, and he’s going to die, because he doesn’t have 60 bucks….

This blind girl lives in the village of Shara, in Ladakh, India very close to the Tibetan border. 100 Friends donated warm Kashmiri blankets and some money to help these villagers who live on less than $50 per year. She was very grateful and said she wanted to sing a song to express her gratitude. She sang a lovely Ladakhi folk song, a cappella. She then insisted that I sing a song for her. I am not really a singer but I did manage to sing my own off-key but heartfelt rendition of, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” They laughed and clapped and cheered! (July, 1998)

FOR $50 HE’S IN BUSINESS FOR LIFE…

LIZ: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

MG: You know the best illustration I can do is, let me just tell you about few more quick examples…

I go to Delhi, and I have a dear friend there, named Dr. Shankar Chowdhury—wonderful man. He’s Bengali—I love Bengalis, they’re like the Italians of India. They’re really funny, they’re argumentative, they’re political, they’re a lot of good musicians, artists, and filmmakers…

I met him at an AIDS conference, and we’ve become very good friends over the years, Again, here’s a great contact: now he works for the U.N., but he used to work at the medical center, he knows all the social workers, he’s a medical anthropologist, he teaches the doctors how to do counseling…

So, I went to him and I said, “Shankar, I’ve got some money, have you got any good leads?”

And he said, “Oh, I know this guy, he’s a social worker. He goes into the slums and he knows all kinds of people. He could find you the neediest cases… He’ll get you two or three families, or four or five, whatever you want to do. And I said, “Oh, great!”

And the social worker and I hit it off, he speaks very good English. We hopped on his motor scooter, and he said, “We’re going to this site, it’s a construction site, where the slum has built up around it, because that’s where the workers are, and I’ve got some families in mind.”

And he takes me to meet a man he knew in New Delhi. This guy is in his thirties, partially paralyzed from T.B., he just doesn’t have the money for the medicine. He’s got a family of three, and he’s going to die, because he doesn’t have 60 bucks.

I talk to the social worker some more, and I said, “So what’s the best thing to do here?”

He says, “Look, it’s $50 for the medicine, and he has to take it for nine months. He’ll feel better after four months, but you have to take it for the whole nine months or you make it worse. At the end of that time there’s a $10 “bonus” for sticking through the nine months. And he’ll be cured.”

Step number two, is we can put him in business for the rest of his life for $50 more—1500 rupees.”

“How can you do that?” This is about ten years ago, when I didn’t know the system.

He says, “Follow me.” We get on the scooter, we go to this building, it’s like a warehouse. All of these supplies: pens and pencils and beads and chocolates and notebooks—everything. And we go through it, and we buy $50 worth of stuff, which is a huge amount of stuff.

We go to his corrugated shack in the slum, and he’s got a table in front of it and he starts putting things out, and people from the ’hood start coming by. And he’s in business!

I meet the guy two years later, he’s completely healthy, and he’s got two little shops now. The kids are in school, ’cause you need money for school, for the school uniforms, and everything is like, great. And it cost 110 bucks.

Another story–I go into a hospital in Lucknow, India, and meet a little girl who’s got meningitis, an infection of the brain. And she’s in great pain. And the doctor is doing the rounds, he goes from bed to bed with me, he tells me the diagnosis, the treatment, and the prognosis. And tells me this little girl is right on the edge between life and death.

And I’d brought a bunch of toys with me, so I pull out a little magic wand—it’s a plastic thing with little sprinkles in it? And I hand it to her, and she goes from gasping for breath to a big smile.

We sit there, we talk to the mother through the translator. Two days later the doctor knocks on my door, and he says to come to the hospital. And there’s the little girl, sitting upright, smiling, no fever.

And the doctor says to me, “I don’t know if your little magic wand had anything to do with it or not, but she made a miraculous recovery from that point on.” So something like that really brightens up your day, to say the least.

IIMPRISONED FOR WRITING A SONG…

Last story, I’m in Tibet, and you have to very careful, it’s a police state, you know, and it’s not so easy to give as it is in other places. And I’m not announcing what I’m doing to the Chinese government, because they’re going to want a piece of the action, the local officials.

I’m walking down the street with my friends, and we get something to eat, and I wanted a cold drink.

So I went to get a drink, and there’s this foreigner getting something to eat, and I started talking to her. Turns out she’s American. I ask her how she’s enjoying Tibet…after about 30 seconds, her eyes narrow and she looks at me.

She says, “Marc?”

And I look at her, “Nancy?” This is a doctor that I met only once in Berkeley 10 years ago. At that time, she was about to start a project in Tibet, and I hadn’t seen her since. Anyway, she’s been there for 10 years, she knows millions of people, and I tell her about my project.

She says, “Good thing you talked to me, I’m going to put you in touch with the right people.”

During the nine-month long Ladhaki Winter they bring the children to the city from the villages in January for good nutrition, general education, medical care and Buddhist training.

Kids from the Ladkhi Children’s Fund

Long story short, she sends me to this woman who works for Doctors Without Borders. I meet this Belgian woman, and she takes me to see a Tibetan monk. He’s 80 years old, been in a prison for 22 years, tortured for much of that time. His crimes are writing a song for independence, putting up a poster, stuff like that.

He broke his hip, he makes a living by begging. And so she says, “If you want to help somebody, here’s an example.”

“What can we do for him?”

She said, “If you can give me $10 a month for as long as you’re willing to do it, he won’t have to beg anymore, his lifestyle will vastly improve, and we’ll visit him every month and bring him pain medication.”

So we gave her 240 bucks for two years. I said, “If he’s still around at that time, send me an email. I promise to support him as long as he lives.”

I had this incredible visit with him, and he wept, and he went under this pile of rags and he showed us a picture of the Dalai Lama—I mean, it was so moving, I can’t even tell you. I have this man’s photo, but I can’t put it in my newsletter, because if anyone official ever saw it, he’d be in big trouble.

That’s just to give you some idea, you know?

THOSE PEOPLE ARE GETTING THEIR LIVES SAVED…

LIZ: I especially love the quote on your web site, “You don’t have to be rich to do a world of good. You only need a few good friends to accomplish miracles.”

MG: I thought, to be a philanthropist, you have to be a big shot. Nope, you need to be a bigmouth like me, you know? [laughs]

My friend’s father says to me, “Why dontcha help the people here?!”

I say, “Hey, listen, great idea. Start a project, call it 100 Friends San Leandro.”

You know, I help people here, I have no problem with that. Or take a map of the world, cut out the ocean, throw a dart!

LIZ: It’s “Start wherever you’re called.”

MG: Really, wherever you’re called. I’m called to this area of the world, you know?

LIZ: But there’s nothing stopping anyone else from helping wherever they see a need…

MG: One of my students, at Los Positas College out in Livermore, she got inspired: organized her church, they’re Pentecostals, and they went to Mexico and built a couple houses, you know like Jimmy Carter does.

I have a relative, actually, who accused me… “Oh you’re just doing this so you feel better about yourself, it’s just ego.”

I said, “Even if it is, those people are getting their lives saved, they’re getting an education for their kids, they could give a
sh*t why I’m doing this!”

There are about 3,000 children in the SOS Tibetan Refugee Center. Their number one financial support comes from the Agency for International Development, the foreign aid branch of the U.S. State Department. The children escaped over the years into India from Tibet with the help of paid guides under treacherous circumstances. Many are orphans, but some were sent by their parents to freedom into India. The director said they desperately needed… sunglasses! The center is located at a very high altitude and the rays of the sun are intense. 100 Friends donated funds for 300 pairs of sunglasses. (July, 2000)

 

Four orphaned Tibetan refugee children at the SOS Tibetan Refugee Center in Leh, Ladakh, India.

LIZ: It still helps, regardless.

MG: Yeah. So that’s my deal.

LIZ: Wow. Well you’re certainly a huge inspiration to me.

MG: Well, go do it, Kid!

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From Where is Liz blog – click here for link to blog page.

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