About the Author
Trained as a journalist, Susan Skog has written about humanitarians and their projects for 20 years. The author of five nonfiction books, including Peace in Our Lifetime and Embracing Our Essence, her work has also appeared in many leading magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, Newsday, Family Circle, Prevention, Good Housekeeping and AARP magazine.
Skog has worked with and volunteered for BeadforLife, which supports Ugandan women, many of whom are HIV-positive refugees. She is a former manager at Engineers Without Borders-USA, which helps developing world communities realize clean water, energy, and sanitation.
A public speaker, Skog has presented at organizations and conferences around the country. She and her family live in Fort Collins, Colorado.
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Excerpt from Chapter One
Excavate Your Inner Humanitarian
What's calling you, pulling you in? What drew you to this book and its message? The Give-Back Solution can make it easier for you to help the world; it can also help you discover more about yourself and what you really want to contribute. It can help you show the worldand yourselfwhat you're capable of.
Maybe you already know what's compelling you to give back. Some people say they feel a sense of outrage or restlessness at the state of the world. Students say they've heard for years that this is their time to make a difference. Others refer to a moral, spiritual calling or keen sense of destiny, as if their entire lives were leading up to this opportunity to help others.
Lots of empty nesters say they've always wanted to venture out and give back for years, and now that the kids are gone, it's time to jet. They say that volunteering with those living on less than two dollars a day is the opportunityand privilegeof a lifetime. Those who can't travel, but who are grateful for their good fortune and would like to share it with others, also want to engage right from their kitchens, offices, computers.
What's your dream? It costs nothing to dreamand everything not to. This is the time to dream, and dream big.
If you didn't let your fears, money worries, vacation time, or other limitations hold you back, what would you do?
Where do you turn when you're ready to engage for the first timeor again and again?
Consult Your Inner Compass
Africa kept calling mefor a long time. I just couldn't not do something. So by the time I finally arrived there and walked up the rocky, red-clay hillsides perched above Kampala, Uganda, and entered the beaders' ten-by-twenty-foot mud huts to listen
to their stunning stories, it felt like coming home. It felt like an honor to witness what the beaders had survived.
Some of them barely escaped machete-waving rebels; some of them had walked hundreds of miles to safety, wounded or naked. Some fought to stay alive with AIDS after their families threw them out. These beaders had survived unthinkable torture and abuse, yet struggled with dignity and pride to survive and educate the children, including the orphans.
Most days, the unforgiving African sun would stoke the beaders' windowless homes into ovens long before noon. But soon I realized that just as much heat radiated off the women, who were on fire and leaving suffering, AIDS, poverty, and despair far behind. They were luminous with the knowledge that, with their own hard work, they were reaching for a new life and making enough money to feed their children, buy them medicines, and send them to school for the first time.
In two weeks, I got thoroughly hooked on making a difference in the developing world. As each day passed, I felt compelled to throw my notebook and recorders down and just be with the women and with professional storyteller Connie Regan-Blake, with whom I worked. Our stories merged, as sultry breezes moved through orange-blazing mango trees and noisy white cranes dipped and swayed on the wind overhead.
The beaders are discovering their place in our increasingly woven, wider world, one necklace and bracelet at a time. At the same time, we're each discovering our connection to each other.
Figuring Out Your Conection
To better help you find your own connection in the wide world of give-back choices, consider these questions.
1. Listen to your give-back call. What's it saying and asking of you? Tune into your inner compass and see where it leads you. Trust your instincts, your hunches for what feels right. Perhaps for years you've been drawn to helping orphans in Africa or nurturing the sea turtles of Costa Rica. What comes instantly to mind?
2. What brings you here now? Why is this the right time to act? Has something happened to galvanize you? Were you shocked by a conversation about Darfur around the watercooler at workor do you have a year off before you start college and want to see a piece of the world while doing a bit of good? Are you recently retired or searching for meaning after years in what feels like a dead-end career? Why now?
3. Are you drawn to a particular part of the country or of the world? Is there an area or region that's particularly compelling to you? Do you want to build a trail in a national park, ease poverty in Appalachia, or tutor kids down the street? Or is there a continent or culture calling you? Can you narrow down the country or region you'd like to support?
4. Do you want to roam? How in-the-trenches and hands-on do you want to be? Do you want to go and volunteer in a developing country for weeks, even months? Are you already feeling the adrenaline rush, knowing an adventure awaits? Do you feel like one foot's already on the soil of a Brazilian village or hiking in Tibet?
5. Do you want to make an impactright where you are? Is hands-on work in the trenches of Asia or Africa a turnoff for you? Do you feel more concerned about and drawn to helping out your local community or your country? Are you seeing signs of greater poverty, environmental problems, or educational gaps in your own backyard? Maybe you want to step up your volunteering here before you branch out overseas? Does it feel right to make a powerful contribution by raising your voice, opening your wallet, or working for change, right where you are?
One Volunteer's Journey: Making a Difference at Home
After graduating from college, Lindsay Saperstone wanted a better way to connect herself to her Portland community and to occupy idle time. She started shopping around for a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that met her personal interests, one that was established so she could jump aboard as a volunteer with little experience. "I attended a few community groups' meetings and came across an ad on Craig's List asking for a volunteer willing to help organize one nonprofit's database. I was familiar with the software they use, so I responded to the ad."
Saperstone decided to volunteer for Voz (www. portlandvoz.org), a Portland group that deals with immigrants' rights. Voz empowers immigrant workers, particularly day laborers, to gain control over their working conditions and to exercise their collective power to address the issues they face. The job, which consists of entering names of volunteers and donors into a database, is a perfect match for her, Saperstone says. "It furthers a cause I feel passionate about. Plus, I have always been extremely interested in learning about issues facing immigrants in the United States and have wanted to get involved with a group that is so vastly undersupported by society." Saperstone also speaks Spanish, so her work allows her to practice the language. She finds it rewarding to know that she's helping Voz better organize the other volunteers who ask to join them each week. "It doesn't take much time and it means a lot to me," she says. "It is something anyone can do if they keep their eyes open."
6. Do you want to get up close and personal? Are you sensing the people and feeling the pull of connection? Is it necessary for you to work closely with the people you'll support?
7. Do you want an ongoing sense of community? Are you looking for a way to give backand find camaraderie and a sense of community at the same time? Many people enjoy volunteer work for the sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves, plus the chance to connect on a more meaningful level with kindred people in our often isolated, frenzied lives.
8. Do you want to find a group or organization with similar values and aims before you make a commitment? Is it important to you that you hold the same ideals and vision? Do you find it more desirable to support a faith-based or religious organization with a stated mission? Or do you prefer a secular one?