A friend of mine recently shared with me his experiences teaching in rural China where he had to take a 6 hour bus ride after getting off a 5 hour train from the airport where he said goodbye to civilisation.
I am not surprised considering the natural beauty of the place he lived in for a few weeks.
He was reluctant to leave but he had to as he had a job to go back to.
In fact, he loved teaching there so much, he even contemplated taking an unpaid sabbatical to spend a year there.
Such is the drive to return to “the ends of the Earth” to help kids in the mountain learn to read and speak English.
Reading Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, you will be inspired to do the same too.
As the story goes, Greg Mortenson is an American nurse and mountaineer, who loses his way trying to climb K2, fails and wakes up to find himself in a destitute little village of Korphe in Pakistan.
He is deeply touched when he sees that the poor villagers used their most precious food supply e.g. sugar in tea for him, a total stranger.
Up and on his feet again, Mortenson asks to see the school only to be told that there is none.
He’s shocked especially when he sees young children drawing with sticks on the ground with nowhere to learn. The little girls remind him of his younger sister, who died from epilepsy, and inspired him to both become a nurse and scale the mountain.
Feeling indebted to them for their selfless act, he vows to return to build a school for them.
Mortenson’s journey raising funds back in the US is awe-inspiring as he receives only a few hundred dollars from the 380 letters he sent out!
However, he gradually gains support for his noble intention and eventually finds a generous donor from the Silicon Valley – Greg returns to Korphe to build his school for girls.
The book was a bestseller for 4 years and many, many people are inspired and/or motivated to donate or even join the Central Asian Institute (CAI), the non-profit organization Mortenson sets up later.
The story sounds too good to be true and maybe it is? After all, how can Mortenson oversee the building of schools in the highly inaccessible and extreme weather conditions in Korphe, and its surroundings areas where the Taliban lurk; play his role as a husband and father and manage his charitable organization back in the US?
You can read about the allegations against him here.
Reading about Mortenson’s poor accounting and management skills, I am not surprised that he got into trouble.
After all, his fund-raising efforts amount to US$5 billion of charitable donations from the public.
As more and more “charitable organizations”, “humanitarian groups” and “social enterprises” spring up to support various causes, you will find more and more skeptical people.
If you want to set up such an organization, be as transparent as possible in all your accounting.
And walk the talk.
For example, you need to be mindful of the fact that the cost of a Louis Vuitton bag can actually fund the cost of a school building.
One of the celebrities active in humanitarian efforts I’ve always admired is the late Audrey Hepburn, whose mother was a Dutch aristocrat. She understood what being hungry and poor meant as she suffered from malnutrition during World War II.
You will find Audrey Hepburn dressed in simple clothing and at her utmost humble self during her humanitarian works especially for UNICEF. God bless her and anyone else like her.