Just over two years ago I said goodbye to the sweetest puppy that ever lived. Shortly after that, I wrote the following on Facebook:
After 10 years, and 28 days, we said goodbye to Cougar on Saturday. She was a wonderful and sweet puppy, touching many lives over the years and will live on in our hearts forever.
Over the next couple months I knew that I needed another way to help with the grieving process. I decided to write a letter to Cougar. I've only shared the letter once with my sister when she lost her dog. As I sit here and type this blog post, I'm not sure even sure I even showed this to my wife. Today, I share it with the world.
But enough about me. Last weekend my friends at the Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA) had flooding in their dog kennels. I figure Cougar would have wanted to help so that's why I donated to them this week in her name. Good luck guys!
Also, HRA is the one that provides these sweet video feeds to Animal Planet
As you might have figured out by now, I've become a fan of kiva.org. While browsing through proposals on their site, several times I noticed companies matching or Kiva doing their own matching. Naturally, a sense of community and togetherness develops when doing something meaningful with fellow humans.
Then I noticed there are groups. Browsing through the groups, there were two large groups that caught my eye. The first was The Christian group. It's not quite my thing so I kept browsing. The second most popular group was the Atheist group. Also, not quite my thing.
So why not strike out on my own? Yes. That's what I'm going to do. And you're coming with me! Yes? For a limited time only, if you join my Kiva group and start loaning, I'll match the first set of loans up to $500.
Join me here - https://www.kiva.org/invitedto/friendsofpaul/by/paulderson
Last week I went to my first event by Amnesty International. It was a simple letter writing get-together. An organizer shows up with a three different areas of concern and we all write letters to someone in charge that can do something about it.
I was impressed by the organization of the content. There was enough background with each letter to give you the appropriate context. Some general bullet points helped you approach the problem, but not too much where you are just copying and pasting. It created an environment with the perfect amount of purpose and creativity.
It was a strange night for me. I was mentally blocked by the task for the first ten minutes. Honestly, the idea of writing with a pen and paper was very off-putting. But then, fifteen minutes later, I had written three one-page letters on three very different topics. Of course, this makes me feel better, but I'll never know for sure if the letters will matter in the end. I have a finite amount of time to give to others and I desire to spend it on things that matter. Maybe it's more than just the letter. Maybe just by doing it, I became more aware of these events in the world. Maybe, that seed will sprout somehow, someday.
Interested in doing the same? Find something you are passionate about and write a letter yourself Write for Rights.
A couple years ago, a good friend of mine was visiting me in DC. He was telling me a story about his father driving a rickshaw around, giving free rides in exchange for dedicated speaking time with voters. However, during this story, neither of us could remember the word for rickshaw. About thirty minutes later we both remembered and said "Rickshaw!" at the same time. A year later my wife and I fell in love with the motorized rickshaws in India.
This week's blog combines my love of rickshaws with my new-found obsession with kiva.org. My first two loans are now in the re-payment phases and I'm happy to announce they are both on time with their payments - hopefully that's an indication of success of the original loan goal. My new loan goes towards a new motorized rickshaw for Seema and her family to replace their aging rickshaw. Seema and her six kids live in Pakistan, just across the border from India. I wish them the best of luck.
As I was selecting this loan, I browsed around the web site for a good thirty minutes. I'm still struggling with determining and evaluating criteria for the loans I select - or hell, with the overall selection for random acts of kindness for the blog itself. For now, it's a bit random. And maybe it will be random for a long time. It does seem a bit more authentic that way. :)
Those of us that watched even the first season of Homeland understand the impact of war on children. In war, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins are killed. Children lose their family members; children are killed, maimed and even exploited to actively participate in violence. I was in Afghanistan for a year in 2006 and saw these effects first-hand. Eight years later in 2016, the UN estimates more than 5000 civilians were killed or maimed (source), a third of those children - a record number since they started counting in 2009.
Wars eventually end, but it's just the beginning for the recovery. Orphans and newly-single parents find themselves in refuge camps or standing in the rubble of their home, looking for the pieces so they can start to put them back together.
Recently, I attended a charity event hosted by WAR Child to raise money for the local group here in The Netherlands. They have efforts in South America, Africa, Palestine, the Middle East and Sri Lanka. They are guided by three simple principles in their efforts:
I love and hate creativity. Writing this blog involves a tremendous amount of creativity for my tiny brain that loves bits and bytes more than words. I wish it came easier, but I know this is good for me - a sort of exercise for my brain and soul.
Participation and inclusion is easy to say and to talk about, but actively engaging in daily life requires constant attention. Smile and include those around you. If you ask someone "how was your day", then listen to the answer, don't ask to be simply be "nice".
Conflict Sensitivity matters greatly in War and children, but can be applied anywhere and any situation. Simply realize others around you are humans, struggling with conflict at work or home, struggling with their future and their past. It's easy to idolize the popular and look down upon the less-fortunate but with a small amount of diligence we can cast those thoughts away.
Embrace the above three ideas - they are gentle reminders we are all equal and all humans. I have a silly technique that helps me do this. I imagine the person next to me eating cereal in their underwear. We have all done it, if only as a child, and none of us look that great doing it. I see them do it and I see me doing it. It's therapeutic. :)
In early 2007 I was in the Army National Guard, returning from Afghanistan. After a full 16 month hiatus, I went back to my civilian job. That job included a 40 minute commute each way and I needed to fill that time with something. After bouncing around various news channels on SiriusXM for a year, I came upon a new show called Pete's Big Mouth. The show and the host were/are slanted to the left but didn't attempt to hide it. But independent of that, and most importantly, the show has always had a style that invites conversation, promotes education of the issues, challenges the listeners, and continues to lead by example.
Jumping ahead to 2016:
Since then, I've challenged myself to became educated and better aware of various topics. I've spent hours exploring new and different sources of information. Some of the "heavier" topics can be overwhelming - making me wish I had (several) degree(s) in history. And once I have information, how do I know I'm not in an echo-chamber trapped by the biases I've let myself be surrounded by? What do I do with the information?
Good question. I slowly and deliberately allow it to influence and change my sense of self. I spent years in a conservative area of the US. After that, college exposed me to a larger mix of backgrounds. In the Army National Guard it was a larger mix with a sprinkle of patriotism. I worked in several places in the US and now outside the US. Each one of these relationships was an opportunity to learn more about mself and the world, challenging those pre-conceived notions. Self-reflection is tiring!
Through various trials and errors, I've found a path that works for me and it's about damn time to find my own voice and do what I can to encourage others. Here are a few things that I've learned that might help you:
In the spirit of giving, for those not familar with him, I give you Dr. Aaron Carroll and his YouTube channel, Healthcare Triage. Dr. Carroll, was a guest on Pete's Big Mouth back in 2008 when I listened each day on my commute. He still slums it with Pete and the gang (Melanie, Alfred, Chris, Intern) as a regular guest on Stand Up! With Pete Dominick on SiriusXM.
It's time I finally stand up and give something back. This week I joined Patreon as the newest patreon to give a monthly donation to HealthCare Triage https://www.patreon.com/paulderson. Check them out and spread the word! I bet you'll find them educating and enlightening.
And learn more about Patreon! https://www.patreon.com/about
Earlier today a friend of mine mentioned that UberEats had a feature where you could send food to the homeless at any given time. I looked around as much as I could see and didn't find any way to do that on a regular basis. It looks like Uber has partnered with the Food Bank and others over time for specific days and shared giving, but nothing that I could see that makes it possible on a regular basis.
During some of my Googling, I also came across Unsung, which allows people to advertise extra food via the App and a Unsung volunteers pick and deliver the food - such a fantastic idea, but not available locally for me.
I was really hoping to use UberEats to deliver food to someone in need today, but instead I will be donating to the Food Bank. According to the World Bank the world-wide poverty is down. Additionally, the World Food Programe reports a reduction in hunger is also down (measured by undernourishment and the prevalence of underweight children under five years old). But we still have a long way to go.
My one little donation won't fix the problem, but educating my self and educating others can go a long way.
Side note: I got my first payment back from a Kiva.org loan this month. I'm excited to watch it come back so I can find another project to re-invest it in.
This week involves a return to Kiva. This time I was intrigued by a loan that had a 2X match from VMWare, the technology company. I didn't realise that company's had the option of matching specific loans. It's an interesting approach to encourage people like me but also to create a specific culture within the company. The specific loan I picked was a loan for to send Mu'ath back to school to finish his degree near Palestine.
As a side note, my first loan to Dutti was fully funded and will have its first monthly payment start to come back next month. I'm excited to see this loan start to come back and to see where the next loan will be. :)
Earlier in the week, I had a couple stop my wife and me on the street and ask for directions. They had a nice large tourist map and some sort of red dot on the map which I believe was their destination. We turned them 180 degrees to the right (or maybe to the left), pointed, gestured, and then watched them stroll happily down the street.
Over the past few months I've attended a few events at the Amsterdam Language Cafe to spend an evening with other locals drinking a beer or two and practicing Dutch. As barely a beginner+, it is a very humbling and frustrating experience for me. I can usually make it past the first hour but when the conversation moves past the usual questions and the organised events start, it is much much harder for me to keep up. On top of that, jokes fly over my head, I make zero jokes (and I'm usually very funny) and just end up just smiling a lot.
I came here a year ago still working for the same US-based company and the same co-workers I've worked with remotely for several years. It was easy. It is easy. Last week a pair of Syrian refugees, a mother and her daughter with similar Dutch skills as me attended the Language Cafe. They kept asking everyone "what it was that made them happy". Their bravery to interact and put themselves out there was great to witness.
Now here's the embarrassing part - almost exactly a year ago I sat on a train coming back from Germany into Amsterdam. The train was late and it was very dark when we finally pulled into Centraal. Before that I sat on my seat listening to four Syrian refugees talking about their web development skills to another passenger. And that is a stretch - I'm only sure that two of them could speak English. I couldn't help but wonder what the heck they were going to do when they got off the train. When we finally did depart, I stopped and watched. A volunteer with a sign was there to great them with water and welcome packets in hand. She gathered them up and walked them away.
It was then (yes, a year ago) that I felt inspired do something to help. I didn't do anything until just this week and finally donated to a local charity called Dutch Refugee Council. It's been a long time coming to fulfil my promise to myself. I never said the promise out-loud or wrote it down, but I knew it was there in the back of my head somewhere. I give thanks to all the good folks I met last week that inspired me to finally make good on that promise.