December 10, 2018

I wait every year for my favorite show of the year — CNN Heroes.  I stand and clap as each one is featured and honored.  This year, filled as it is with more conflict than comfort in our world societies, I was somewhat desperate to feel awe and inspiration once again for these “ordinary people,”  who give of themselves  wholeheartedly to bring comfort, caring, and respect to so many.

Their causes are spread across an impressive array of countries and needs.  Their drive and dedication is not limited by money, age, or education.  But at the core of their motivation is something that seems to be endangered in our present human race — empathy.  It’s a small word really, but yet so complex to feel in depth.  It’s not easy to be truly empathetic.  And it takes more than creativity to turn empathy into action.  It takes courage that doesn’t quit.

The breadth and depth of the heroes was wide and deep — tiny home communities for homeless veterans, a shelter in Peru for children and their families who required long term medical treatment far from home,  access to expensive bionic equipment for those who had lost their mobility, a peaceful place to heal for women who had been through the hell of sex trafficking.  I felt a special connection to the 88 year old woman who had set up an online ESL program that enabled immigrants to earn U.S. citizenship.  One continuing thread was how the heroes were quick to  turn the attention away from their own hard work to that of the people they were helping.

One of my favorite parts is always the Young Wonders who have set up incredible programs at amazingly young ages.  There was a young boy who started making lunches for homeless people, brought together a group of kids to help make the sandwiches, and then carried them out to the streets and handed a bag of healthy food to anyone who looked needy.  Not only was there food and a friendly smiling face handing them out, but the bags were hand-decorated with happy sayings and cute pictures to add that something extra that showed caring.  Another child started a program that gives birthday parties with all the trimmings for children with disabilities.

There was a follow-up on what some of the previous Young Wonders are doing years after they received their awards.  They did not stray from their early desire to help and are now serving ever larger needy populations with a wider range of services.

I fell in love with Bali for the first time in 1989.  A local resident I got to know  foresaw that plastic bags were a potential danger to that beautiful, fragile place.  Many years later, two sisters in Bali saw the same danger  strewn in front of their eyes everywhere.  These Young Wonders started Bye Bye Plastic Bags and have found ways to encourage the local people not to use plastic bags.  They do constant clean up  wherever they find discarded plastic bags.  They also have devised a simple system to block mostly plastic refuse that clogs up the small rivers.  And, they have established a small community of women in one village to get paid for making bags from recycled materials.  They didn’t stop to worry “What’s the use of doing something on such a small scale?”

As someone who spent time as a social worker in difficult life situations, and lived in third world poverty, I feel a particularly strong admiration for the CNN heroes.

So, I say again with deep gratitude, Hooray for Do-Gooders.  May they forever find ways to sustain their kindness to others.


August 27, 2011

The news about mean, cruel, greedy people fills our newspapers and television screens.  There seems to be a never-ending supply of that kind of news.  It is rarer to find positive stories of people on the other side of the spectrum.  I like reading about such people.  So, there were several things that attracted me to a recent story by Esmeralda Bermudez in the L.A. Times about a powerhouse of help named Rose Rios.

Several facts about this whirling dynamo of helpful activity appealed to me.  While I’m glad we have rich philanthropists like Bill Gates, Rose Rios has a self-made quality I appreciate.  She herself had a rough start as a single mother of three children from three men by the age of 19.  She became a go-go dancer to support herself and her children.  Fortunately, there was a job training program that changed her career to working with L.A. county’s department of public social services for 15 years.  In the 1990’s, she bought two big rigs for transporting steel and lumber for 5 years.

She’d been raised by her parents to help people, so that was already in her character.  But, in 1996, her children grown, she decided on a new direction in her life after watching a man digging in the trash.  She “researched” homelessness by living for a month in Skid Row, digging in trashcans and sleeping in a cardboard box.  Then, she went into action and hasn’t stopped.

She’s done it all without hiring staff or applying for grants.  Her home is her office.  The streets are her territory.  She takes calls for help on her cell phone.  And she’s found ways to get donations for food, clothing, and furniture.  She doesn’t expect gratitude.  “No matter what, I know I’m taking care of a need.  They don’t have to be grateful.  I just hope their situation gets better.”  She even took computer classes so she could expand her network and be more efficient.  Ten years ago, she self-published a book.  Why?  “I want people to know if I can make it, they can make it too.”

I know that “inspirational stories” don’t sell like grisly gruesome stories do.  And a 65 year old grandmother isn’t the type most people like to read about.  But this story brought back nostalgic remembrances of my early years in China when the only English daily newspaper available carried only good, happy news.   Although bad things happened in China too, you could never read about it in those happy stories that Pollyanna would have loved.  But they were true stories too.   And they didn’t make me sad, stressed, and worried like most newspaper stories and tv news do today.

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January 9, 2011

Although I enjoy change and the unfamiliar, it’s reasonable that 67 years of living would include re-runs.  A sickening re-run is of a crazed gunman shooting people in a public place.  It happened at Columbine.  It happened from the top of a university tower.  It happened at Virginia Tech.  It happened, among others, to Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, John Lennon, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy.  And it happened on Saturday in Tucson, Arizona, at a meet and greet with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in front of Safeway in a shopping mall.  It could happen anywhere, but what makes this particularly American is that so many ordinary people have guns.

Gun control is one of those issues, along with abortion and religion, that we are told not to talk about in order to avoid unpleasant arguments in America.  My uncle was one of many Americans who vociferously defended the “right to bear arms” as guaranteed in our Constitution.  Our “right to bear arms” also condemns us to suffer murders and massacres unrelated to wars and revolutions.  In the hands of people with a reasonable or unreasonable grudge, or a fragile mental balance, guns become the weapon of first and last resort.  And, remembering that over half the houses where my son played with friends when he was little had guns in the family, accidental deaths of children is sadly high also.

When I first went to live in Israel in 1983, I was shocked to see so many soldiers walking in the streets with rifles slung over their shoulders.  Israeli males serve in the Reserves until age 53, so it’s not an unusual sight. I can’t forget sitting on buses next to usually sleeping soldiers while their guns stared up at me.  And, after one of my young Ethiopian friends grew into a soldier, I remember feeling a chill when he took his rifle from his shoulder and placed it under a chair when he came to my home to visit me.  But, in spite of all the soldiers and their guns, there was much less crime and murder in Israel among its citizens.  Perhaps that can only work in a tiny country like Israel where guns are for military use and generally aren’t used to settle arguments and grudges.

Not only did the Tucson shooter have a gun, but he had a gun capable of firing repeatedly.  His rampage did not last long, but 18 people who didn’t have a chance lay dead or wounded.  Supposedly, there are restrictions in place for people who want to purchase guns.    The alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, reportedly bought his murder weapon without a hitch in November.  Why?  Hardened criminals must have many ways to get guns in spite of laws, but it remains disgustingly simple for anyone, whatever his or her state of mind, to purchase a deadly weapon quickly and legally.

Blame is now being put on “vitriol” and intolerance in our present economic and political climate.  I have listened hard for calls for gun control measures, but have heard only a passing reference to perhaps putting stricter laws into place for purchasing guns.  While it’s true that people kill people, not guns, it’s also true that guns are the easiest way to do the most damage in the shortest amount of time.  We can’t pinpoint all the mentally unbalanced, or dangerously opinionated people in our society, even with the abundance of their ranting and raving available for all to read on the Internet.  But, our politicians prefer to enter a period of deep soul-searching and reflection on how to bring civility back into politics instead of facing the sacred cow of “the right to bear arms.”  It is also likely that expensive financing will be appropriated for more elaborate security measures for all Congress men and women and their staffs.

Another category of concern that is not being talked about is what to do with the mentally ill and unbalanced people walking among us.  They are the driftwood among our homeless who are given strong medications and sent out onto the streets to fend for themselves.   The mentally fragile are also students, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, blue-collar workers, CEOs, and yes, even our soldiers being sent to Afghanistan.  A very small, easy-to-miss article in today’s Los Angeles Times caught my eye.  “A Kentucky soldier who went AWOL after he said the military wasn’t treating his mental health issues has been ordered to deploy to finish his tour in Afghanistan…he said he had been given medications to treat his headaches and nightmares and had been told to seek counseling in Afghanistan.”  If this is how we treat our mentally ill soldiers (perhaps driven to mental illness because of being a war-time soldier), how much hope can we have for stopping any future massacres among us?

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