I’m a strong believer in doing the right thing. From the little to the big, some times the choices we need to make aren’t necessarily the easy ones nor the ones that will benefit ourselves, but they are the right ones. We knows this deep inside.
I am, by no means, perfect at this. But I try.
I’ve been thinking a lot more about this because of several things. First, it’s a theme in my next book NO RETURN due out in early 2011. Second, the amazing response to the disaster in Haiti. And third, because of an email I received from the son of an old friend of mine. An old friend of mine’s son recently spent a month in Ghana teaching kids how to play soccer. While he was there, he saw what conditions the kids had to live and play under, that he decided to do something about it. With the help of his parents, he raise enough money to buy things for the kids they would have never had otherwise. His name is Tony Albina, and here is the letter I got from him thanking me for my donation – which was nothing compared to what he was doing…
Thank you so much for your donation to the children with whom I worked in Ghana Africa this fall. I want to express the gratitude that I felt from the children and send you a few pictures so you can see the difference that you helped me make. A positive difference in the lives of the children and a positive affirmation that, given an opportunity, people will help those who need it – and that the boundaries of geography, culture and politics are certainly no barrier to human compassion and generosity.
I’d like to tell you about my trip, share with you my experience and help you understand how much your gift meant to these children. I spent a month in Ghana Africa, helping underprivileged children in the city of Accra with a non-profit organization called Projects Abroad. I have been playing soccer since I was 4 years old and was the Captain of my varsity high school soccer team for the last two years of my high school career. In Ghana, I would be learning soccer coaching from a semi-pro team and then using those skills to teach in the under 12 children’s program. The city of Accra is located along the southern coast of West Africa.
When I arrived in Accra I was greeted by the unrelenting heat, followed by a tour through the city from my placement coordinator with Projects Abroad. When I sat down in the taxi, my coordinator turned to me and said, “Tony you may see some things that you are not used to seeing back home. Ghana is a much different place than where you are from”, and on that note we headed off into the city. First, we drove to the home of my host family where I would be living for the next month. After introductions were made, we stepped back in the taxi to go see the soccer field where my placement was to be, and I use the term “field” lightly. The pitch they play on was in the worst shape of any field I have ever seen. Instead of grass, the field was made up of a mixture of sand and clay, and was hardly flat. There were large raises and dips all over the field. Very different from the level, lush green grass I have played on since I was a kid. I can remember complaining about the condition of the fields in high school if mid-field was a little bare and worn down late in the season. However, as I soon found out, the condition of this field in Accra made no difference at all to the children here.
The next day I hopped on a tro-tro, which is a glorified mini-van, held together with bailing wire, that runs on a fixed route, and headed to the field. Riding in a tro-tro, you can never be sure that you’re actually going to make it to your destination. To say the ride is harrowing would be an understatement! When I arrived at the pitch, I met up with the semi-professional team with whom I would be training to learn the coaching skills I would be using to train the children. After seniors training, I headed back to my host home as the under 12 year old children’s training did not begin until the evening. Ghanaians try to avoid the mid day heat, for which I was very thankful! That evening I went back to the field for the kids training session. I was expecting young kids in cleats and shin guards ready to play soccer. I was mistaken; some kids wore cleats three times too big, and others played barefoot. A few of the kids had half decent cleats, without too many holes – which, I found out later, were donated by past volunteers. Most of them wore the same clothes every day and the majority of it was donated clothing that was passed down as children grew. The condition of the field, the garbage dump that bordered it, the raw sewage running in troughs through streets, the ill-fitting cleats and torn balls didn’t seem to matter to the children. They played with the same joy and excitement of any child. They seemed blissfully unaware of their circumstances. They were just happy to be playing soccer today.
The next few weeks went on like this. Senior training in the mornings, and under 12’s training in the afternoons. One day I was speaking with Ramma, the captain of the senior team, about some of the under 12’s children. He explained to me that nearly 10 of the kids were homeless and without families. Ramma went on to tell me that he has 5 of the kids currently living at his house, and 3 live in the team’s equipment shed located near the soccer pitch. Many of the children were abandoned at a very young age and were left in Accra with literally nothing but the shirts on their backs. Luckily, Ramma was able to take some of them in. These kids have gone through so much at such a young age but if you met them, you couldn’t tell that they have suffered more in 12 years than most of will in our whole lives. They look and act like regular fun loving kids with a truly amazing passion for soccer and life!
After learning what these kids go through, I wanted to help them somehow. That is right about the time when my parents called me and told me that there were people who wanted to donate money for the kids. I had no idea that friends, family and many people that I’ve never even met could be so generous! In just a week, $1,300 dollars was donated. I was so excited – so much could be done for the kids. I started throwing around some ideas with the coaches and we all agreed that personalized team bags and new soccer balls would be a great help. While they were coordinating to have the bags made, I took some of the senior players out into the market with me buy some new balls, and professional jerseys, shorts, and socks for each child to put in their bag. The bags arrived during my final week in Ghana. I took them back to my host family, and put the gear for each child in each of the 22 bags. Looking down at this massive pile of bags and gear, I was amazed at how much I was able to buy for the kids.
With the money left over after purchasing all the equipment, I organized with some of the coaches, a trip for the kids to go to a professional soccer stadium. I called a security guard that the coaches knew at the stadium and organized a tour. So the next day, I arranged for a mini-bus to pick us up and take us to the stadium. The kids were told they had a game that day, so they thought that’s where they were headed. But when the mini-bus turned into the stadium entrance, the kids went crazy! We met up with the security guard and he led us inside the stadium. We went up into the VIP seating section, and he told us about the history of the stadium. The security guard then said to everyone “Ok lets head on down to the field so you can take some pictures, then we’ll take off”, but I had different plans. As we were walking down to the field, I asked the security guard to let the kids actually play a little on the field. After some monetary convincing, a way of life in Ghana, he accepted my offer. When we got down to the field, I took out a ball I had been hiding and kicked it onto the field. “Get on the field! Go play!”, I yelled –and I didn’t have to say it twice. The kids, in total disbelief, sprinted onto the field with huge smiles stretching across their faces. For most of them, it was the first time they had stepped foot inside the stadium, and it was definitely the first time any of them had played on real grass! They ran, carefree as children do, jumped, laughed and played in bare feet on the cool grass probably for the first time in their lives. I wish you could have seen their faces light up with joy. It was a tremendous gift from you to them.
The next day was my last in Ghana. Half way through the under 12’s training session, I rounded all the kids up, and told them to follow me. Ramma came with us as well. We got to the equipment closet where I was hiding their bags of gear, and I turned the kids and said, “As you guys know I’m leaving tomorrow. But I have a surprise for you all. There are a lot of generous people back home that gave me donations for you and with that I was able to get you all some gear. Some things that will make you look more like a team.” I pulled out the first bag and tossed it to one of the children. He caught it with a look of astonishment on his little face, and realizing what it was, let out a shriek of joy. I grabbed another bag, and threw it out to the group of now jumping, excited children. Then another, and another until all the children had one. It was joyful chaos as all of them rifled through their bags pulling out a jersey here, and a pair of socks there, some shorts waved in the air. All of them were smiling, and cheering the whole time – happy for themselves and happy for one another. One young boy came close and said a quiet thank you to me, and through teary eyes, I told him he was very welcome. Ramma turned to me and said, “In all of my years working with this team, and seeing volunteers come and go – I have never seen so much generosity towards the children. I can’t find the words to describe how happy I am right now.” He reached out, gave me a hug and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you.” I said, “Rama I can never give these kids what you have given them. I gave them a jersey and shorts, you gave them food. I gave them a bag with socks, you gave them a home. I should be the one thanking you.” He gave me another hug, and said, “I’m going to really miss you Tony, and I know that the kids will too. You will never be forgotten.” And with that, I picked up my bag, and walked away. Tears rolling down my face, I looked back, to see all the kids waving good-bye. I gave one final wave, then turned back around and headed for a plane that would take me home to New Hampshire. Never to forget the little faces, the friends, the memories. I will never forget your generosity and neither will the young lives that you have touched. Thank you.
I know Tony’s dad Adam must be immensely proud of his son. But I also know there are other “Tonys” out there, people who are doing the right things both big and small.
In the comments, feel free to share some of your stories about people doing the right thing.
Damn it, Battles, don’t make me tear up this early in the morning.
As I’ve mentioned before, I work with a great group of volunteers in the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program. A GAL represents the interests of the child in court in cases of abuse and neglect. I’m frequently bowled over by the amount of hard work, dedication and compassion these people put in to protect kids they’d never met before, as well as the long (and scandalously low-paid) hours put in by the local program director. Friends, if you’re looking for a way to make a difference in your community, I’m willing to bet there are children out there who need a voice. Check it out.
It sounds like that young man had an experience that opened his eyes to what happens in the real world. More of his generation should go through that … I think many (perhaps not all) don’t realize how truly wealthy and priveleged they are here. Or how to appreciate it.
Thanks for sharing the story.
What an amazing story, thank you for sharing it!
What a wonderful story and young man, Brett.
My god-daughter, Maya, is in the Peace Corps in Lesotho (a landlocked country inside the borders of South Africa). Tony’s letter reminds me so much of Maya’s letters home and the joy she feels at being to help the people of Lesotho.
Lovely post, Brett—thought provoking and challenging.
Perhaps on a smaller scale, I was struck by the kindness of a person I just met this week. A very elderly man (nineties?) called me up and asked if I could help him reply to some letters that he had piling up (I run a writing service), and I said sure, told him my hourly rate, etc.
Flash forward to meeting with him this week.
His tiny bachelor-suite apartment in a low-rent seniors complex was very clean but his meager furnishings were old and worn out and he had books and magazines stacked on every surface (that, of course, made me relate to him immediately).
He had his bankbook out and told me that he’d checked his funds. He had $137.00 between his two accounts, but $100.00 in his wallet and it was almost the end of the month (I assumed that meant he’d receive a pension check or something), so not to worry, he could pay me—and we could probably cover a lot of ground in one hour, couldn’t we? I assured him that we could, but didn’t bother to tell him that I had already decided this was probably a freebie.
As we started to go through the mail, I tried not to rant, but I got so angry! This man had about thirty carefully organized letters, arranged by date received which he’d written in painstaking letters across the envelope, that were causing him no small stress. He felt they had to be dealt with—some actually threatened legal ramifications if he failed to respond. And what were these letters? They were ALL junk mail of the most insidious, preying kind: “You have won . . .”; “Confirm your address, so we can send you your cheque for . . . ”; “Warning: Security Audit . . . Pay now to avoid . . . ”
It was hard for him to understand that there could be so many scams, that each was just asking for money to “guarantee” that his name would be put in a draw. As ridiculous as the letters seem as I describe them here, I understood his confusion. To look at and read, quite a few of the letters seemed professional, “real.” Even reading the 4-font light grey fine print on the back of each page left one with only a vague idea of how the gimmick actually “worked.”
I almost felt he thought I was lying, until halfway through the pile when the sheer amount of promised windfalls hit him and he commented on how impossible it would be that so many institutions would have money that just happened to be left for him, willed to him, designated for him, etc. Then he expressed relief that the “audits” were also “false alarms,” and added with a tinge of worry, “You know, a lot of pensioners probably fall for this load of crap.”
Yeah, there probably is. Hence my anger.
But this was supposed to be about the good stuff people do. Towards the end of the stack, there was a letter from the Salvation Army wishing him a happy Christmas and mentioning some of the work they try to do over the year. He got me to read the whole thing aloud, then he pulled out his wallet and went through the bills, pausing once or twice, as if calculating something in his head.
“I want to give them ten dollars . . . do you have change for a twenty?”
He hesitated. “My bills this month—” and his voice broke off, almost apologetically. I explained he didn’t have to give anything, that the Salvation Army of all people understand tight budgets. He held up a five.
“Would this do anything?”
I assured him that every bit really does help, but reiterated that he shouldn’t feel pressured to give. He insisted, however, so I filled out the information sheet and he signed it and sealed it up. As he put a stamp on it, he muttered, “It’s a good thing they do, helping the poor.”
This man lives on just over $300.00 a month. His attitude made me think more than a little bit. And if I’ve somehow made him sound sweet, but a touch pathetic, he’s anything but. He was articulate and funny—had a bit of edge too. He was just being generous with what he had.
Sorry this went on so long!
Many ways to be of good use and many people who need help. Thank you so much for posting this, Brett. It’s wonderful to read good news on the web 😉
Per JD’s reference, one of the organizations to volunteer with as a guardian ad litem here in California, as well as many if not all other states, is called CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates. I was a CASA when I lived in Santa Barbara and can tell you it’s not a quick ‘n happy sort of volunteer gig, but it is immensely satisfying when you are able to make a profound difference in a child’s life by being that one person who’s solely there for the child’s best interest, and can stand up in court to advocate for same in and amidst the tangled complexities of all the legal and social services agendas.
Ev, that made me cry. What a tremendous service you provided there–you probably saved him hundreds, if not more, because next month and the next, there would have been more letters, and he would have felt like he had to keep answering them.
That breaks my heart.
Great story, inspires more of course. It moved me, but I’m a little vulnerable right now. My sister, Jen, and brother in law Guy, arrived in Haiti yesterday. They run a non profit to help street kids in Haiti (which have now increased 100 fold) called "Zanmi Lakay" or in Creole, family house. They have been doing this for 13 years (Guy is from Haiti and his sister and nieces and nephews still live there) and thought they were making so much progress with the kids (some of whom they taught 13 years ago and now have kids)…then this happens. She was able to get in through the DR over the road, but is devastated by what she is seeing. She is posting on ZL Facebook page and on their blog: http://www.zanmilakayblog.org if you want to see what is going on from the ground. She has school sponsorships where for $250 you could send a kid to school, get their books and their uniform for an entire year. I’m not sure what is going to happen now.
This is a good time to be thinking about all of this and I’m looking forward to that new book in 2011.
It’s so nice to see that there are people int he world who actually give a damn. Thanks for sharing, Brett.
Thanks for yet another thought provoking post.
I’m fortunate enough to be part of an interfaith/multicultural group called Peace Ambassadors of West Texas and every Valentine’s we do a special lunch at our local soup kitchen: we serve restaurant quality food, bring in entertainers, decorate, hand out donated boxes of chocolate. We chose this day because we felt that no matter where you come from, everyone can understand the need food and love.
The lunch is just one of our projects, but one very close to my heart, because we include people –seniors, children, loners– that usually are forgotten on Valentine’s Day. My husband and I always end the day dead tired, but always glad that we had a part in this event.
My church raised money for one of our teenagers to spend a year in abroad teaching underprivileged (that’s such an understatement!) children, and she came home for Christmas and spoke about her experience. I cried then like Tony’s letter made me tear up. The selflessness of some of our young people is amazing, and gives me great hope for the future. With more people like Tony, compassion and generosity will continue to spread.
Thank you for sharing that, Brett. I’m going to read it again with my boys this evening. What an eye-opener. Tony is an amazing person. A gifted writer, too.
Keep us up to date on his doings…I have a feeling he’s going to do a lot of wonderful things in the future.
Wow. That generated a few tears. What a difference one person can make. If I do nothing greater in my life than to raise my sons to do the right thing and to help others as this young man did, I’ll consider myself a success.
Thanks, everyone, for sharing your stories. Ev, I do have to say yours touched me personally. I remember similar things happening to my grandfather when he was older. Thankfully my mother found out before too long, and took over handling his accounts. Still, no telling how much money was scammed out of him.
Reading this, it occurs to me it has been way too long since I did something meaningful or significant to help others. I give to various charities, but that seems so impersonal. It’s easy to get caught up in working and raising a family and squeezing in the time to write… little acts of kindness like eliciting a smile or a laugh from the overworked underpaid people I encounter on a daily basis seem trivial in the face of this young man’s contributions. I’ll have to give some thought as to how I can best make a difference. Thanks, Brett, for reminding us of the huge need that exists out there.
Thanks for posting this Brett. I got the same letter from Tony. I thought it was well written and thoughtful, not just in thanking those that gave to his cause but in expressing his experience. I think it’s great that you have posted it asking for others’ experiences. With so much negativity in the noise around us it is nice to be reminded of all the good in the world.
Nice post Brett. It touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. My friend Henry is just the kind of person that Tony seems to be. Totally selfless and willing to pour his life into others. He and his lovely wife Frances went on a cruise to celebrate their anniversary about five years ago and one of their ports of call was the beautiful island of Roatan, Honduras. They disembarked and instead of doing the "touristy" thing they hailed a cab and asked the driver to take them out to a typical neighborhood. They ended up in La Colonia Policarpo. One of the first people they encountered was a young girl of about 4 or 5. She was carrying a rather large bucket and when Henry inquired what she was carrying the driver replied that she was doing her share of the family work in carrying water to her family. The bucket weighed probably 1/3 of her body weight and they observed her on one of many trips she would make that day. The water source was a hole in the ground in which water collected. Henry was profoundly affected by what he saw that day. He and Frances continued their cruise and returned to their home. He could not get the image of that little girl out of his mind and his heart and within the year he and Frances sold their home and either sold or gave away most of their possessions and moved to Roatan. They currently reside (and have for the lat 3 1/2 years) in Roatan in a 700 sq foot home which backs up to La Colonia. They have put in 3 wells and have run pvc pipes to as many homes as they (with the help of teams of volunteers from the US) could reach. Most of the 3000+ people who live in this area now have access to running water for a couple of hours each week all because of one man’s vision and tremendous heart. According to the nurse in the local clinic she attributes at least 50 -70% of all of health problems and disease in the area to the lack of clean water. There is still much work to be done but Henry is relentless in his pursuit of the "what next" for these folks. A group from Northern Arizona University is sending a team of engineers to survey and ascertain the feasibility of a sanitation system in the area. Others have volunteered to come and help to build housing that doesn’t blow away when the winds pick up, which they do on a regular basis on a tropical isle. I have never been to a place in which there is such an obvious line between the haves and the have nots but due to Henry’s dedication and perseverance, lives have been touched but more importantly they have been enhanced and (through my western eyes) bettered. I am blessed and honored to know someone of Henry’s caliber, this side of heaven :).
I just wanted to let you know that I’ve given you the Prolific Blogger Award. For all the details, please visit:
It’s not a huge, prestigious thing (sorry, no cash prizes, ha ha), but thanks for being one of my favourite pre-writing day reads.
"you probably saved him hundreds, if not more, because next month and the next, there would have been more letters, and he would have felt like he had to keep answering them."
When I saw _how many_ of the d&mn things there were, that was my first thought. Oh, no–he’s obviously sent money before and now he’s on an easy mark list somewhere.
It made me cry too–and I’m still furious. How low some people are.
"I remember similar things happening to my grandfather when he was older."
I wrote my grandma when I got home. She isn’t (due to my diligent, ferocious aunts) at risk for that type of problem, but I suspect loneliness is a big deal for a lot of elderly people.
I just want to say thank you to those who shared an experience of their own, and to those who have said such kind words. When I was on the fence about embarking on my trip to Ghana, one big influence was my father. Hearing his stories of when he was on up with people, and the hardships and cultural diversities he was able to see, really made me want to have a similar experience. He told me how it changed him inside, and how it still effects him to this day.There were times during my stay in Ghana when I just wanted to break down. Seeing first hand the hardships these children go through, and the conditions they live in is just heartbreaking. A sinking feeling of helplessness, the likes of which i’ve never felt before.
I consider myself a very fortunate individual, and to be able to share a bit of my fortune to the children I worked with was an overwhelming feeling of joy and compassion. A feeling im sure as many of you know that’s difficult to put into words. I can only hope that the more eyes and ears my story reaches, the more people/teenagers will want to help those in need. This experience made such an impact on my life, and if given the opportunity to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Thank you so much,