Friday, July 27, 2012

What’s All the Hubbub in London?

The London Summer Olympic Games start tonight and I felt it was time to talk about a great organization that helps people enjoy athletics who would otherwise be alienated from them.

Sports have been something to empower and excite me since I was an all star in my city softball league as a child in Florida. I then played tennis for over twenty years and became a city champion and went to regional competition in Texas.  Now, I have begun running 5ks.

Frankly, I can’t imagine life without some form of exercise.  I also couldn’t imagine life without a leg or arm, but every year 150,000 people join the ranks of over four million amputees in the U.S.

When you watch the superb athletes who compete in the Olympics these next few weeks, think of someone who has just lost a leg and doesn’t know how they will care for themselves or their families for the rest of their lives. 

Trauma accidents, birth defects, motor vehicle accidents, and warfare are the primary causes of the loss of a limb. The Limbs for Life Foundation is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to providing prosthetic care for individuals who cannot otherwise afford it.

When a person becomes an amputee, they are faced with staggering emotional and financial lifestyle changes.  The nationwide average for an above-knee prosthesis is $16,500 and $7,000 for a below-knee prosthesis.

Limbs for Life helps an average of 230 people in the United States and 300 people overseas each year. Since the foundation began in 1995, it has helped over 7,700 amputees obtain the prosthetic care that enabled them to move forward with their lives.

Limbs for Life collects and distributes used limbs, free of charge, to amputees in developing countries. 

You may have heard of the Special Olympics, but do you know what the Paralympic Games are?  They are happening in London just two and a half weeks after the Olympics summer games are over. 

Then athletes who deal with the loss of limbs or other physical disability compete on their own terms as they have since 1960.  The Agitos Foundation develops sport opportunities for people with disabilities around the world.

The Paralympic values of courage, determination, equality and inspiration help equip those with disabilities to deal with the problems of their daily lives. The Paralympic Games also give them a hint of what people with disabilities can do thus encouraging both them and others to see the potential in people with disability. 

I encourage you this year to watch the Paralympics after the Olympic games are over. They will be the biggest Paralympic Games ever, featuring 4,200 athletes from 160 countries who will compete in 20 sports.

They have already taken the contestants to places beyond where most would imagine.  Where will they take you?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Heart Healing

My son’s heart was broken a little a couple of weeks ago in his efforts to try and help others. Our church has been digging wells for communities in Zimbabwe.  The Children’s Ministry decided that it would be good for the children to “own” their own well by raising the money to dig it.  Great idea. I’m all for getting kids involved in charity. 

So, they were selling water at the Sunday services for a couple of weeks. Then, they decided to send “wells” home with the students in which they could collect money.  These were little boxes covered in crumpled up brown paper with handles on them. (I think they were Chinese food boxes.  Only heaven knows how they came up with enough of them for all the kids.) 

Christopher’s Sunday school teacher also had some bean seeds and gave them to the students so they could grow beans and sell them. That Sunday Chris came home from Sunday school so excited. We had brought a couple of his friends to church that day and their family owns a nail salon so they talked of putting the well at the front counter so they could collect money from customers. 

Chris took the beans and planted them in containers inside our house so they could get a head start before he put them outside.  It worked!  The seeds sprouted and then he put them in the back yard. 

That’s when the trouble began.  Chris went off to boy scout camp and when he came back all the sprouts were gone. You see we have some rabbits in our neighborhood and we think they found all the sprouts just a little too delicious to ignore.  First downfall for Chris. 
He was a little upset that his sprouts were gone. But he didn’t give up. He had some seeds left and he planted them in the ground outside again, this time encasing them in a chicken wire cage that he handily put together all by himself. Since I’m about as mechanical as a turkey with gloves on, I was proud.  Only so far, they’re not sprouting.  Disappointment time again.

So last weekend, I said we need to get out and get some donations for the well from our neighbors.  Chris is a bit shy so he wrote down what he wanted to say and brought his “cue card” with him. 
In fact at the first house, he actually read it verbatim.  But the neighbor was good natured and gave us a few bucks, greatly encouraging Chris who decided to talk on his own after that.  We went to a few more houses where no one was home.  Then we had a few where no one wanted to give, until finally Chris said he’d just try one more.  The lady stuck her head out the door and didn’t seem to want to talk to us, but she disappeared and returned with a dollar for Chris anyway.

So, in the end Chris’s heart healed and he got some money for the well in Zimbabwe.  He still has some time because the money’s not due for a little over a week from now.  As in so many things, persistence is the key to success, and to getting your heart healed even after it gets a little broken.

Friday, July 13, 2012

67 Minutes

Do you have 67 minutes?  It’s just a bit over an hour but it represents so much more.  Sixty seven years is how long Nelson Mandela gave to fighting for the rights of humanity.  Next Wednesday, July 18th is Mandela’s birthday which is becoming known as Mandela Day, a day to devote yourself for 67 minutes to making the world a better place.

I have been around for the destruction of the Berlin Wall, for the ending of the Cold War, but for some reason, the election of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa in 1994 just seems to me to surpass all of these other events.
Thirty six of the 67 years were spent in prison by Mandela and I have a hard time relating to that.  How could someone keep the faith while in prison for almost as long as I have been alive?  He must have had more conviction than I could ever muster. Of course the greater oppression against you, the greater you must be to overcome it.
But not only did he overcome it, he created a body to expose the oppression without asking for recompense or revenge. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission he created gathered evidence from both victims and perpetrators about the wrongs committed under apartheid without prosecuting anyone. The last of their reports was released in 2003, five years after Mandela left the Presidency.
I was privileged to hear South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak after Mandela was released in 1990. He came to my college to give a speech in our chapel about how Christians are the hands and feet of Jesus. He was the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and he spoke to us also of forgiveness and cooperation in the face of hatred.
Maybe that’s why Mandela’s release and subsequent election stays in my mind and sits higher than the other world events I mentioned.  I truly do believe that Christians are the hands and feet of God.  Mandela’s birthday is another chance to show people that we are. 
For Non-Christians, it is a chance to share solidarity with a leader who brought a country through a transition from hatred to cooperation and peace.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do for Mandela Day. I contacted a couple of people about helping out in a hospice center or a homeless shelter but I haven’t heard back from them yet. One of the great things about the Mandela Day website is that it has a list of 67 ways to change the world.
I might use the 67 minutes to plan a Locks of Love event here in my hometown. Locks of Love provides wigs for children who have medical hair loss and I would like to do a hair cutting event to donate hair for the wigs.  I would love to hear what you would like to do to change the world, whether you can do it in 67 minutes or not. Leave a comment and let me know!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Volunteer Vacations: Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Have you been looking forward to your vacation for months? Going to a new place in the states or to another country? 

As of right now, we’re not planning to take a vacation unless it’s a weekend trip nearby, but I would love one day to do a volunteer vacation.  You can go as an individual, group or even as a family.

Like any vacation, you get to see a new place but with volunteer vacations you can also make a positive impact on that place.  The opportunities range widely, from tapping maple syrup at a Native American reservation in America to constructing a health center in Kenya.

The Volunteer Family provides a list of companies that give families an opportunity to do a project together.  That’s the kind of trip I would really like to take.

Another good source is Volunteer Guide because it categorizes the type of projects so you can choose between animal welfare, helping children, community development, environmental protection, health and safety or poverty and homelessness projects.

Each project includes lodging and food expense, but often you are responsible for getting to the place where you will do your project on top of the project cost. Some include travel which of course greatly increases the cost if you are going out of the country. 

However, some projects are in the United States, which cuts down on the travel expense. The Sierra Club has national volunteer trips of its own as does the American Hiking Association.  The sources I’ve listed above have American trips as well.  If you’re looking for a bargain, VAOPS provides information on volunteer vacations that are low cost or free.

The International Volunteer Programs Association has a great list of questions to explore to help you determine which program is for you.  At the least, you need to ask about cost, the type of volunteer organization for which you will be working, skills needed including language and the best time of year to go. Accommodations also will range from tents to hotels, so ask questions and be sure you know what to expect.

If you’re interested in doing a “green” vacation, check out the Daily Green’s 15 Eco-Friendly Volunteer Vacations. It showcases projects in Greece, Israel, Costa Rica and other places working with sea turtles, dolphins or on a kibbutz but also has American opportunities in the Rockies, Montana or on the Hudson River.

I have talked with members of our church’s youth group who have gone to other countries to build houses or teach Vacation Bible School.  They come back much more grateful for what they have after seeing the living circumstances of the world’s poor. They also have renewed energy for charity work because of the gratitude of those they have helped.

The range of projects available is astounding and with a little research you can find one that will suit your pocketbook as well as your dreams. If you are working eight hours a day helping others on these trips, you can take a tax deduction on the expense.  You can also reach out for funding to others.  As they say, where’s there’s a will, there’s a way, in this case, to travel and to make a difference.