By Cindy Young
This time of year is referred to as the season of giving. I have a couple of thoughts about that. First of all, shouldn’t the season of giving be year round? And secondly, it’s important to learn to also be able to graciously receive, a point that was driven home to me in a dramatic manner the past several months. Let me explain.
Earlier this year, I learned from a friend about an amazing opportunity to apply to be part of the 2015 Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Work Project in Nepal with Habitat for Humanity International. The goal of the project was to build 100 houses in six days in Pokhara, Nepal.
After researching the project, I decided to apply. Three weeks later my acceptance arrived by email. I was truly excited but took a few days to think about it before deciding for sure if I could do it.
There were a number of reasons I wanted to participate. I have long admired the work Habitat for Humanity does across the U.S. and around the world. I had visited Kathmandu, Nepal in 2003 and had always wanted to go back. President and Mrs. Carter would be attending and helping with the project and, hopefully, I would get to meet them. I love to travel. Those are some of the main reasons I wanted to go.
But there was one big problem. I knew I would have to raise at least $3,500 to help fund the project and to get to participate. Most people who know me well know I am not good at asking for help…never have been. But I also knew I could not afford to pay it all myself.
Finally the reasons for going won out and I dove in. The Habitat organization helped me set up an online fundraising page with a goal of $5,000. I posted on Facebook about what I was doing and then waited. Well, in all honesty, I made the first $15 contribution anonymously both to see how it worked and to, hopefully, get the fundraising ball rolling.
What happened next absolutely stunned me. Donations began pouring in. Close friends, acquaintances, even some Facebook friends I’ve never met in person contributed!
I also wanted to come up with some incentives for my donors. So I decided that anyone who donated $10 or more would get a postcard from me in Nepal. Fifty dollars or more would get a specially-designed tshirt. Donations of $100 or more would earn a self-published book about my experience in Nepal.
Again I reached out to a couple of long-time friends. (Hmmmm…maybe I am getting the hang of asking for help!) One of my best friends from high school designed the beautiful artwork that graces the tshirt and another dear friend did the printing of the shirts and gave me a wonderful deal on them. Another friend helped me get some radio coverage about the trip.
While all of this was happening, the trip plans took on the nature of a roller coaster ride. First came President Carter’s announcement of his cancer diagnosis, so there was serious doubt he would be able to attend. Then we were informed that because of some legal difficulties with the land chosen for the build, the location was moved from Pokhara to Chitwan, Nepal.
Several weeks ago President Carter lifted our spirits again with the news that his medical team had given him clearance to go! Excitement returned.
All the while, donations continued to come in. And every one of them warmed my heart more than I can adequately describe. I received small and large donations and have been touched by some that I know had stretched the giver’s wallet. All in all, I’ve raised just over $5,000 from more than 55 donors.
From the start I had put in my request with my employer to use my vacation days for the trip, which was quickly approved. Then came the day I booked my flight and, suddenly, I knew it was for real. I was going to Nepal at the end of October. I was going to get to meet President and Mrs. Carter. And I was going to work with 1,500 volunteers from around the world to give 100 Nepalese families safe and secure homes! And it was going to happen only because of the numerous people who were supporting me, both with their dollars and their words of encouragement.
Then it happened. Three weeks to the day before I was supposed to fly out, I received an email advising me that, due to increased civil unrest in Nepal, Habitat for Humanity had made the unprecedented decision to cancel the build. They also told us President and Mrs. Carter agreed with the decision. The organization said it would be virtually impossible to be able to guarantee the safety of 1,500 volunteers, and with severe fuel shortages, if we got into Nepal, we might not be able to get out. I was sitting in a seminar when I got the email. I was devastated. I cried off and on for the next two days. The “rational Cindy” understood the decision but the “emotional Cindy” was heartbroken.
One of the first things I thought was, “I wish I had not asked people to help me on this.”
There was some good news however. Habitat for Humanity gave us some options for what could be done with the funds we had raised. Options included donating the funds to the Nepal Habitat for Humanity organization, individual donors could request refunds, or I could apply the funds raised to participate in another build project in the next year.
When I posted these options on Facebook, I was again moved by how quickly many of my supporters commented and said they trusted whatever I decided, no questions asked. Many of them also encouraged me to do another build and use their donations for that. And that is ultimately what I have decided to do.
Through this whole experience, I’ve learned a lot. But perhaps the biggest lesson for me was that I need to remember that other people feel as good about helping me as I do when I help someone. Why should I deny someone that good feeling just because of my pride? Perhaps one of the best gifts we can give is simply allowing someone to give to us. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but one I’m working on.
As I write this, I realize this is the week I was scheduled to be in Nepal. I think I’ll sign off and go look at that list of upcoming builds. Time to decide where I’m going. Stay tuned. M! December 2015/January 2016