One soul at a time

You can change the world and change your life as well

Dateline 28 December 2005

Christmas is traditionally the time of year when we think about giving and when we think about others. New Year, by contrast, is when we think about ourselves. It is when we make resolutions to improve ourselves and to make our lives better. If it is genuinely better to give than to receive, then these two are not really in contrast at all.

Let me propose for everyone in the Lake Champlain area a New Year’s Resolution which everyone with a bank account can keep, and which will improve your life as well as someone else’s.

People frequently resolve to give money to charity, but like many other resolutions it often gets forgotten as the year wears on. There is, in practice, only one way of doing this to make it a resolution you can keep. You need to give money directly from your bank account. The only problem with such a resolution is this: once the bank mandate is in place you can forget about the whole thing. This is good from one point of view. Your selected charity continues to get the money without having to remind you, or without it ever becoming one of those things that you keep meaning to get round to. It is bad from one other point of view: I am supposed to be finding you a resolution which will change your life: something which will be continually rewarding.

I give money every month to Reeta Kumari. You have never heard of Reeta, so let me explain. She is a little girl who lives in northern India with her mother, her brother and her half-sister. Her father is dead

I receive regular updates about Reeta’s family from Plan, the charity that organizes the sponsorship. Some are general, about projects such as installing wells or arranging for medical centers. Others concern the family. At least once a year I get a new photograph of Reeta.

I am able to write letters to Reeta and her family, but these will need to be both translated and read to them, as no-one in Reeta’s immediate family is literate. Without a man in the house, this is fairly common. Though 70% of men in India are literate, only 48% of women are, and in rural areas the figure is much lower. This is a tragedy. It is women who bring up children. If India could afford to teach only half its children, the sensible thing would be to teach all the girls to read and write. For then, a generation later, all the mothers would be literate and all children would be taught to read by their mothers.

It is because of my passion for female literacy that I have always chosen to sponsor girls.

If you do decide to become a child sponsor through Plan, or any of the other charities involved in this type of work, you will be able to develop a real relationship with your foster child. This is by far the most rewarding way to give money to others. But, there are risks. Go into this with your eyes open. You will have real feelings for your foster child, and this can bring you pain as well as happiness. My first foster child died of chicken pox when she was just eight.

Though there was a medical center in the village provided by Plan, her parents took her to a witch doctor and sacrificed a chicken to try to save her. I was heart-broken when I heard the news, but also resolved to carry on. Maybe, one day, when all mothers in India can read and write, things like this will be much rarer.


Plan USA 800-556-7918

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