Sunday, January 17, 2010

Beginning at Home

By Lisabet Sarai

Michelle added her topic of “Charity” to our Get A Grip calendar a couple of weeks ago. I had intended to write about my experiences writing and editing smut for good causes, through the Coming Together series and the I Do anthology, which benefits the fight for marriage equality. Then came the Haitian earthquake. Suddenly altruistic erotica seemed almost trivial, although Coming Together has organized collections for several disasters including the southern California wildfires and hurricane relief.

Like many people, I've been stunned by the images of devastation and death coming from Haiti. Nature's cruelty has never been so apparent. In the best of times, many Haitians barely survive. Poverty, disease, violence and fear are Haiti's legacies from decades of dictatorship and a century of environmental pillage. Now to suffer this, on top of everything else--it is almost too much for me to grasp.

It is a gorgeous day here where I live, bright, sunny, breezy and pleasantly cool. I'm sitting in my comfortable apartment, typing on my laptop and enjoying a cold drink. In an hour or so I'm off to a university party. Haiti seems like a bad dream--but like a nightmare, I find that it haunts me. Whenever I begin to relax, I remember the multitudes--wounded, homeless, robbed of their families and their livelihood--on the other side of globe. A cloud crosses the sun.

I live in Asia. I was here during the 2004 tsunami, and I remember feeling the same way. I recall that terrible New Years Eve when everyone wore black. I feel helpless. What, after all, can I do? I've made a donation to Doctors without Borders (Medecins sans Frontiers, or MSF), but what is money in the face of such trouble, especially the meager amount I can afford? A part of me wants to hop a plane and fly to the Caribbean, to help with the rebuilding. To hold the hand of some woman who has lost a child. To cook and serve food to the many who must be hungry.

Practically speaking, I can't do this. But money seems like such a pale substitute for the personal gift of comfort--human to human.

I was thinking about this and came to a heartening conclusion. If I can't help a Haitian personally, I should reach out a hand to someone closer to home. I believe that we are all connected, that we share a spark that makes every person worthy of love and respect. And though I'm not traditionally religious, I remember Jesus' comments that to assist the least of his creatures was equivalent to serving him personally. (If I were religious, I could find the Scripture quote, but I hope you know what I'm talking about.) In some mysterious but I think real way, showing compassion in one part of the world will ultimately have positive effects somewhere else.

So today I resolve to give what I can of my time and my capabilities to my neighbors who might be less fortunate than I am. I'm not as helpless as I thought. Every kindness, every gesture of love or support, anywhere, adds to the sum of goodness circulating in our world. We're bound into a chain of love that transcends distance.

Maybe that sounds hokey or ridiculously innocent. But that's what I believe.

Meanwhile, here's what you can do. Leave me a comment. Tell me your thoughts about how we can help Haiti recover or your feelings about my post. For every substantive comment other than those by other Grippers, I'll donate another dollar to MSF.

Thank you.


  1. I am struggling. I want to contribute but also want to make sure the money I give makes it to those that need the help. I have already heard about internet scams and can't beleive someone would use this to scam money. I amthinking of the Red cross for my donation.

  2. Coming Together will double Lisabet's donation of a dollar for every substantive comment. (Gotta cap at $100, though. That's the balance of the promo account right now.)

    Lisabet: That's what I believe, too.

  3. I think what you are doing is a great idea. With people already weary of internet scams, any well-know organization like the Red Cross, or Doctors Without Borders are 'safe havens' for our money to go to.

    Thanks you for this initiative.

  4. Lisabet, compassion is never ridiculous or hokey. As human beings, we have the capacity for great compassion. What is ridiculous and sad is our propensity to dismiss the instinct to help another human being - or worse - to blatantly use the misery of so many innocent people to scam other people out of the desire to help (there should be a special place in jail and hell for those fleas of society).

    I really like your idea too of spending a day helping others in your part of the world. I believe that such positive action spreads out from the epicenter, much like when a pebble is dropped in a pond. Let the positive ripples flow...

  5. What a wonderful idea, Lisabet. And bravo to you too, Alessa. The images have haunted me too, along with the confusion of not knowing for certain - 40 thousand dead? 200 thousand? Beyond comprehension.

  6. I just wanted to say what a great idea.

  7. Sigh... As much as I want to donate and do, it is difficult to find groups on the ground that aren't taking huge amounts of each dollar donated for "organizational overhead." That's why I don't donate to the Red Cross anymore. And when dealing with a country like Haiti, you have to additionally worry about graft at the highest levels inside the country.

    For that reason, I tend to donate ITEMS. Yes, they can be stolen and unfairly distributed, but I've always felt that money, when someone needs meds and clothing and blankets, is rather backward. The stores have been looted or destroyed already. Of course, Haiti is complicated, since they aren't landing the sorts of planes that will take in mailed boxes of donations directly. If you can find a group taking in boxes with what they are buying themselves, that's always a good thing.

    When Katrina happened, I hooked up with an author who lived 50 miles or so outside of NOLA. Sure, she was rebuilding half of her own home, but she was willing to drive to the shelters and drop off boxes of supplies people outside were sending in. Clothing, toiletries, books, blankets, toys, and games going directly to those rendered without.

    Kudos to both of you for doing this. There is nothing shameful in altruism. Ever.

  8. What a great idea you are going to do. I can not imagine the horrid that area and people are going thru. I donated to a fund our store is doing and it seems so little compared to what that country is facing. Ia also think it is sad when people scams because of some one else's hardships. They must not have a heart. Good luck on your project. I know your heart is in the right place. susan L.

  9. I don't think it hokey or ridiculously innocent to think that kindness and love begets kindness and love. Just like negativity and fear can grow exponentially, so can kindness - one person passing it to the next is truly the only thing that will change the world.

    I think what you're doing is beautiful, and I'm happy to be part of your chain of kindness. Off to check out the Doctors Without Borders website to help a little more.

  10. Thank you for this, Lisabet.

    I think this unbelievably horrible event throws into relief what I think of as the double mandate for trying to reduce suffering: (1) charity per se, e.g., the immediate response to a catastrophe with our money or other forms of direct assistance; and (2) long-term efforts to address the chronic poverty of so much of the world.

  11. Hi Lisabet.

    This theme came at a good time, it seems. Who would have thought that a couple of weeks ago. Its amazing how lives of so many people can be turned upside down so suddenly.

    It always seems like its the poorest people who suffer in these things.

    Good post. I hope a million people comment on it.


  12. I like this post for two reasons. One you've shown everyone that money isn't everything. While Haiti needs money to rebuild they also need medical supplies, food, clean water, and so much more. our governements are tossing millions of dollars their way, but what really needs to happen is that we need to understand and empthazise with those who have dropped their 'lives' to pitch in.

    Secondly, you're correct. We need to do more at home. Being in a position where I've had to take help before, I know how humbling and emotional a person can get when someone - a stranger - offers them a hand out of a difficult situation.

    Bravo, my hat's off to you for this post and for the sentiments that are behind it. If everyone was a bit more open to helping each other - maybe we could solve some of the major problems that we have in today's world.

  13. The best way to help is to donate money. Charity Navigator rates the effectiveness of charities and has a list of organizations working in the Haiti relief.
    Although the Red Cross(3 stars) is not as effective as some of the others, I made a donation to them through my credit union as they were matching up to $50,000. I also gave to other organizations. FYI Doctors without Borders is 4 star.

  14. I wish I had money to donate to help the unfortunate souls caught in Mother Nature's wrath, but alas, the economy here in the U.S. has done comparable damage in some ways...not immediate death, but stealing homes, jobs, and dignity. Most of the instilling a greater fear for the future.

    I fall into the category of "victim" least to the point where donating more than $5.00 is out of my realm. Of course if we all did that, it would add up.

    Lisabet, your post stirred me even beyond my own desires to reach out and somehow heal a wounded heart. For those who absolutely can't fix Haiti, we can start here. There are so many people around us who need something...anything, and it might be as little as a smile. Give them one of yours, as the saying goes. It costs nothing and can really make a difference in a dark day.

    Thank you for posting today, Lisabet. I applaud you, not because the pictures on TV didn't touch us enough, but your words brought it home.


  15. I am proud of everyone I see trying to do their very best to help with the trauma.

    Most of all I am proud of my daughter and her school. They started with just collecting a dollar from every kid in the school. The kid donates a dollar and they get to wear their favorite hat for a day.

    Gives the people in need some help and the kiddies get a little something too. But what happens when you have kids who can't come up with a dollar.

    I know- a dollar you can usually find enough change but sometimes the kids don't get a chance.

    Well I will tell you what can happen. The kids who have already donated put their little heads together and make up for those who didn't have the money. One of the kids parents made sure enough was donated for every child in the school.

    But it gets even better. I work for a great company. At lunch as I was telling about the kids and the one parent my boss leans over the table and says I'll match whatever they donate.

    Just write a check.

    You see I work in the accounting department. So I go back to work and call the schhol, get the total, and a check is printed.

    Now this all was to say. Sometimes it can start with a dollar and go from there. Our money was donated to the Red Cross. And I hope our small amount can do a little bit to help.

    I was so pleased to see this post that I had to come over and post. Good job authors! You make me very proud!

    Crissy Smith

  16. I was briefly involved with Doctors Without Borders when I first moved to Northern California. They seemed like a class act. Out here we have the Text 90999 (I think that was it) where you punch in that number on your cell phone and they will donate $10 to Haiti charging you on your next cell phone bill. I believe as of Friday, they had $5 million donated from that effort.

    The compassion campaign is a good and I think a necessary one. Coming off of a consumptive Christmas where I watched my friends 10 year old get gifts costing more than $5,000, I've been thinking about how you teach spirtuality, compassion and gratitude to kids, especially kids that aren't introduced to any religious affiliaitons.
    I happen to like the ritual of religion. I don't like it when it leaves people out, though, or judges those that don't follow the tenets to a 'T', so I sometimes flounder myself on where to fill my spiritual need.
    I read something yesterday that inspired me. It was a writer who said she e-mails a friend every day to express her gratitude for the day, for their friendship, for whatever makes them feel thankful. Every day gratitude would probably overwhelm most of us, and would to some seem too much like a job, but maybe once a week would work. Think how hopeful the world would become.

    I caught the tail end of a Southern Cal show last night, I think maybe it was called The Hills. These people, most of them blonde,( I know that is such a cliche for SoCal which is where it takes place), were so without soul or spirit. Even their expressions and the way they talk was so flat. It made me feel sad for the twenty somethings that watch this show and think these people should be revered and emulated. They, too, need to be reminded of gratitude, of giving something back, of being a bigger person than their augmented bra cup size.

    Haiti can teach us all something. It is tragedy wrapped in a gift, the gift of compassion, which is I think what your post was all about...

    Mary Kennedy Eastham, Author, The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget, the upcoming novel Night Surfing and the short story collection The Possibilities of Love

  17. It's great seeing everyone come together for such a good cause. I just wish tragedy didn't have to be the catalyst.

    I think what you're doing is great, Lisabet.

    God bless.

  18. A truly wonderful idea. I have seen the incredibly powerful and emotional images on television of the horror Mother Nature has wreaked on the unfortunate souls of Haiti. It saddens me to see the destruction of not only material things, but of lives. Money will help with the material items, and will hopefully help in some small way.

    Crystal Butcher

  19. Great idea, Lisabet, quite a kick in the pants. I've stolen your idea for my post. Thank you, love.

  20. My daughter's school got on the ball with relief fund raising the day after the earthquake happened. They had a school dance on Friday after school, and all the kids were charged admission of $1 if they wanted to attend. They sold pop and pizza, where the money raised went into the fund. The teachers set up games for the kids to play for a small fee, with all of that money also going to the fund. They could also make donations of more if they wanted to.

    Whats better - all of the kids knew what they were raising the money for. It wasn't just an abstract concept. The teachers made sure the kids knew it was going to an organization to help in Haiti.

    I never imagined when I came up with this topic a few weeks ago that such a thing would happen. I sit and listen to the news and look at the pictures in a state of shocked horror.

  21. I am so impressed with your generousity in donating money to Doctors without Borders for all the supportive comments. I would like to do similar things, but I am currently jobless, and have to watch my money till I get another job. I have donated money and items in the past to disaster reliefs, and to co-workers who have had problems. I also try to help out closer to home by volunteering in other ways, with Habitat for Humanity, the SPCA, ect. I have also sent support letters/cards to the military overseas.

  22. What you are doing is a wonderful thing, both for Haiti and closer to home. I would love to be able to go to them and help with a smile, a word, a touch anything personal as they are needing that. To help someone closer to home at the same time proves that your charitable impulses arent for self-gratification and that is a beautiful thing. Being an individual with numerous medical problems who does not get out of the house except for doc visits I know that a little personal time from a friend is quite a mood lifter. So, I say to you, give what you can to Haiti and do what you can for someone closer who is hurting and say a prayer that all are taken care of thru God's grace! and you will have made a world of difference.....thanks for the thoughts and for the insight!


  23. thanks Lisabet...what Haiti needs is education, decent government...this is our country's third chance to get it right over there...we are a global community and it's time for the haves to help the have nots by teaching them skills, not by pouring in money which never reaches the majority of people can't eat a dollar bill, wear it, or shelter under is a great place to help people also

  24. Heartfelt thanks to all of you who have commented so far. I think each of us does what we can, what we are moved to do. I don't make a lot of money either--when I moved overseas I traded quantity for quality. I do believe that every gift has value, regardless of the quantity.

    I love the idea of sending a thank you to someone every day. I think that I'll try it. One great thing about being an author has been building a network of readers and colleagues whom I really care about.

    And thanks so much, Alessia, for your offer to double my donation!!

    More later...

  25. I have also donated to Doctors Without Borders since they have been in Haiti and, despite severe damage to their facilities, have been at ground zero since the quake hit, working.

    I wish I could go and help, as I'm sure many of us do. But this is the next best thing-to get funds to the organizations who can put it to good use right away.

  26. Another fabulous idea... and it's at terrible times such as these that the truth of our hearts is shown. And here there are many truly beautiful hearts.

  27. You're wonderful for doing this Lisabet. I can't even fathom what's happening in Haiti right now, and what's worse is more will die as they try to get help there.

    It's too much to think about. It makes me very sad.

  28. Well said, Lisabet.
    I feel the same way.
    Michaelle Jean, Governor-General of Canada (the Queen's representstive in this country) was born in Haiti, and she has appeared in tears in media reports on the disaster. I hope she didn't lose loved ones, but so many were killed & wounded that it's very likely. Doctors Without Borders has a good rep, so I will donate to them too.

  29. Lisabet,

    I'm sorry I'm so late to respond here. Life has been frantic this past week.

    Your generosity and compassion are now another two reasons why I enjoy being part of the Grip.




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