Sunday, September 9, 2007

"Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World"

Bill Clinton's "Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World" (Hardcover)

Whatever reconsiderations BuzzFlash or our readers may have about the triangulating, globalization, welfare cutting policies of the former head of the DLC, we still consider Bill the Big Dog.

He was a Democrat who knew how to fight for his territory, and whatever his "centrist" shortcomings, America was a better place for his 8 years of service (and let's not forget Al Gore). He left our nation in a fiscally sound position and at peace. It took the GOP Bush/Cheney goon squad just a short time to trash the country -- and the world. With Bill Clinton as president, we could push for more progress and we knew that our Constitution was protected, instead of having to wake each morning to a new horror and travesty, as incompetent, arrogant fools trash our nation's freedom and put our national security increasingly at risk.

And Clinton, who we met personally on a few occasions, was as charismatic and personable as they come. He wanted you to like him, SO much. You just couldn't help it.

But enough of the BuzzFlash commentary, Clinton's new book (released on September 4th) has nothing to do with any of this.

Bill Clinton's "Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World" is a Jimmy Carteresque exhortation for all of us to follow the famous Margaret Mead quotation: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

More precisely, it is about how one person -- each of us -- can take actions that make the world a better place by the action of our own hands.

One online reviewer writes:

"Even conservatives will like this book. It's interesting, inspiring, clearly written, not at all political and, believe it or not, only a tad self-centered. Filled with dozens, maybe hundreds, of specific examples of charitable individuals and successful grassroots programs, it argues -- in fact, proves -- that you don't have to be a big shot to make the world a better place. Clinton clearly believes in what he writes; the book is passionate and powerful on topics that, in our hands, would be detached and dull.

Besides the subject matter, what I liked best about the book is its organization. Written so you don't have to read it all at once, it breaks down philanthropy into six different categories, and gives each its own chapter. Those are:

* Giving time
* Giving things
* Giving skills
* Giving "gifts of reconciliation and new beginnings" (citing everything from the efforts of Nelson Mandela to PeacePlayers International, a group that sets up basketball leagues in the Middle East)
* Giving gifts that keep on giving (such as the work of Heifer International, which gives millions of poor farmers free cows -- as long as they agree to donate one its first offspring to someone else)
* Giving to good ideas

Clinton also cites examples of successful charitable programs that are easy to use as model strategies for your own ideas, how businesses can make money out of acting in the public interest, and what roles governments (not just Washington, but cities and states) can play."

Yes, it's an easy read and a bit overly effusive at times, but it's got the right spirit.

Who can argue with Clinton's premise or his or Jimmy Carter's examples of their lives after their presidencies?

Excerpt from the book:

A few years ago Sheri Saltzberg and Mark Grashow of New York, recently retired from public health administration and teaching, went to Zambia for a wedding. Their son suggested they go to Zimbabwe to visit a family that had befriended him and to see Victoria Falls. While they were there, they visited several schools and were appalled to see that there were no textbooks, empty libraries, no science equipment, no basic school supplies, and often no school breakfast or lunch.

When they got home they founded their own NGO, the U.S.-Africa Children's Fellowship, and formed a partnership with the Zimbabwe Organization of Rural Associations for Progress, which had been working since 1980 to help improve the economy and education in individual communities.

Over the next two years, they located thirty-five U.S. schools to partner with thirty-five schools in Zimbabwe, and they've shipped four forty-foot containers to the schools, with more than 150,000 books, school supplies, toys, games, sports equipment, bicycles, clothing, sewing machines, agricultural tools, and other items. They raise funds for items needed but not donated–school uniforms, locally printed books, and educational materials and scholarships.

In the U.S. partner schools, Mark and Sheri try to give students an appreciation for what life is like for their counterparts in Zimbabwe. American kids learn that the kids in their partner school often get up at 5 a.m. to walk several miles to school, may well have nothing to eat, and may have lost one or both parents to AIDS. They also learn that many kids don't go to school at all because they can't afford the school fees, uniforms, or even a notebook and pencil; they have to work to support or stay home to care for a sick parent or younger sibling; or they don't have shoes and can't walk long distances in winter. The American children are empowered to take action—collecting donations and writing letters to the Zimbabwean students.

Mark and Sheri themselves fly to Zimbabwe as each shipment arrives and help distribute the donations to the schools. "The effects of the shipment have far exceeded anything we dreamed of" says Mark. "For the first time, students can take books home to read. Five percent of the kids in the seventh grade used to pass reading tests; now it's 60 percent. Three years ago, only one student in his district passed his A-level exams for university. This year, thirty-eight students passed. There are now art and sewing classes. Soccer flourishes because there's an abundance of soccer balls. Attendance in many kindergartens has increased threefold due to the introduction of toys. In September we'll increase the schools we partner with from thirty-five to fifty." The program has proven so successful, there's now a waiting list of three hundred schools.

Why did they do this? Mark says, "I believe that each of us has an obligation to level the playing field of life. Schools that have no books, communities without water, and people without access to medical care are not someone else's problem. We all have a capacity to make a difference somewhere. We just have to decide if we have the will to do it."

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