I want to signal boost a funding campaign that strikes me as really worthwhile, but that hasn't been getting as much publicity as it deserves. It's called "Tunapanda" which, according to their site, is "a Swahili word which can mean 'we are planting,' 'we are growing,' and 'we are climbing'".

Personally I think they're missing out on some great potential for the most amusing/terrifying mascot ever via the English interpretation... but I digress.

Here's their IndieGoGo page:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/tunapanda-free-education-for-all

The basic idea is this: they're based out of Kenya, where the government funds education through the 8th grade, and a lot of people can't afford to go to high school. But hey look, sites like the Khan Academy have most of a high school curriculum available for free online, and there are other sites where one can learn software development and college-level topics too!

The problem is that in Kenya bandwidth is crazy expensive, making these resources unavailable to the people who could get the most out of them. So Tunapanda's goal is to create offline versions or workalikes of a selection of these courses that can all fit on a hard drive and/or DVDs, no Internet required, and set up a facility in Nairobi where Kenyan teachers can get the equipment and training they need to use them.

I can't say I have as strong a grasp on the nuances as I would like, but people talk about charity that makes developing nations dependent on more charity vs charity that helps them become self-sufficient on their own terms, and this seems pretty solidly in the latter camp. Remember a while back there was that guy from a rural village in Africa who figured out how to build his own wind power generator from books at the library? I recall seeing an interview with him, where he was talking about coming to the US and being introduced to Google, and once he grasped it, saying to himself "where was this all the time I was in the library?! It would have been so much easier!". In the absence of ubiquitous bandwidth, this seems like the next best thing, and they're doing everything through partnerships with local Kenyan orgs and educators.

So please take some time to read through their site, and consider donating.

P.S. A heads-up to tech/ed people: I'm considering organizing a code-a-thon in a month or so to try and assist them with tech issues (for example: http://www.tunapanda.org/topic/web-design-basics/). Lemme know if you'd be interested.
(I feel like this post isn't quite polished yet, but I've been working on it for days and have read, re-read and tweaked it a gajillion times, stressing myself out in the process. I think now it's time for me to go ahead and put it out there, if only so I can go to bed. It's long but it's personal and I think it's important. It's also something I might want to spread further once I've gotten some feedback, so I hope people can take the time to read it)

An old friend of mine is visiting after a couple of weeks at the Occupy Wall Street event. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I have... mixed feelings about OWS, but those are for another post. Suffice it to say, my friend and I have been having some very engaging and provocative (but civil) conversations on the subject, and while I have my misgivings about its organization and approach, I agree (of course) that there are some fundamental problems with the way our society interfaces with money, and that I would like to see change. If you have not been reading We Are The 99%, stop reading this, read that, and be upset about it.

It got me thinking a lot about "ok, what can I do?", which leads me to this post.

Before I go on, I need to explain why what I'm going to write about here is kind of uncomfortable for me. This post is, in part, about philanthropy. Specifically, philanthropy in which I'm involved. I believe that acts of charity should be done discretely, and that the act is sullied if one broadcasts one's actions, giving the impression of doing it for reputation rather than to help for helping's sake. In addition, I tend to be very self-conscious around issues involving money generally, and have a lot of my own issues wrapped up in same. For these reasons I've talked to almost no one about a project in which I've been involved for years, but now I wonder if it might be better to be more open about it and my motivations, so this post is a sort of coming out about that project.

For the last three years I've given 10% of my income (less taxes) every month to causes I think/hope are helping to make the world a better place. I do this because I believe that I, along with most in my situation, owe what success I've had in part to the dumb luck of circumstance, that we are all in this together, and that we owe it to one another to do what we can to even the playing field, even if only a little*. I believe the old notion (which I don't expect many on my flist to espouse, but I've been thinking more globally) that the prosperous are so only by virtue of being more ambitious or making better choices is poisonous in its lack of perspective.

I'm not fabulously wealthy, but I make enough to be putting a decent amount into savings each month, and that's enough more than so many equally talented, creative, and wonderful people I know, not to mention millions I don't know, that it bothers me, because I'm aware that it is in part just the flip of a coin that separates my circumstances and theirs.

In part. Have I worked hard? Of course I have, and that's important, and I'm very proud of it. This isn't about devaluing effort and ambition, nor excusing a lack thereof, but acknowledging that what my effort has allowed me to do is make the most of advantages I've had, like parents who had the will and financial ability to help me go to college without incurring boatloads of debt, interests and aptitudes that lend themselves to a field that is both valuable and lucrative, and plain old fortunate timing. If I'd been graduating college with self-taught Linux and coding experience and a degree in philosophy now instead of in the middle of the .com boom, I would probably be screwed-- instead I ended up with an $18/hr internship at Cisco that I got by happening to call the guy who was hiring for it about a room he was renting. These are not things I did, they are things I got, and then worked to make the most of. When I acknowledge this to myself, I conclude that my prosperity is not entirely my own, and feel compelled to give something back, so I started doing this "secular tithe"**.

The reason I'm writing about this now is the realization that maybe a small thing I can do is to be more pubic about this project and the beliefs behind it. I don't want to make it sound like I think I'm the first person to think this way, that I expect this to make everything better, or that it's comparable to being involved in more direct ways, but if enough others do it and say they're doing it, maybe it becomes something: a popular movement to decide to view prosperity, and the attainment of same, differently, to acknowledge that there's not as much difference between us as we've been told, and to choose to distribute prosperity. There's nothing wrong with a comfortable life, but if you are fortunate enough to have excess for savings, consider: would the work you've done to get where you are have yielded the same results if you'd been born to different parents, with a different personality, a less healthy body, a few years later, or a few towns over? What about halfway around the world? And if you swapped places with that hypothetical other you, wouldn't you be better off if whoever inherited your circumstances gave something back? Consider also, what would you lose by committing 10%, or even 5%, of what you make to regular support for charities and activist organizations working toward changes you want to see? I'm single with no kids, supporting only myself, which means this is the perfect time in my life for this project. Giving 10% back means it will take me a bit longer to save up for a house. I can totally deal with that.

If you agree and are one of the fortunate, consider adapting this project for yourself and being a patron of change. If you already do so, say so. Let it be known. Advocate.

If you agree but have more time than money, Charity Navigator has a search feature that can help you find local charities and Idealist.org has similar features for finding activist causes. How much change could be brought about by the energy of things like Occupy $LOCATION being put into focused volunteerism and activism?

If you agree but have neither time nor money in excess, and I know the majority of the people on my flist probably fall into this category, remember this idea if/when things change for you.

If you don't agree, feel free to comment or email. I'm still figuring out how best to articulate and act upon these beliefs, and would welcome discussion.

I know I'm not the only one who thinks this way, and maybe I'm not the only one doing a project like this. Maybe lots of people do it (or would do it if they could) but aren't saying anything, so we all assume it's a strange thing. I would love to find that this idea is not strange, and if it is, I want to work toward a world in which it isn't.



* = If you'll excuse the tangent, I'm sometimes saddened by the perception that atheists aren't as or more devoted to charity than religious people (and maybe that's just a stereotype anyway, I guess I don't really know). After all, we're the ones who believe that you only get the one life, and that all we have is each other. That's precious; far too precious to justify indifference toward those who would work to live differently if they could. I'm not against personal responsibility for making bad choices, but there should always be a way out, and I want my good fortune to facilitate the work of organizations that provide ways out (and ways to avoid getting in).


** = It should be noted that I take this idea from my LDS upbringing, though in Mormonism you give 10% of your income (before taxes) directly to the church.
My friend [livejournal.com profile] m_shell is a doctor at the Lyon-Martin clinic in SF. From the "about us" section of their page:

The mission of Lyon-Martin Health Services (LMHS) is to provide excellent health care to women and transgender people in a safe and compassionate environment with sensitivity to sexual and gender identity; services are provided regardless of ability to pay.

Sadly, this is not the best business model to have during a recession, and the clinic recently announced that it was going to have to close. The response from the community since then has been overwhelming: in the two weeks since the announcement, donors have pledged to provide more than half of the $500,000 the clinic will need to stay open long enough to complete an external evaluation that will hopefully find a way to make it viable in the long-run. It's possible that even then they will have to close, but right now they're just fighting to have that chance, and in the mean-time the doors remain open and they continue to offer care and a safe place to an under-served population.

If you have something to give and are looking for a good cause, you could do worse than to look here.

If you don't have something to give but want to support them another way you can spread the word, or even just like them on FB.

Their website with a paypal donations button is here.
The "Save Lyon-Martin" FB page is here

They'd appreciate any help people can offer.
Posted a couple of months ago about people I know who are doing various charitable fundraisers, and since then that number has only grown, so if you're looking for a good cause to throw some goodies at, please consider the following:

[livejournal.com profile] how_low_am_i is participating in the Relay For Life

[livejournal.com profile] ladysprite and [livejournal.com profile] tpau are participating in the Susan G. Komen walk (click either name to donate)

@TeaAddictedGeek is doing the Avon Walk
Haven't posted in a while, so why not a political screed?

To quote [livejournal.com profile] londo:

"""
The Archdiocese of D.C. is apparently threatening to pull all social services/break relevant contracts with the city if they pass a certain non-discrimination law primarily dealing with homosexual couples.

Washington Post article

Don't take my or the WP's word for it. Read the Archbishop's op-ed yourself, on his own website.
"""

...or, if I may paraphrase the archbishop:

"But... but we want to take public money and be dicks to a sizeable portion of the public!"

Cry me a river.

To me the most irritating thing in that op-ed was the repeated use of the phrase "recognize and promote", as if the one follows from the other. This notion that acknowledging the existence, or even the legality, of something promotes it, or put another way, that refusing to acknowledge such things is a legitimate or constructive way to express disapproval, pisses me off something fierce.

If the poor babies have that hard a time complying with the law by offering equal benefits to equally committed couples in their employ, and then have the special mix of nerve and idiocy required to cite "the creation of children" as justification for such behavior, and then even have to think about whether their discomfort around that is more important than the charitable services they provide, then boy oh boy do I hope to enjoy the view of them in my rear-view mirror as they're consigned to the past. Good riddance.

One thing about religion, though, is that it's a force-multiplier for the worst and the best in people. In other words, the churches get charity done, so I can't fully mean the previous paragraph until there are more secular charities, motivated by nothing more or less than the belief that each other is all we have, to take their place. If anybody knows some good ones, lemme know. I'm looking to donate.

/vent.

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