Are you a philanthropist?

When I was in Seattle last month, I was startled to be introduced to the amazon employees who came to hear my presentation as a philanthropist.  I associate that word with a person who has a kind heart–maybe a deep ethical stance–and financial resources to share with the world.  Ummm…me?  That last bit is probably the opposite of my life as starving artist.

The more I think about it, though, the more I know I’ve met all kinds of philanthopists in the past 10 years of volunteering with Ethiopia Reads (www.ethiopiareads.org)  Some of those philanthropists are awfully young.  Some have almost no money left over to share once they pay their bills.  Some, like me, might laugh at the label.

When the Ethiopia Reads board had conversations last year about this time with Dana Roskey, founder of the Tesfa Foundation, about whether we might start some deep collaboration, he said that he always tries to make decisions first with the children of Ethiopia in mind.  Second, he said, he thinks about donors.  “Most of our donors aren’t rich–and they deserve to know the impact their efforts are making.  Philanthropy shouldn’t be reserved only for the rich.”

It struck me as just right.

Since then, I’ve gotten to see some of the faces of the kids he was talking about that day, the ones who are in school because of the Tesfa Foundation and now will have books and libraries because of Ethiopia Reads.  I’ve had hundreds of conversations with Dana about the challenges of getting information to donors and volunteers, always time consuming and sometimes so tough that we don’t do it well in spite of our determination.

These last two months of the year are times when a lot of people consider joy…think about hope flickering like a light at the edge of darkness.   It’s a time when I’ll be deeply thankful for the philanthropists on my team.

November 6, I’ll be talking about Ethiopia Reads in Silver Spring, MD, thanks to Bete and Cindy and their team.

November 10, I’ll be doing author presentations and talking about Ethiopia Reads at Jefferson Middle School in Arlington, VA, thanks to Randy, one of the Fulbright-Hayes team.

November 12, I’ll have a chance to do a presentation at Covenant Church in Doylestown, PA–a benefit for Ethiopia Reads–with the artist who created the pictures for my books about Lanie, American Girl Doll of the Year 2010 and with the girl who was his model for the pictures.  A big thank-you to Terry and her team.

December 15, I may or may not have the chance to be part of an event in New York City just being planned by Tigist and her team.

December 17, I’ll be speaking at an auction being organized by the mom of these young philanthropists in Seattle.  Thanks, Ellenore.

http://www.ethiopiareads.org/CampaignProcess.aspx?A=View&VID=7093188&KID=154944 for a few more details and some GREAT pictures.

A donor asked me today what keeps me enthused and going with Ethiopia Reads, knowing how draining and demanding volunteer work can be.  I found myself saying this…I believe almost anyone I know would respond if I said something like this: in your community, you can touch the most brilliant, motivated, determined kids and families and get them excited about books.

Well, that’s how it is in Ethiopia.

In many of our U.S. communities–since we’ve been pretty good problem solvers–the problems left are pretty intractible.  People like me without much time or money don’t know if we can make a difference.  When it comes to the projects in Ethiopia, not so.  I absolutely know that people like Julie and Ellenore and Tafesse and Dana and Tigist and Frew and Ann and Chris and so many others are flinging seeds that will root and grow.

 Being an artist is often like knocking myself against a rock.

Creating books takes everything I’ve got.

Selling them?

Swoon.

But sharing books through Ethiopia Reads?  Seeing readers respond to other readers and spread the stories?

Easy-peasy to figure that one out.

That’s joy.

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