Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Warm N' Fuzzy Fundraising Story

Asking for money is probably one of the most awkward experiences I can imagine. I was the little girl who never sold the most girl scout cookies, who didn't sell anything from catalogs that my elementary schools had students hawk out, I just didn't want to ask because it is AWK-WARD

And 6 months ago I decided that I wanted to go to Vietnam to build homes for rural families in need with Habitat for Humanity. That's all well and good, but it meant that I had to raise 2500 to go there. 2500 be raised by the girl who hated hawking girl scout cookies, easily one of the most sell-able products in history.

I felt overwhelmed with the undertaking, and though it's a great cause, I almost immediately regretted taking it on. I was overwhelmed about raising the full amount and petrified of the potential rejections that were looming in the horizon.

I know, my mantra should have been to think positive, but I'm a realist, and the amount was daunting. I looked at other members of Habitat who had taken on this task. Many were board members who were successful and self-funded, or had connections to other successful people who could donate. Habitat staff and Americorp volunteers that went last year often had their parents chip in. I love my parents, but that was not a possibility in my case.

This led to a lot of tossing and turning at night wondering how any of my goals were going to be accomplished regarding this trip. I knew it was a good cause, I helped with Habitat in college, and Roberto is currently working with Habitat through Americorp (it is through him that I joined the effort). I wanted to help and have the experience, but getting there would be a journey for sure.

And it has been. However, instead of a crushing horizon of rejection, I received wave after wave of support. This support was not given in huge donations by rich folk. It was given by my best friends, friends new and old, from different coasts, countries and even by people I had just met. To say I was surprised is an understatement; I was floored. Most of my friends are in the same boat as me, working in the non-profit sector or in the early stages of their careers. It was emotional for me to see them give anyways,  as they wholeheartedly supported me from the beginning.

Together, my friends and I can accomplish anything...
I was touched by the ideas that friends came up with to support me. My good friend Brennan offered the idea to donate one of her yoga classes to this fundraising effort. She worked hard to put a class together and it was a success as friends and co-workers came out for yoga for a cause. Another friend of mine is a self published author who offered to set up a book sale and donate the proceeds. Seriously, I have awesome friends.

Also, while on the other side of the country on the East coast, I re-connected somewhat randomly with an old contact from my university I had lost touch with. I spoke with him briefly about my passion for human rights and about this trip. Afterwards, I flew back to California to find out later that he had donated hundreds of dollars to this trip.

Recently, I was flying back from a conference in Washington DC (see prior blog entry) and ended up sitting next to a young Army ranger who had just finished his basic training. We ended up talking for the entire trip (5 hours! but if you know me, this fact won't be surprising; hence the name of this blog) and exchanged contact information. A week later he let me know that he also wanted to contribute. My jaw dropped at the amount and tears came to my eyes. I was so surprised and touched, not just by the money, but by the kind note of support he included with his donation.

And that is really the point of this post. This experience was strangely enough, not about the money.  It was about the coming together of my personal community, of my network to wish me well and invest in my effort to go abroad to help others. THAT is what is amazing to me. Many of my friends were unable to support monetarily, but sent me e-mails wishing me well and encouraging me. Every positive word and genuine sentiment strengthened my resolve and filled me with gratitude.

Yes, that means YOU!

I will be leaving for my trip on February 24th and will be in Vietnam till March 10th. Deep in my heart, I feel as if this undertaking will only widen the doors of my commitment to making the world a better place. It is a commitment that is the foundation of my life and it is empowering to now have the opportunity to experience the act of helping in a country on the other side of the globe. I do not have that much international experience, growing up, my family did not have the money to travel, not even to my parents home country of Bangladesh. But I have always dreamed of experiencing the world, its people, its cultures, sharing in its triumphs and tragedies. I want to experience humanity, because for me, I look past language, geography and even cultural differences to see the connections within, the connections that are so much stronger than many of us realize.

I do know the names and backgrounds of two of the farming families we will be helping. I cannot wait to meet them and work alongside them to help them build their new home. If they are comfortable, I hope that they will let me take their pictures and share their story and the story of their community with the world.

Click here to check out the Habitat Vietnam site =)
Vietnam will be a very new and exciting experience for me. Though I will be there for 2 weeks, I hope to take in this experience as richly as I can. I am in the process of connecting with some non-profits on the ground who may allow me to photograph with their permission. With their blessing, I would want to share the stories of human rights work happening on the ground in Vietnam.  Roberto and I are also hoping to use this build trip as a stepping stone to perhaps even orchestrate a build in Bangladesh, my parents home country, along with the NJ based development non-profit (Em)Power. We are sharing connections with this exciting group so this trip may open amazing new doors of opportunity for us to have a greater impact on the world.

I will be sure to share my experiences with you all soon (barring any internet connection issues). THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone for their kind words, monetary and spiritual support and encouragement. You all rock, and I cannot wait to pay this kindness forward.

THANK YOU so much, with your help, I will soon be on my journey (sans 80's hair band)