THE United States has plenty of affluent do-gooders who are taken with the idea that with their experience and creativity they could harness expertise and money to better the lives of people in the developing world.
I know now, seven years after founding my own global charitable organization, that this is possible though often problematic. You need to have a lot of passion, energy and wits, but so must the people overseas who are helping you.
Working on Wall Street years ago, I encountered a mosaic of people of diverse ethnicities and personalities, all happily pursuing the almighty dollar. I realized that, with a mutual cause, all differences are surmountable.
At the time, I was spending weekends contentedly rescuing dogs and cats from the streets of New York. But I was interested in doing something to help the world. Asked by an Indonesian friend to travel with him to his hometown in the Celebes Islands, I jumped at the chance and off we went. My life was about to turn dramatically.
By happenstance, we drove by an orphanage, and I felt drawn to visit it. I was intrigued. Over the years, orphanages have been phased out in the United States, replaced by foster care. Stepping inside the dimly lighted facility, I was overcome by the extraordinarily poor conditions. There was plenty of loving care, but the facility itself was dilapidated. If these children only had more money for food and shelter -- about $600 a year would do it, I figured -- they could thrive. What could I personally do to make this happen?
One infant literally stood out from the others, and his pleading yet determined eyes seemed to demand that I take him home with me. His name was Mathew. He was 10 months old.
The connection between us was immediate, and after talking to my fianc? I agreed to adopt him. The staff asked that his undershirt, full of holes, be left for the next child.
Within a year Mathew had cleared Indonesian and American bureaucracies and was in my arms at Kennedy Airport.
Before Matt arrived, I had discussed what I had witnessed with a sharp-minded child psychologist in Boston -- Frances Dudley Alleman-Luce, my mother and friend. I could not stop thinking about the other infants at the orphanage, existing in such Dickensian conditions, worse than New York's animal shelters. They could not all be adopted, but they could be helped. My mother and I talked about ways we could do that.
Then came the denouement: ''Mom, guess what?'' I said. ''I adopted that little boy -- you are now his grandmother!'' It took her only seconds to realize that the theoretical was now deeply personal -- and a new page in our family history had been turned. The matriarch of our family, with deep roots in Puritan and Anglican New England, had been given a Chinese-Indonesian grandson.
When Matt came, she immediately embraced him as her own and gave him the same tour of Harvard Yard that she had given me as a child, pointing out our family's roots there. Today he is your average New York City teenager.
Solutions to the overall problems I had encountered in the Celebes Islands had to exist. My mother studied my inclination to give love and affection to the needy and challenged me to conceptualize my aim to improve the lives of orphans.
So was born the idea of a surrogate foster care system in developing nations. My concept was based on small homes with only four children and a house parent at each dwelling. My vision was to raise orphaned children from toddlers to adulthood the way I would raise my son. This simple notion is now codified as ''Mathew's Rule.'' Could Mathew thrive here? This is our strict and primary criteria.
My mother died in 2001, and in her will she designated money with the hope that I would begin Orphans International. Given my heritage -- from a co-founder of Harvard (Thomas Dudley) to the founder of the Naval War College (Stephen Bleecker Luce) -- perhaps she believed institution-building was in my genes.
We incorporated Orphans International in Indonesia later that year, and opened our first home in Sulawesi. In 2002, we incorporated in New York and began raising money here. We started work in Haiti in 2003, eventually opening a home in Gona?s.
Then, the tsunami slammed across the Indian Ocean from Indonesia to Sri Lanka. Contributions poured in, from my own Roosevelt Island community and from prominent families around the world that had heard about us through word of mouth. We placed staff on the ground-- actually in the mud -- within days in Aceh, Indonesia, quickly set up a home and embraced our first tsunami orphans with love and compassion. I thought of my mother.
When the wave smashed Sri Lanka, a young Sri Lankan-American couple were caught in its deadly grasp on a beach near Galle. The husband was washed away. His American wife survived. In his memory, her father pledged to build an orphan village in Sri Lanka.
Backed by our board, we built a United Nations-associated nongovernmental organization. Our umbrella organization is Orphans International Worldwide, with our administrative office staffed by volunteers in Lima, Peru, and our volunteer internship program in New York. This structure enables us to maintain a low overhead; our latest audit shows less than 8 percent spent on administration.
To underwrite these efforts, we created the usual Founder's Circle, President's Circle and Advisory Board -- each group with specific financial commitments. Since we became associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information, Matt's Rule has been fleshed out and become a standard for orphanages in the developing world.
After the tsunami, I resigned my Wall Street job to dedicate myself to increase financing, build programming and assure compliance with our global standards. Tremendous progress has been achieved with honest, supportive and caring local professionals. We had hoped they would help us avoid the setbacks -- including countless cases of nepotism and corruption -- that we have encountered. They have to some degree, but challenges still occurred.
For example, a board member for one of our programs pressured us to hire his mistress as our director and rent his brother's mansion as our orphanage. No. A staff member saw dollar signs after the tsunami and the millions in aid flowing after, and announced he was taking over the organization. No. Another officer, with me for two years, could not account for funds. Again, no. How can anyone betray their own children?
Despite these behind-the-scene battles, we are on the ground in 12 countries and have an annual budget of a half-million dollars, with projects in Haiti, Indonesia and Peru and opening in Sri Lanka. Interestingly, Sri Lanka is the only country in which we have never been cheated. There we have not faced corruption, but rather the slow torture of a bureaucracy. I believe our project there, which is about to accept its first children, may become the model for our global efforts.
Orphans International has become my calling, and it can be a dangerous one. Last summer in Haiti, out for a swim with our local director and two of our children, we were attacked by a mob of people who thought we were kidnapping their children. The Haitian police saw the danger and rescued us but were themselves overrun by the violent crowd. Ultimately, we were saved by United Nations peacekeeping soldiers.
Ultimately, I believe, patience, trust, good will and the Internet make our efforts possible. We communicate with our 218 volunteers across time zones by e-mail, instant messaging and Skype. Plaxo, Facebook and LinkedIn also play a role in our outreach. Plans are for our child sponsors to be able to greet their children directly via Skype.
As on Wall Street, the 100-hour weeks continue, except now I no longer receive a salary or annual bonus. In 2006, I cashed in my retirement plan savings to keep our efforts afloat. My focus continues to be pursuing the almighty dollar -- only now for others.
PHOTOS: WELCOME: Jim Luce with orphans from the 2004 tsunami. (pg.H1); CALLING: Jim Luce hoisting Ishaq, a tsunami orphan, above. Mr. Luce with his son, Mathew, whom he adopted as a baby, far left. Left, children gather in the Orphans International residence in Gona�ves, Haiti. (PHOTOGRAPHS BY ORPHANS INTERNATIONAL) (pg.H38)
There are times in everyone life when the person introspects himself and wish to do something for the happiness and satisfaction of soul. I also had such moment and then a thought of doing something for the good cause evolved in me. I wanted to do something selflessly for someone and help the society which eventually will satiate my soul and give me peace. I joined an organization which helps poor children by providing them education and teach them to cope up with life as an orphan. Government provides them support but that is not enough. In my view, they need more care and a guide who can hold their hand and show them the right path.
My part of betterment of society would include teaching computers to such students. I feel that computer education is necessary for everyone in current times and thus by utilizing my skills and utter dedication towards helping the needy people, I would teach them to stand face to face with the current technological needs.
I am seriously excited about my involvement in the society. Helping someone selflessly and seeing that you can be of value to someone is truly satisfying. The thing which my soul is seeking is the happiness, the sparkle of achievement in the eyes of those children when they would gain knowledge and would be able to make their life worthwhile. Though, I am nervous too about the extent by what I will be able to provide what they seek from me. Every person has expectations and even those students would have some expectations from me. I wish to fulfill their expectations and want to support them and affect their lives in a positive way. This experience will help me too and give me a chance to explore the horizons of society. I would be able to expand my world and learn about my own limits by which I can be worth in a society. This would also give me a chance to experience the life, the experiences and everything what those orphans have faced. It would take me to their world which surely would make me a person who would be sensitive and would see the world in a better way.
Journal Entry 2: Initial Reactions
Thinking about volunteering and helping the needy people is one thing and helping in reality is a different world altogether. The expectations, the thoughts and the planning would help, but only to an extent as the things are totally different on paper and in actual.
Before I started volunteering my thought was that I would just go and teach computers to the children and they would simply learn things as it happens in the school. Well, it did not happen this way. I was really shocked and amazed by the way things turned up. I never actually gave a thought that an orphanage is not a school and it is a different world where each child lives in his or her own mini world too. It is easy to deal with the children who came to orphanage when they were infants though, the children who came to orphanage after few years of start of their lives, it is really difficult and not a normal task. They all carry some emotional baggage which may be because of their past memories or the things which have happened in their lives before. Teaching them straight is not the way it was expected.
It was like a challenge standing in front of me to connect myself emotionally to them and be their friend, which will help them be comfortable with me and learn what I intend to teach them. I needed to make a place for myself in their lives, their hearts and then have a connection which would act like a bridge between us.
Journal Entry 3: Delving into the Culture
An orphanage is a place where happiness is not seen a lot of times. The children are emotionally unsecure and always look for solace through someone or something. The children from different kinds of societies, regions and countries stay in orphanage. Again, this difference is inexistent in the children who came here when they were infants as whatever they learned has been through the orphanage only. But, there are some children who are from various parts of the world and who have different cultures imbibed in them since birth which cannot be washed easily.
What I have felt is that the language of words is not important if you wish to connect with the students. It has never been a problem to me as children connect through emotions rather than words. Thus the language of feelings is more important than language of words. I have had experiences with teaching children who do not speak English, but still I was able to connect to them emotionally and helped them understand things which my language skills could not do. Yes, there are some limitations because of the language barriers but both children and me put efforts together and surpassed this limitation.
The orphanage is a mini world where you would find children of different religions, regions and some students do carry their past life with them, which inculcates different culture in them. I as a person did not pay attention to the differences but the similarities and the factors which joined us as a person. This is the culture which I faced in the orphanage which I learned by seeing the children of different cast and creed joined by the hearts. This humanity, this innocence is what separates them from the real world outside this orphanage where people are ready to fight for their religion, their region and are busy in enmity to an extent that they don’t have time for love.
I really felt happy that because of my volunteering and the thought of helping the society, I have seen different aspects of life and each day is a new experience for me. The organization which I have joined is the reason behind this chance which has changed my outlook towards the life. The organization is “One World 365” which helps people all over the world through its belief that a world can be a better place if we consider it to be ours and work towards joining hands rather than cutting them. It is a business group who has a huge volunteer group worldwide and helps the society by providing benefit options to the needy people. They are into this noble cause from past 25 years and have always been upfront to help the needy and serve the world. They have their supporters all over the world and people who volunteer are present in each major city in every country which is their actual power by which they stand tall.
They have only one mission, “Unite the world and make it a better place”. They aim towards eradicating the geographical and religion differences in this world and helping the needy people by providing them with their needs. Since 25 years, they are putting complete efforts towards their goals and have achieved success each day to fulfill it. There are various projects running all over the world which help people in one way or the other. Each volunteer works selflessly and devote himself 100% towards the noble cause for the society.
The best part about this NGO is that they do believe everyone as a part of their family. Each volunteer is their family and no one is a boss. We all are family members who are out there to help people with equality among us. This kind of environment has given each volunteer a sense of ownership and it enhances the dedication which we have and the motivation which makes us serve the society.
Journal Entry 4: Health and Human Services
I am really happy to join “One World 365” because I feel that their vision and beliefs are matching my visions and beliefs. I have always been thoughtful about overall development of the society and I think that if we need to make the world a better place to live in, we need to work from all of the directions so that no aspect of the world is left behind.
In this world, there are three most important things which society needs to make the world a better place. First is food, which is important to stay alive. Second is education which would uplift the minds of each individual and thus the world as a whole. Third and last would be health. Each person needs proper health and medical assistance from time to time. There is nothing more important than being healthy; if you are not healthy, you cannot do anything else even if you intend to. My this belief is shared by “One World 365” fully and they have various health and well being programs all over the world which provides medical assistance, emergency services and guidance to people. They have affiliation with many hospitals all over the world who serve the society and the world by providing health care to the needy people who are not able to get the assistance which they deserve.
“One World 365” is a complete help oriented organization which provides medical services ranging from emergency services, critical illness treatments, organ donations, blood banks, epidemic services and medical schools. They serve the people by not just one way of treating them and providing medical assistance. They also provide education to the students who wish to become doctors, nurses and other medical technicians because it is very important to support the students who wish to help the needy and serve the people by providing them better health. Another very important aspect which the organization covers is the awareness and educating the society about health and medical issues. As per various reports, there are many myths about different illnesses and medical conditions in the world. Moreover, many diseases are caused by the lack of knowledge and unawareness about some facts. Thus educating and guiding people is really important which helps people live a healthy lifestyle and save their good health for a long time.
A volunteer organization has a true aim to serve the society and provide a better life to people in the world. It is a perfect platform for people who wish to help selflessly and commit themselves towards the betterment of people around them. These kinds of organizations act as a team which joins hands and work effectively to provide great things to the society and eradicating the ill aspects which are prevalent in the world. Though it is seen as a noble cause and everyone loves being a part of it, but still there are many obstacles which people face traversing the path of nobility. As per my experience there are many obstacles such as some government rules which collide with the practical situations and which suppress our power to help the needy. The second obstacle which I faced was more of a trust factor which does takes a time to build up between the needy and the provider. It took me some time to build the trust between the children and me but eventually this obstacle was broken down.
Journal Entry 5: Post-Volunteer Processing
The whole volunteering task was an enlightening process for me. It helped me introspect and break the boundations of my thinking and beliefs which were limited before this project. I did teach the orphan children computers and gave them the knowledge which they needed to survive in the society and face the world when they come out of the orphanage. The world is a cruel place with a lot of competition in each field and education is the weapon which helps every person to fight and win the war against it. I played the role of provider of that weapon which they hold proudly and are gearing up for the battle. I added value to their lives in the form of education and the knowledge which would help them make their lives better and can enable them to progress in their lives.
The volunteering process was a beautiful one and it really gave me peace which I would not have got by any other way. Yes there were challenges but no challenge is as big as the willpower. I faced a challenge of emotional disconnect with the children as they used to see me as an outsider to their world and stayed aloof. Gradually, the things changed and there was a sense of emotional attachment which made us overcome this obstacle and we shared the world where they gained the knowledge and I gained solace through helping them.
The whole thing was not as I pictured it of being a simple teaching like a school. It made me see a different world altogether which I never perceived. Each child was different and dealing with them was different which made me analyze the world, the feelings of people and the emotions and their role in people’s lives which I never could have imagined before. The assumptions of a fair world where people are just the same broke into pieces through this volunteer task.
The task was selflessly chosen and I never expected anything in return other than the peace which I would get through it. I did not get any scholarly awards or any recognition by this help but it has given me the most important gift, the gift of high thinking. During this volunteer project, I had learned a lot about the people, the world and the things which I always tend to oversee. This is not a short term benefit but indeed is a benefit which would help me my whole life. The way I think has changed and I can analyze in a better way which would help me in my career and my personal life too.
This experience has taught me a lot of things and I am definite that I would always be volunteering in one way or the other. Helping the society is all it takes to be at peace and to develop a feeling of pride. I would want to volunteer again and in a better way possible. I do not want to limit myself to only education, I want to expand my horizon and help the society in as many was as possible.