[Editors Note: This post was shared by Kala Shah, a non-profit and philanthropic consultant, as well as the co-chair of the Lunar Giving Circle, in the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares her thoughts on the AAPIP’s convening this past September – and about acting on her inspiration.]
In mid-September, AAPIP convened giving circle members and AAPIP leadership in one of the most powerful and motivating events I have ever had the pleasure of attending. I dedicated the majority of my weekend to spend with these fine people based upon my experience from the first national Giving Circle meeting last year, when I came to appreciate the value of bonding with other GC leaders from around the country over the greatness of grassroots giving. This year, I jumped at the opportunity to spend another weekend with my AAPIP comrades.
AAPIP sure knows how to put on an event. First, we were transported by multi-ethnic group Aswat’s soul-stirring musical performance. Then San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee shared his earnest vision of an inclusive, just society in which we should all be able to participate—regardless of race, income or circumstance. That’s when the waterworks started. And they didn’t let up. Eugene Cho of One Day’s Wages (ODW) gave us a rousing, inspirational and hilarious keynote, encouraging us to help alleviate extreme global poverty by starting with some simple acts of sacrifice of our own. And then when none of us thought it could get any more emotional in that room, it did. The students of ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) brought the house down in describing the true meaning of sacrifice as they fight for justice and a chance to get an education in spite of their immigration status.
I left the event feeling compelled to act. I mean, REALLY. I didn’t quite know where to start, but I knew I had to do something. That very evening at a friend’s party, I tried to describe how moved I was hearing about ODW and ASPIRE. Sadly, I missed the mark. There are some things you just have to experience for yourself. At the very least, I felt I had to learn more. So, I become a Facebook fan of One Day’s Wages and studied their website. As I perused the project list and watched the videos, a real teaching opportunity hit me. I was in the midst of planning my almost 7-year old’s birthday party. Did I dare use the opportunity as a platform to spread goodwill? Would it be fair of me to ask my oldest son to donate his birthday for a cause? In the midst of making a dreaded trip to Toys R Us one afternoon, I decided YES, it is my right and obligation as a parent to at least introduce the idea. I sincerely wanted this to be his decision, and not something his mother pushed him to do. So I knew I had to be gentle.
After having his afternoon snack one day, I casually asked if there was anything special he wanted for his birthday. A big lego set, he answered. And that was pretty much it. That could be arranged. Then I steered the conversation to the conference I had attended recently. He remembered that I had been away. I told him about this really funny guy who had started this neat organization helping people who really needed it all over the world. He seemed vaguely interested. I asked if he wanted to watch a video on the computer to see the funny guy. Yes, he answered enthusiastically. I figured I’d let Eugene do the convincing. He sat there rapt, wiggling his loose front tooth (which has since fallen out) while he learned about the famine in Africa. A real math guy, Kailash was fascinated by the statistics—13 million people suffering from the worst drought in 60 years. And ODW was trying to raise $125,000 to help them. Hesitantly I asked, wouldn’t it be great if we could help them? He nodded. So….instead of presents at his party….maybe we could ask his friends to contribute to a great cause instead? I held my breath. No immediate response. OK, I told him he could think about it. He agreed. Over the course of the week, he asked to watch the videos again several times. When I finally asked if he had decided what he wanted to do he said “legos can get pretty boring…..I want to help the kids in Africa.” My heart burst open. It was one of those shining moments I’ll never forget as a parent. So Kailash’s birthday for a Cause page was born. He has raised over $400 for the Horn of Africa Relief fund and the way his face lights up every time he sees the totals inch up is simply awesome.
It has been a couple months since that AAPIP gathering, and I can honestly say that it was one of those rare events that has stuck with me every day since. My 7-year old son not only gave up a pile of presents, he got his first real lesson in the responsibility and joy of giving. I as a mom got to brag about it. His act initiated a load of interesting conversations among his 2nd grade friends and their parents about alternatives to traditional gift-giving. My giving circle decided to give a second grant to ASPIRE to support those incredible students. Several of the Bay Area giving circles decided to come together for a joint celebration of our grantees and to build our community of giving. We’re also planning a community service event early next year. And all this was initiated by the AAPIP convening.
So, thank you, AAPIP. Continue to inspire us, fuel us and build us as your agents of community philanthropy.