As I was sitting on the small outrigger boat being ferried back from a remote island in the Philippines, I reflected back to 28 years ago when I was an up-and-coming yacht broker just starting to make my mark in that industry with my first big yacht sale. One of my business partners, who was my junior by more than 20 years, said to me, “Gibbs, now that you are making decent money you should spread it around a bit.”
My reply was, “Well, I plan to buy a new car and motorcycle and a few other things.”
His response was, “That’s not what I meant. Spread your good fortune to where it can actually make a difference.” “What are you talking about?” I asked.
He asked me if I had ever given to charity. Since I had never thought much about doing something like that, I asked him what he had in mind. I was doing decently in the income department but had always thought charities were something only very wealthy people gave to, and I was sure I couldn’t afford to be that generous. I guess I was looking for some excuse not to give anything.
He told me that he noticed how I would go out and get a coffee at least two to three times a day. He said he had a way I could improve my health and also make a lasting impact on a child living in abject poverty.
“How?” I asked. He said by simply drinking only two coffees a day instead of three, taking that money each day, and donating it to a very worthwhile children’s rights organization called Plan International USA. Actually, back in those days it was called “Foster Parents Plan."
He went on further to say that this organization was started in 1937 and helps provide clean water, schools, clinics, educational support, and disaster management in more than 50 countries.
“Wow!! Such a small amount can actually do that much?” I asked.
“There is power in numbers,” he said.
So 28 years ago, I began sponsoring children living in poverty in far off lands. I have sponsored kids in the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and the Philippines for the last 12 years or so. I finally decided to focus on the Philippines because English is their second language, making it easier to communicate with the children as they grow older and are going through school. Some of the kids in Plan’s sponsorship program go on to college and become productive citizens and help their families break out of poverty. This would be very unlikely without help. Education makes a big difference.
Last year, I came to the realization that I’m not getting any younger, so I made the decision to actually go and visit my sponsored children, 8-year-old Melanie and 18-year-old Razel.
I flew halfway around the world. It was a 24-hour trip each way.
My visit and the logistics upon arrival were arranged by the local Plan office. It couldn’t have been any smoother. I flew to a small city called Tacloban. Plan staff picked me up at Tacloban airport and drove me more than two hours to a smaller city, where they gave me an introductory briefing about my visit as we sat and ate fresh fruit.
Early morning the next day, they picked me up at my hotel and from there we took a two-hour boat trip. As the boat arrived at the island where my sponsored children live, I was given a royal welcome by the kids and their parents. They even placed garlands that the children had made around my neck. I met the families and got a tour of the facilities that Plan built. Then I had lunch with the families and the mayor of the village.
WOW, what a wonderful experience it was to meet these kids and be invited to their home to see how they live.
We are so fortunate in this country. I know that much of the time I take it for granted. This trip really woke me up. I plan to go back.
Here is an example: water. A simple thing we take for granted here is a big deal in many places in the world. In this case, Plan put in a pipeline to a water source high on a hill so that community members no longer had to make the long trek to carry jerry cans of water a couple of miles each day. I felt good that my small contribution helped provide it.
Some other people have indicated an interest in sponsoring a child too. I heartily recommend it. I was reluctant at first, but I can tell you it is one of the best things I have done. And, I sure do look forward to communicating with the children each month.