Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thai for Thai Freedom?

On and off for the past few years, I have tried to think up a way to link my massage work with charity, but those attempts never panned out. In 2004, I tried volunteering my services to organizations that helped assault victims and 9/11 survivors, but they weren't interested. In 2005, I contemplated organizing an event with other practitioners, but as much as they put forth that they were all about spirituality and compassion and universal energy, they just didn't walk the walk.

So now that I've found a Thai charity (thanks for the lovely comment, Lisa!) that does something I wish I was out there doing myself, I'm thinking about giving it another go. Since Thai Freedom House's greatest need is reliable funding, I've come up with a possibility...

Once a month, I could offer one hour of Thai massage at an off-peak time for a minimum donation of $50 (regular charge is nearly twice that). Anything over that $50 minimum, I match. What can I say - I like the idea of using what Thailand has given me to give back to Thailand.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thai Ties

I fully acknowledge that I'm a bit "backwards" in terms of what makes me comfortable or even interested in giving. While most people prefer large organizations with thorough oversight and accountability, I'm a huge fan of the tiniest operations out there - I like supporting causes that are run by someone who's in it heart and soul. That's not to say that I don't think massive charities like Unicef, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, etc. aren't doing amazing work and benefiting from economies of scale - I just think they're better off pursuing bigger donors than little ol' me. My little $25 donation is hardly worth the time and stationery involved in sending me a receipt that I don't even want.

Anyway, I think I may have found a charity that satisfies more criteria than I can count, all of which I've touched on in previous posts...

- I mentioned wanting to do something for the Burmese after the initial post-cyclone burst of aid, especially given the colossal mismanagement by their despotic government.
- I've been to Thailand a few times and have been casting about for a specific way to help their most neglected populations (sex workers, hill tribes, etc).
- My father always had a special place in his heart and conscience for southeast Asia, having spent over a year there as a tourist immediately following his discharge from the Air Force during the Vietnam War in the late 60s.

The charity is Thai Freedom House, and it's a one-(wo)man band operation. This one has an additional super-personal angle for me: the focus is on education with an emphasis on language. I have an MSc in Applied Linguistics and the Cambridge TEFL certificate, and I taught English in Spain and Japan back in the 90s (I hated teaching and was at best mediocre).

Lisa Nesser, the woman behind all this, recognized that the Burmese refugees and hill tribe people of northern Thailand have almost no chance of improving their circumstances - the same circumstances that lead to human/sex trafficking - if they can't speak the national language. She runs classes for children and adults to learn Thai and, to a lesser extent, English. She also feeds them, since things like nutrition and sustenance are not fixtures in their lives. Her goal is to get 40 donors to commit to monthly donations of $25 to keep things going, and I have a feeling I'm going to join that club.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Hush Money

Two weeks ago, I had a new massage client who briefly misbehaved and apologized with a huge tip. I found that morally confusing, because although I did absolutely nothing illegal or unethical and his transgression was pretty mild compared to some of the crap I've had to deal with, it felt like I was sending the message that "it's okay to mistreat me as long as you pay for the privilege".

The next morning, I took the exact bill that he'd stuffed in my purse to the post office, bought a money order for that amount, and sent it to one of the charities I've mentioned in previous blog posts - the Nepalese Youth Opportunities Foundation. I asked that it be directed toward either their original program of rescuing little girls from bonded servitude or the college scholarship fund for "dalit" (untouchable caste) girls.

I got what I needed from that donation - it cleared my over-sensitive conscience, and it helped a cause I'd been planning to support this year in a more lucrative way than I might otherwise have been able to.