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A New Perspective on Poverty, Charity and Thanksgiving

How I’m Avoiding Dishwashing Duty this Thanksgiving

At the Gateway of India in Mumbai. India is a country with tremendous beauty and rapid economic growth, and yet 300 million Indians — equivalent to the entire U.S. population — do not have access to electricity.

I thought I knew what poverty was, until I traveled to India ten years ago as part of my Georgetown MBA program. Flying into Delhi, as the plane drifted downward on final approach, I looked out my window and saw we were flying over the slums outside of town. I looked to see where this neighborhood would end, but never found it.

As the plane continued to drift downward we flew over mile after mile of these slums, over what seemed like an endless landscape of tin roofs and dirt streets. I couldn’t believe the sheer scope of the poverty. After I landed, I came to see the poor of India up close, and never really looked at homelessness in America or the rest of the world the same way again.

Traveling on our One-Year Retirement, we also visited places which balanced a dichotomy of indescribably beautiful landscapes next to soul-crushing poverty and degradation. In Cambodia, children no older than four or five were clearly being sent out by their parents to beg at tourist traps. In Mumbai, India, I walked by what looked like entire families preparing to lay down for the night on the sidewalk. In Kenya, on the seven-hour drive from our safari camp to Nairobi, the view included earnest roadside small businessmen and women, working next to families of beggars. When you see the sheer scale of what the have-nots all over the world have to endure, it can be overwhelming.

I wanted to spend some of my time helping these communities in some way, but volunteering in other countries as a foreigner is challenging. I found that the international non-profits’ schedules usually didn’t allow for short-term assistance, and it’s a challenging for nonprofits to integrate short-term volunteers into their program in an effective way.

As the saying goes: Charity begins at home. Which is why I’m channeling that resolve to try and help my neighbor now that I’ve settled in back in D.C. One project I’m currently raising money for is the Trot for Hunger. My Giblets and Gatorade team and I are running the Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving Day here in Washington, D.C., and I’m also asking for donations ahead of the run. If you have the means, please give whatever you can afford by going to this page and clicking on “Support Jim!”. And as an extra incentive, giving to my page will help me win a bet among the six members of my Giblets and Gatorade running team: whoever raises the least has to do the dishes on Thanksgiving Day (talk about first-world problems).

Part of traveling from America to less affluent countries of the world involves a stark realization of both the level of wealth and the access to opportunity available to the average American. It also is a reminder that each and every one of us has the capacity to do more and to do better. Yes, for me, charity begins at home. And it began again when I returned home.

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