My First HuffPo Piece: Orphans International Worldwide

I t has been a banner week in my life.

Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary hosted a benefit for Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW), the U.N.-accredited organization I founded six years ago.

Then, I was lauded by Congress as an “extraordinarily effective humanitarian, activist, and philanthropist.” Plus, on Nov. 12th my first article for the New York Times was published as the lead story in their annual Philanthropy Section.

I would like to rest on these laurels, but as any parent knows, there is no rest when there are kids in the house. We have kids all over the world.

Many, many challenges face OIWW.org‘s vision as we continue to move poor orphaned children from warehouse conditions to small homes, beginning the move towards foster care in the developing world.

In 2008 we will consolidate our projects in Sulawesi and Sumatera into a united and interfaith “Orphans International Indonesia.” We are searching for land to buy in Indonesia and Haiti to build permanent campuses for more children, with schools and jobs training for when they grow older. Acquiring land is a slow, expensive, and bureaucratic process.

We have been asked to address the needs of orphans–including AIDS orphan–in West Africa: from Nigeria and Togo to Ghana and Liberia. As always, we fundraise constantly. Finally, we are expanding our low-cost office in Lima, Peru, staffed by dedicated global volunteers.

The challenges have never been greater to our mission of raising global citizens. Orphans International is spread across the globe, dealing with different languages, cultures, religions, and time zones.

We share the same identical challenges that SOS Kinderdorf, Save the Children, and UNICEF face globally. We are newer, smaller, and still function with an all-volunteer international staff, paid from honorariums of $1 per year to actual stipends of $400 per month.

The care for kids inside poor, distant countries is not that costly, but the infrastructure needed to sustain them–even with free space and volunteer labor–is expensive.. The needs of orphaned children are enormous.

Each OI child is directly supported by four different donors, each paying $600 per year. We are looking for additional child sponsors now. In addition, we must support out staffs’ expenses, and the overhead of this “business.”

We run a project of 12 children on less than $50,000 per year almost anywhere in the world. We spend less than $50,000 annually on our New York office. We have been successful in stretching our contributions – with less than 8% spent on administration. We do not have the fancy jeeps, telecom systems, high salaries, or health benefits that other similar organizations routinely provide.

The Internet has made global volunteerism work for us. We are fast, flexible, and connected to the needs of our staff and kids in each country we serve. We have become only the second global network of orphanages approved by the United Nations. The second, SOS Kinderdorf, is a multi-million dollar organization operating for over sixty years in more than sixty nations.

It can be difficult to get people from diverse backgrounds together on the same page. Only by instant messaging, e-mail, and today with Skype, LinkedIn, and Facebook, can we do it at all.

Today we are truly international, interfaith, interracial, intergenerational, and Internet-connected. The ten global officers of OI Worldwide help oversee our projects electronically and in person, all funded through the development efforts of OI America and its U.S. chapters.

I was raised by parents active in the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement of the late 1960s. These experiences have shaped who I am and the organization I have built. As a child, I walked with my mom in civil rights marches, and listened to my father speak out on the main square against out country’s involvement in Vietnam. Martin Luther King’s speech in Washington sends shivers down my spine to this day.

Global citizens, I learned as a child, stand for tolerance and diversity, and against oppression and ignorance, in all of its forms – from misogyny and racism to homophobia and xenophobia.

At Peter Yarrow’s performance in his own home last week, I choked up sitting at his feet – as we raised money for our kids. He explained to the younger members of our audience–and reminded us older ones–how, when facing the police in mass demonstrations of civil disobedience, we must cross our arms over our chests, strongly holding hands together, standing against discrimination and illegal wars, from Vietnam to Iraq. Peter then attempted something I have not witnessed in thirty-five years: He led us all in singing-and understanding-“We Shall Overcome.”

To my shock and delight, our well-heeled Upper East Side audience responded. With heart and voice, we sang “We shall overcome, We’ll walk hand in hand, We are not afraid.” Peter even added a stanza to honor Orphans International, “We can make a change.” We were all swept away by his passion and energy in that room.

Raising $45,000 with Peter Yarrow’s magic dragon “Puff” leading the way was wonderful – supplying roughly 10% of our annual budget in one night. But the dollars flew out immediately to Haiti, Peru, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia as fast as we bring them in.

With ongoing local support, especially from our friends on Roosevelt Island in New York City, where we are based, we have made the impossible possible. The energy of our all-volunteer staff and generous donors continues to move us forward. The effort is daunting.

Yet, as Peter Yarrow sang to us last week: We are not afraid. With our many supporters, We’ll walk hand in hand. In keeping the dream of raising global citizens alive around the world — of battling ignorance and intolerance — We shall overcome.

Originally published in The Huffington Post, Feb. 2, 2008.

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About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce (www.lucefoundation.org) writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (www.oiww.org), he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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