Photo Credit: Firefly Image Works
I love asking people for money. Let me rephrase; I love asking people to invest in causes that matter with resources that make a difference. Over the last several years, I’ve solicited friends and families with passionate pleas to give their dollars towards various social justice projects: from providing heart transplants for orphaned infants in China to building wells for clean water across Africa. In the last couple of years, I’ve become particularly involved with a non-profit organization serving abandoned and impoverished children in Kenya. The organization, Many Hopes, possesses a mission to educate, nurture and empower children who have suffered injustice so that they may be cultivated to become just and compassionate leaders in their communities and even country one day. Many Hopes’ vision is marked by long-term impact and patient investment with the acknowledgement that true transformation takes time and consistent involvement. In our contemporary American culture marked by instant gratification and quick results, a cause characterized by slow and steady investment without immediate tangible change seems almost paradoxical. But it is for this very reason that I am adamant about Many Hopes’ capacity to create true impact.
My impetus to get involved with Many Hopes began several years ago, before the organization was even conceived; my motivation had nothing to do with Kenya or with orphans. I was studying and working in Shanghai, China and during my time there, befriended a young girl who had migrated from the countryside to come work in the alluring city. She waited tables in a local hole-in-the-wall eatery – one of those greasy, slightly grungy places where a simple whiff of the food cooking made your mouth water. This girl and I struck up an easy friendship and since she only had one day off from work every other week, we made plans on one of her upcoming days off to go out to lunch with another waitress from the restaurant and one of my friends. Over our meal (Pizza Hut – the girl’s choice), we laughed and shared stories, and I was surprised to discover this young girl was from my grandmother’s hometown in the next province over. It struck me at that moment how this girl and I could have shared similar lives; factors beyond our control and opportunities that we were either granted or denied helped shape the courses our lives had taken. I considered what I had been given in terms of education and family support, and other resources too numerous to name, and the opportunities these factors presented me. If these opportunities had not existed, my life would tell a different story.
So it is with the children taken in by Many Hopes. In Kenya, 2.6 million children are homeless. Countless are the children who are sold into sex trafficking or turn to it because they are given no other choice to support their families. The statistics can be horrifying and paralyzing, and imagining any sort of change seems hopeless. Yet for true societal transformation to occur, there needs to be change from the inside-out; leaders need to take a stand for systemic ills to be abolished. This is the vision of Many Hopes, as stated on their website: “We believe that loving and educating a network of children who have endured the worst of poverty and exploitation is the best way to equip them to eliminate the causes of the injustice they and their neighbors have suffered. We believe in tackling the causes of injustice, not just housing the victims of it.”
Injustice is not tackled overnight and a commitment to justice means a commitment to the process. In my experience raising money for Many Hopes, that has served as my motivation and a call that spurs other Many Hopes volunteers and donors on as well. In giving my resources and asking others to contribute, I am reminded of how much I’ve been given to bring me where I am today. This isn’t about charity or philanthropy; call it what you want, but at the heart of it is the concept of equity. Whoever has been given much is also bestowed a mantle of responsibility to invest into the lives of others so opportunities may be generated for them. And when those who have been given opportunities then generate for others, it perpetuates a beautiful cycle of renewal and redemption fueled by generosity and investment in every true sense of that word. That, I believe, is real impact: not a one-off gift but a sustained, consistent involvement to see an imagined better world become a reality.
Ms. Ting currently sits on the NYC regional board for Many Hopes. She is a Masters Candidate at NYU for Visual Art Administration, the programming intern at No Longer Empty, social media assistant for Naturally Occuring Cultural District Working Alliance (NOCD-NY,) and formerly worked on special events for Fourth Arts Block. Before returning to school at NYU, Ting was the Director of Two Cities Gallery in Shanghai.