Tag Archives: helping

Through the Glass…………….

As soon as we knew we were moving to India, we made plans to take our cats with us.

Unfortunately, our one cat is diabetic and it really didn’t make sense for her to be on a plane for over 24 hours without access to water. I wrote a very fun resume for her when we were trying to find a place for her to live. If you want a chuckle, you can read it here. A lovely family adopted her while we were gone and spoiled her rotten.

We decided it would be very helpful for the kids to have their other two beloved furry siblings with them – and, not for nothing, someone else was going to be cleaning out the litter and wiping up the inevitable furball throw-up. Yeah. In case it’s not painfully obvious why that was awesome, you can catch up here.

Our first attempt to get the cats to India was a colossal fail. I do not heart United Airlines and if you want to be mad at them too, you can read about that here.

Now that you are all caught up on the history, let’s get back to the story.

Eventually, the cats made it all the way across that big ocean. Alive and well and very confused – kind of like the rest of us.

They settled in quickly and were very well cared for.

But our staffs initial reaction to them was hysterical. They could not believe that we had cats as pets. I should explain that cats aren’t really kept as pets in India. There are tons of stray cats on the streets but it is very rare for someone to actually bring them into their home, feed them, care for them, and make them a part of the family. To love them.

I guess it’s hard to worry about stray animals too much when there are so many stray humans without food and shelter.

Someone also told me that Indians consider cats to be bad luck. I cannot verify that, but it might be true.

Cats are so rare as pets that India does not even have a manufacturer of cat food – at least not one that delivers Indian cat food to any of the pet stores in Delhi –  there may not be an Indian dog food manufacturer either because most dogs are simply given table scraps. The only cat food I could find was imported and ridiculously expensive.

Good thing we brought, not one but two, very large cats who really like to eat.

When we first moved to India and lived in an apartment, the cats very rarely saw the light of day. But then number one hubby found us a house and the cats had access to glass doors at ground level. (We did not feel comfortable letting them actually go outside because there were hawks in the area and tons of stray dogs and cats.) Our cats seemed happy enough to just look outside and they immediately discovered that they were not alone in the world. That other cats lived just beyond that glass horizon.

The difference between our American house cats and the Indian stray cats was nothing short of amazing.

Ours – big and fat and shiny – not a scratch on them. Loved and cuddled. Not afraid of humans in the least. Not particularly fond of every single human, but not one tinsy tiny bit afraid of them. No front claws.

The strays – little bitty – boney – ears ripped – dusty and dull fur with patches missing – never touched by humans hands and terrified of people.  Their faces looked more alien than feline – too wide at the eyes and too narrow at the lips. And their bones nearly poked through their fur. They would never survive without their claws.

They did love our patio though. Largely because it always had a bowl of fresh water and some very expensive cat food on it. The shade from the scorching sun didn’t hurt either. And it was enclosed by a gate, so the dogs could not get in. I wonder if they felt safer in it. But I believe they must have been curious about our cats too.

They would sit and watch each other through the glass.

Part of our morning routine as humans was to put food in the bowls for the cats outside and watch them slink in and get breakfast. It was always fun to see who came first and we worried when one of them didn’t show up for a few days. We noticed who had new scratches and delighted when kittens arrived one morning. We counted them and named them and wondered if we could catch even one and bring it inside.

The pet store that carried the cat food and the cat litter I liked best was not very close to our house. So, I would often send our driver to pick up several packages of each.

This means that the cook, housekeeper, guard, gardener, driver, and the man on the moon all knew just how much money I was spending on these ridiculous creatures that pooped and threw up in the house. And I am sure they compared that to their own salaries and calculated in their own minds what they could do with that kind of money. To us, it wasn’t a hardship – but to them it could have been all the difference in a nicer house or better schools for their kids.

I am not sure why I am stuck on the thought of all of this. How anorexic the stray cats looked compared to our literal fat cats. How the staff must have been fascinated and miffed by the resources we dedicated to them.

One day, our cook was finally able to say out loud what he must have been thinking for months….

Francis: Ma’am, why do you feed the outside cats such expensive food
Me: They look so hungry
Francis: They will eat your leftover rice
Me: I guess that never occurred to me. Let’s try it.
Francis: Duh.

We did try it. And those cats had grown too accustomed to the the tastiness of the meat flavored cat food. They merely picked at the rice.

Francis was not about to be outsmarted by a street cat. He started adding leftover gravy to the rice. They were happy once again.

One of the things that struck me was that those stray cats never got any fatter. They knew what “full” meant and never seemed to gorge themselves.

I guess that is what was hardest about helping others in India. It was easy to feel taken advantage of. To feel like generosity was expected. Those cats came and took only what they needed and left the rest for the next cat who might pass by.

But now that I am once again an ocean away from the struggles of so many, I am left to wonder why I didn’t do more. How I might better define the lines of graciousness that I was willing to tiptoe around but never fully cross over. I am not sure there is an answer but I am sure I will always question why those of us with too much (including myself) aren’t more generous to those with much too little.

Kohl’s Cares – Another Scholarship Opportunity…….

I did not know this but apparently every year Kohl’s recognizes and rewards young volunteers (ages 6-18) across the country for their amazing contributions to their communities. This year they are recognizing more than 2,100 kids with more than $415,000 in scholarships and prizes. Listed below are the rules taken directly from their website. If you think you would like to nominate someone (and you can nominate your own children), please, please, please do not just rely on what is written here. Check out their website.

Official Rules For Kohl’s Cares®
Scholarship Program

Eligibility: No purchase necessary. Students eligible for nomination (“Students”) for the Kohl’s Cares® Scholarship Program (“Program”) must be legal U.S. residents of a state in which a Kohl’s store is located. Students must be between the ages of 6 and 18 and not yet a high school graduate as of March 15, 2011. Each Student must be nominated by someone age 21 years or older. Parents may nominate their own children. Associates of Kohl’s Department Stores, Inc. (“Kohl’s”) and/or Associates’ immediate family members may not nominate their children or minor dependents. Kohl’s Associates may nominate non-related children who are not members of the Associates’ household. For purposes of this Program, “immediate family members” include the Associate’s parents, children, spouse and other members of the Associate’s household who are declared also as dependents on the Associate’s federal income tax return. Employees of Scholarship Management Services and its respective affiliates may not participate in this Program.

Students who were a prior Kohl’s Cares® regional or national scholarship recipient are not eligible to win a scholarship under the 2011 Program.

Nominations: Nomination forms may only be completed and submitted at www.kohlskids.com beginning at 8 a.m. CST, February 1, 2011. Forms must be submitted and
signed electronically (by typing your name) by a nominator who is 21 years or older no later than 11:59 p.m. CST, March 15, 2011. One nomination form should be submitted per Student. Nomination forms containing multiple names will not be accepted. One nominator may nominate multiple Students by submitting multiple nomination forms each containing a unique email address. All sections of the nomination form must be completed.

Nominations should describe how the Student has contributed to the community in a meaningful way by performing volunteer services that helped non-family members.
The volunteer activity must have occurred within the last 12 months (March 15, 2010–March 15, 2011). Financial need or academic performance will not be considered in
the review and selection of winners.

Kohl’s and Scholarship Management Services shall not be responsible for misdirected, incomplete or late nomination forms. All nominations become property of Kohl’s and Scholarship Management Services and will not be returned or acknowledged. Additional information about a Student and/or documentation may be requested by Kohl’s or Scholarship Management Services. To remain eligible, parents must provide all reasonably requested documentation and information upon Kohl’s or Scholarship Management Services’ request.

As a supporter of equal opportunity, Kohl’s will work with Scholarship Management Services to distribute awards to minority students on a basis at least proportionate to the number of known minority Students nominated.

See below to learn more about the Nomination process.

Awards: Nomination forms will be separated into two age groups: ages 6-12 and ages 13-18. Kohl’s plans to recognize one Student from each age group as a store winner
for each Kohl’s store. Store winners will receive a $50.00 Kohl’s Gift Card. Additionally, over two hundred $1,000 regional scholarship awards for postsecondary education are planned, half to each age group. Ten $9,000 national scholarships for postsecondary education will be awarded, five to each age group. Since a national winner is also a regional winner, the total scholarship amount for national winners is $10,000 each. In addition, Kohl’s donates $1,000 to a non-profit organization on behalf of each national winner.

Notification: Store winners will be notified in May 2011. Regional winners will be notified in June 2011. National winners will be notified in July 2011.
Non-recipients and nominators will not be notified.

Recipients Claiming Scholarships: All recipients will be required to sign and return a Publicity Release/Acceptance Form as a condition of receiving a gift card and/or
scholarship. Scholarship redemption is subject to recipient submitting verification of full-time enrollment in an undergraduate program at an accredited two-year or four-year college, university or vocational/technical school (a “Qualifying Institution”). In the event a recipient does not graduate from high school or does not enroll in a Qualifying Institution within two years after high school graduation, the scholarship will be forfeited. All scholarship recipients may be subject to a criminal background check.

Scholarship Restrictions: Scholarship awards must be used for educational expenses at a Qualifying Institution. These expenses may include tuition, fees, room
and board, books and supplies, transportation and other miscellaneous education related expenses. Scholarships will be paid in one installment in September and
will be mailed to each recipient’s home address payable to the school for the student.

Awards are one time only and are not renewable. No substitutions or transfers are permitted. Limit one award per household per year.
Nomination Form and Process: Visit www.kohlskids.com and click on “Nominate a Kid.” You will need to read and agree to an online Consent and register as a nominator.
During the nomination process, you will be able to leave the site by clicking on the Save and Log out button located on any application page. To return, you must enter the
username and password you entered when registering for your nomination account.

Correspondence to nominators will be via email only; check your email regularly. You must provide a valid email address that accepts bulk email. To ensure delivery of messages, add kohls@scholarshipamerica.org to your contacts, email address book or safe senders list.

Nominators may wish to gather the following information before beginning the nomination process:
• Information about the Student: Including full name, address, age, birth date, phone number and current grade in school.
• Information about the project: Including items collected, money raised, time spent, number of people affected, outcome of the project and general project description.

Nominators are solely responsible for submitting in English all information necessary for the nomination process. Nominations found to be incomplete as of the nomination deadline will not be processed. No faxed or mailed nomination materials will be accepted. No email attachments are allowed.

All information submitted is considered confidential and is reviewed only by Scholarship Management Services, Kohl’s partner in managing the Kohl’s Cares® Scholarship
Program. Information about selected Students will be provided to Kohl’s for purposes of verification of eligibility, demographic research, publicity and recipient communication.

Carefully review your nomination before submission. All pages must be completed and entered in the format described in order to electronically submit the form. Standard capitalization must be used when entering data. Once the nomination is submitted, your nomination account will be closed and no revisions can be made. The nomination must be submitted electronically by 11:59 p.m. CST, March 15, 2011. A confirmation email will be sent once you’ve electronically submitted your nomination.

Additional Terms: Taxes on awards of any kind are the sole responsibility of the recipients. By participating, the nominators and Students agree:
(1) to these Official Rules and all decisions of Kohl’s and Scholarship Management Services which shall be final in all respects;
(2) to the use of their names, photos, likenesses, video, and/or images in any media, including without limitation on the internet and in social media, for advertising, promotional and publicity purposes in relation to this program without prior written consent or compensation where legal and subject to a signed Publicity Release/Acceptance Form; and
(3) to release, discharge and hold harmless Kohl’s, Scholarship Management Services, and their respective subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, and employees, from any and all claims or damages arising out of, in any way, their participation in this program.
(4) Kohl’s reserves the right to cancel, suspend or extend the Kohl’s Cares® Scholarship Program at any time, with or without notice. Scholarship Management Services and Kohl’s reserve the right to interpret these rules and to make all decisions concerning the award, acceptance, and use of scholarships in situations not covered by these Rules.

Questions?
Contact us:
Email: kohls@scholarshipamerica.org
Call: 1-507-931-1682 and ask for Kohl’s Cares® Scholarship Program
Write:
Kohl’s Cares® Scholarship Program
Scholarship Management Services
One Scholarship Way
Saint Peter, MN 56082

What does it all mean……………….

Yesterday, I wrote about a man taking my shopping cart in the parking lot for me. You can read about it here.

I have been thinking about why that had such an impact on me and this is what I came up with. I think I will ramble a little – so please stick with this one – I promise there is a point at the end.

Living in India was an absolutely amazing experience that took me way out of my comfort zone. It jumbled up my routines and took me away from my favorite people. Living there gave me opportunities I would never, ever have here and it made me question a lot of what I thought I knew to be true.

I mostly think of myself as a kind and even generous person. It’s true that I can be cranky and selfish just like anyone else but I truly do enjoy giving other people a reason to smile and (mostly) don’t mind helping out.

But here comes India full force – where people really need – and not just a hug or a dinner brought over or a carpool for their over-scheduled kid or someone to take their shopping cart in the parking lot – they need food and water and a way out of horrible, horrible situations. And please know that I understand people in America need too – I know that – and I understand that the needs in America can be very real and can be overwhelming too. People are sick and people are hungry and people are hurting. I get that. But not in the same magnitude as in India – not so many people all at once and not so desperately and not without options. Right now, I live in a bubble – a green, lush, over-fed bubble with people who do not hesitate to help each other out. We are getting by just fine. Sure we endure struggles – but it is really not the  same.

I will show you what I mean – this man is taking a bath outside in a busy market area. The water is not clean and he is in public and I am taking his picture.

The streets are dirty and there is human and animal waste all over the place. That means that you have very good chances of getting pretty sick at some point. Especially if you do not have a nutritious diet and clean drinking water. And this is the road outside the entrance to the neighborhood we lived in – an upscale area. This is not a slum.

It is not only not uncommon – it is actually quite common – to see children unattended on the streets.

We have been having some pretty significant storms in our area and many people have been without electricity for several days. News reporters were interviewing several people affected by the outages and one councilman said, “people here feel like they are living in a third world country.” Dear heavens. Really? I understand he was going for the dramatic effect – but please.

Again, I appreciate that the people who lost power probably lost the food in their fridge and were hot as heck in their houses and were certainly inconvenienced. It probably is a hardship for some of them to replace their food. And of course, the elderly and young children and anyone who is sick could be in real danger. But it is temporary. And it will be fixed. Welcome to America baby where there are churches and libraries and friends houses to go to. There are options. The temporary pain of a power outage is certainly not like living in a third world country. I promise you, it is not.

I miss that about India – that the people of India don’t let bumps in the road slow them down. And I think I learned to calm down a little bit myself. I learned that if it will end up as a funny story one day, you can get through it. That the Indian people as a whole don’t take so much for granted. I would like to believe that clean water is a right and not a privilege but that is just not a reality – and electricity – well, that is icing on the cake. It really, really is.

Anyway, back to why I appreciated the man taking my cart.

Like I said, I used to think I was fairly generous and kind. India really made me question if that is true. I volunteered, sure – but I never fully committed to any one group. I gave myself a pass because I was still pretty involved in my kids classrooms which took up some time – and moving to India was a huge adjustment for me so I gave myself time to settle in before raising my hand too much – but you know what that sounds like – the excuses that they are. I know I contributed in many ways to help out people, but frankly it wasn’t enough. I truly could have done more. And why did I let myself get too overwhelmed to dive fully in. Because I knew I would eventually get to escape and move home to the land of temporary problems.

The hardest thing to accept about my time in India is how many times I turned my head away from a young child knocking at my window. If I remembered to bring crackers or cookies I would share those every time. But honestly putting food in the car wasn’t top on the list in my routine of getting out the door. I tried to remember – but I could have done better about it – and I should have. I regret that I simply did not do better.

Begging in India is a tricky thing. And helping beggars is even trickier.

Most people will tell you absolutely not to give to anyone begging for several reasons. Any money you give them usually goes to some sort of ring leader (read gang leader), if you give to one person you could end up with a flock of people around you and the mob mentality in India is not safe, giving to beggars encourages begging, it’s illegal, if you teach a man to fish, blah blah blah.

And it did happen to me more than once that I gave to one person and more people surrounded me. It was certainly uncomfortable. I even saw a woman have her change purse stolen. It was snatched right out of her hands. She was trying to give every child in front of her some change and one child said, “uh-uh lady – that is going to be all mine.” And we said, “see why you don’t do that?” And she said, “what difference does it make if he has all my change, I really don’t need it. It’s just my change.” And that was the right attitude. But it’s hard to get there.

When you see a small child knocking on your window, you let all these reminders run through your head. Why it is not a good idea to encourage begging – there is real danger in it – but how do you end it. You know that you cannot – it is much bigger than one person. And when the car, thankfully and finally, pulls away, you are still left with a pit the size of Texas in your stomach.

And then, when you have to explain all of this to your own children -augh.

The one thing my children never asked me was why they got to ride in an air conditioned car with a driver while so many children barely had enough to eat. They understood so much about our experience there and I am very proud of the way they took so much of the whole experience in and made it a part of who they are. But this is the one question that never escaped me. Why them and not me? I counted a lot of blessings in India – but that didn’t do the kid knocking at my door a whole lot of good.

And then you get back to your little oasis called home and you close the door and you want to shut it all out. In India it is particularly important to have a “home”. With familiar things and pictures of family that you miss and just some good old macaroni and cheese. But you cannot get away from the need that others experience.

At first, I would even say I was even proud of how we treated our staff who worked in our house. Pride goeth before a fall, no doubt. We paid more than most people, we gave lots of time off, we gave frequent bonuses, we gave them the things we did not “need”, we didn’t ask them to do things we would not do ourselves, we shook our heads at those who haggled too tightly over what was a reasonable salary to hold on to a few more pennies, blah blah blah.

But it was never enough. Our cleaner wanted help with tuition for his son and housing. Our cook and his wife just took what they wanted – no matter how much we gave, they always took more, and our driver started off his first day by telling me he had made a bad investment and lost all of his savings and tuition was due for his kids school. How do you balance that? When is enough enough? What is enough? What is not enough.

I know we made their lives easier – or at least we tried to. I feel good that we were reasonable enough to work for. But the problem for staff that works with expat families is that eventually those families leave and nothing is permanent. We have been paying our housekeeper for the past few months and we haven’t been living there. We have told him it is time to get another job and I did a lot to put him in touch with the right people. But he doesn’t seem to believe it. Eventually we are going to stop paying him but, but , but…………

So, when the guy in the parking smiled because I had done something nice – even though it was really insignificant – it made me smile. I said in my original post that being so happy about the whole event was over-reacting. And that is true. The world is not going to change because someone put away someone’s shopping cart – but maybe if we all are a little nicer to each other we will at least make it through the days a little easier. Especially in a country where most people don’t need much – maybe we all need kindness. Maybe that is the best start of all.

Unfortunately, today, I am right back where I was before. I want to be really helpful to people who really need it. Hopefully I will figure out a way to do that.