Beyond Birthdays

 

My feet dragged on the floor as I found different items needed to go for a run. I was planning a pretty standard run, 4-5 miles. Slipping on socks and shoes before strapping up my arm band holding my phone. The majority of the time I’m not listening to music when I run. During races I do because I know that the upbeat music makes my body react in a way that I’m able to run faster, or at least I think I do. But for training runs, I’m listening to podcasts. I have a few favorites I’ve mentioned on this blog before and this time I was looking forward to listening to Bill Simmons. He’s a great sportswriter who used to work for ESPN and now kind of does his own thing with a website and a TV show on HBO. I clicked a few buttons, adjusted my hat, checked both lanes of traffic and pulled out of my driveway. Bill wasn’t interviewing a sports figure like he normally does and didn’t even really talk about sports but was discussing the work of an organization I’ve followed from the periphery, Charity Water. Founder Scott Harrison explained the origin story of how and why it all started in addition to their goal of ending the world’s water crises. I was blown away, motivated and inspired to do what I could in order to make the world a better place, not only my neighborhood or my city but the world. I truly believe small events in places I might never see in person ripple across the waters of the earth and bless the land we stand in.

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Scott discussed starting with a party. He was a club promoter in NYC so he knew how to throw a good party. But he decided that everything about the party (his 31st birthday party) would be about celebrating others and ensuring, at least for a few people, the deadly issues of bacteria infested water was eliminated. At this point I stopped thinking about the sweat dripping down my forehead. I navigated the streets of Atlanta and wondered what could I do? There are plenty of things considered a world wide crisis. My thoughts clutched to the idea of giving up my birthday. I am about to turn 31, could my birthday mean something more than just celebrating me? First I would have to get over the fact that I would be telling people when my birthday is. You see, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, I hate when my birthday is celebrated. I’ve never had a bad birthday experience and I love to celebrate other people on their birthday. I just feel uncomfortable when the spotlight is turned on me merely for being born. Yet, Scott had these stories of people who gave up their birthday and were able to raise thousands of dollars by asking people to buy the gift of life instead of a personal present. I was convicted.

I knew right then I had to do it. I would try and make this birthday, my 31st, the one Scott started with, the biggest deal I could. I would tell people in person, online, I could make a video to tell others. I couldn’t ignore the possibility my birthday could make certain others were able to live. When I was in college I had to do some fundraising for baseball. I played division 2 at a small school in New Jersey and for our swag/Florida spring break trip we had to raise a few thousand dollars. I never felt completely comfortable with this. It’s not exactly my passion to ask people for money to send me on a glorified vacation to play baseball. Asking others for money to ensure the sustainability, livelihood and being the difference between poverty and prosperity? That I can do. Without hesitation I knew exactly the organization I would ask people to support. You see, I love coffee, maybe more than a person should and realize that through this seemingly mundane agricultural product and beverage, love can be transformed into life.

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So here I am, in the middle of a social media campaign to ask friends, family, even complete strangers to buy the gift of life. When you consider all the world’s charities, the issues they’re fighting, all of which have merit, along with the transparency that is needed to trust them. I couldn’t come up with a better cause then The Kula Project. They had no idea I was going to do it. I borrowed a camera from my church, asked my wife to film and went to Piedmont Park to advocate for the dignity and prosperity of famers I will probably never meet. After working on a script, writing a poem, filming and editing an imperfect/unworthy plea to donate to a worthy cause. I sent the video to Sarah hoping it would show her a small piece of the respect, love, and esteem I have for her and the work she tirelessly and thanklessly does.

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Sarah in Rwanda

I met Sarah Buchannan, the executive director and Co-found of The Kula Project, a few years ago while I was working at a coffee shop. She had a vision and a passion for farmers. As she would tell you there is no reason for her to be involved in a subsistence farming. Yet it’s the means in which she has been called to disperse grace into places filled with the muck of a broken world. And when you are called, you are sent. I saw a love for more than just doing good in the world. I saw a love for families, for people, people that by all accounts should mean nothing to her. They aren’t family, they work in an industry that has nothing to do with her, they don’t even live on the same continent let alone in the same country. Yet she saw beyond genetic lines and saw them as passionate, radiant, beautiful people deserving of the same love we might dispense to folks who share our DNA.

The focus of their work is in a country that 22 years ago was on the brink of absolute destruction. A genocide of Nazi Germany proportions was taking place in Rwanda in 1994. The world stood by as it was imploding in on itself. The blood filled streets eventually dried and Paul Kagame with the Rwanda Patriotic Army liberated Rwanda. President Kagame was able to lead the tiny country out of the darkness into a marvelous light of a peaceful, prosperous and dignified country. One of the major exports is coffee. Not just any coffee, but delicious, bright, sweet, exquisite, speciality coffee. There isn’t a specialty coffee roaster in the US that doesn’t have or want to have a Rwandan coffee as a part of their rotation. The Kula Project has identified local leadership and entrepreneurship partners with accountability systems to invest wisely, sustainably, and transparently. This ensures generations of life change. Coffee might be something you don’t care much about. As long as it’s warm, dark, and has caffeine, that’s good enough. Yet coffee farmers all over the world are exploited because it’s seen as a cheap, commonplace product. The Kula Project seeks to change that. By investing locally providing the resources they need not what Western minds might think they need. The Kula Project is establishing long term solutions to root causes not merely slapping on a band aide fixing a symptom of the disease.

This enables projects like the washing station they are building. Coffee looks like a cherry when growing on a tree. In Rwanda they say you have 8 hours to pluck it from it’s growing branch to start the processing to effectively encapsulate the flavors coffee drinkers enjoy. The villages and communities they work with were miles away from a washing station. Basically making it impossible to meet the correct time frame. While the farmers were still able to sell their product, because it never reached the palate potential when roasted and tasted they were never able to fully realize their earning capability. This washing station solves that problem. These farmers are now able to earn extra income to buy additional food for their families, pay for health care, and pay for educational expenses of their children. Over 90% of the farmers they work with will use the income generated from farming to pay for school fees. We take education for granted in America. It’s become a basic assumption of middle class america that after high school you go to college, it’s just what you do. Not so in the areas in which The Kula Project spends the majority of their time.

Working in a church I often hear people have the desire to impact the world. We live in an interconnected world. Anything that can be dreamed up can be done. We simply get frozen by the first step. We don’t know where to start. If that’s you, if you aspire to have your actions dispense mercy, grace, and justice. If you’ve ever thought that there was something wrong in the world. When people merely born in a different geographic situation have to struggle to live. If you know that you vote for the world you want to live in with your wallet. If you have ever felt helpless in thinking your actions don’t make a bit of difference. I’m here to tell you, you matter, your actions matter, you have the ability to love beyond what you are capable of. If you recognize the coffee chain proceeding the barista getting ahold of the product is of great substance. If you know that everything that matters in this world can be affected by even the smallest of actions. I am here to tell you there is something you can do that can positively impact the world for thousands of years. Donate whatever you can to The Kula Project. What may seem as a small action with no distinction. Can smash the reality of a broken world transforming shattered glass into a grace filled loving creation.

It’s hard for me to ask for money for things that have no consequence. It’s easy for me to ask you to donate to people I know take those proceeds and change the world. Everyday there are people who do things that have no effect on the people around them. When I wash the dishes, clean my house, or make my bed it might only really mean something to my wife. When you invest and donate your money to The Kula Project your bank account transcends from something egocentric and narrow to altruistic, deep and as wide as the east is from the west. One night Sarah and the Kula Project board of directors invited me to share a poem I wrote about my love for Rwanda at a donor dinner. It was a poem I was able to perform for the President of Rwanda when he was in Atlanta. It was an elegant evening of a fantastic meal and great company. If all I knew about this organization was what I learned that night, it would be enough. If all I learned was the love for a people arbitrary lines on a map can’t contain, it would be enough. If all I observed were people like the ambitious restauranteur Ryan who lives his values of people over prophets, it would be enough. If all I did was sit in the back of the room and soak in the exuberance of love by board members like James, Joe, Miles, Tami, and Van it would be enough. If all I was able to perceive was the work ethic of Lindsay and Egide to love those they come in contact with, it would be enough.

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The Fundraising Dinner

It would be enough for me to beg you to donate. I don’t have the gift of giving away thousands of dollars. I don’t have the gift of building wells in remote villages of Ethiopia or growing coffee trees in Rwanda. I don’t have the gift of making my birthday mean something beyond myself. But if you take this to heart. If because of this blog, this campaign, my video, or my words you made a donation to the Kula Project. I can rejoice knowing that I did everything I could to make this small moment in time vanquish despair and hopelessness. You hold the power to make my birthday celebrate something beyond my past present and future but the future of thousands of generations. So there it is. I don’t know if there is anything else I can write to implore you to donate. So here I am, as transparent as I can be begging you on my hands and knees if I have to. Click the link, open up your wallet. We buy so many things for birthdays, plenty of things that people don’t need. Music subscription services, gameboys and board games, things that bring temporary joy. I’m hoping that this appeal will help you give the gift of life. Invest in a farmer and you invest in the future. Give to The Kula Project and you’ll contribute to generations of change, love and joy. To everyone who might want to contribute to increased positivity and wholeness in a broken world. Here’s your chance.

Donate Here

Watch the Video Here

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