How do you choose how you part with your money?

I had the privilege of traveling to Rwanda a few years ago to shoot footage for a non-profit that’s helping to rebuild the country post-genocide.  My host when I was there, a Rwandan nun named Sister Anna, shared with me some of the atrocities she, her family, and her religious order endured in ’94, and introduced me to many of her orphaned nieces and nephews.  One of the nieces has two children, Patience and Benin, who though we could not talk, as they spoke no English and let’s just say my Kinyrwandan is a bit rusty, captured my heart.  Patience loved learning how to use my camera and Benin serenaded us with a never-ending round of “Jesus Loves You.”  Their mom, who still suffers from depression relating to the genocide and thus finds it difficult to work, shared biscuits and orange pop with us, biscuits and pop that Sister Anna had bought on the way to their house, discreetly slipping the goodies to her niece so that she would have something to offer the guests.

Upon my return to the states, Sister Anna asked if I’d be able to sponsor the education of Patience who was then age nine.  There is no public education in Rwanda and to attend a year of school costs $400, which in one of the twenty poorest countries in the world, is astronomical.  I couldn’t pay that amount on my own, so decided to reach out and see if any one in my network would be interested in a joint-effort.  Three years later, thirty-eight people have donated once, twice, three times an average amount of $10 to $20 resulting in us being able to send Patience to school.

This generosity is on my mind now as on December 29th, I sent an email to past donors, and on December 31st, included an ask in my e-newsletter.  Just three days later and with very little effort on my part, our goal has been reached and we’re able to sponsor Patience’s education for another year.  What really got me is the range of participants – liberal, conservative, single, gay, married, New Yorker, Bostonian, Chicagoite, rich, just getting by financially, corporate, artsy, white, Puerto Rican, Asian – that many of them are more distant friends than close friends, and that some ,who heard about the opportunity via friends, are people I’ve never met before.

What makes people decide to jump on board one good cause versus another?  What makes someone decide to give money to a total stranger to help a boy she has no connection with?  What makes you decide to part with $20 in this way?  Whatever the reason, it’s a marvel.  Truly.

Thanks Louis, Donna, Erin, Julie, Lindsay, Yanira, Megs, Beth, Lee Ann, Erin, Ed, Julie, Cortney, Julie #2, Lauren, Laura, Shannon, Dan, Kim, Doug, Leslie, Raj, Marcy, Megan, Gary, Lori, Aditya, Megan, Mike, Erica, Ted, Karen, Michelle, Rhonda, Pam, Dana, Nancy, and Heather!!  Good karma your way in 2011.