Marc Gold at the GuChuSum Organization with Phuntsok Wangchuk, a 28-year-old ex-political prisoner who had been brutally tortured and imprisoned by the Chinese for over five years. 100 Friends donated funds to the organization and to Mr. Wangchuk.
INSPIRATION: Marc Gold & 100 Friends
Twelve years ago, Marc Gold wrote a letter that not only changed his life, but transformed the lives of hundreds of others. Through his project, 100 Friends, Marc has collected and distributed over $30,000. His actions have also inspired many other people to do something tangible to improve the lives of others around the world.
In the face of seemingly overwhelming need, Marc is living proof that one person can make a difference. With his grassroots philanthropy, he helps make the world safer for all Americans, by demonstrating what is the very best of us.
In this interview, Marc talks about how he got started with his project, shares some of his amazing true stories, and reveals the simple steps anyone can take make a difference.
THAT WAS THE MOMENT THAT CHANGED MY LIFE...
LIZ: Can you describe a little bit about your first trip to India?
MG: I was a little "National Geographic" kid... I can remember the librarian saying “Marc, we’re closing!” and people calling my father saying, “I almost hit your kid with my car...he was walking across the street reading National Geographic!”
As soon as I saw India... the Maharajas and the elephants and the Himalayas and the Hindus and the Moslems, I said “That’s it, I’m going.”
And at age seven I had a dream that I was standing on Mt. Everest and I could see all of India. And there was a village that I later figured out would be somewhere near Andhra Pradesh. And this father, mother, son and daughter were looking at me, gesturing: “Come.”
I told my old man I was going to go to India. He said, “India? Forget it! It’s the other side of the world! Try Indiana.”
I said, “No, I really want to go see it.”
“Well, if you go there, you have to do a mitzvah.” [in the Jewish tradition, a worthy deed]
And I said “What am I going to do for those people?”
He said, “You become a man, you’ll figure something out.”
My father died when I was 14, and when I was 38, I was in a period of a lot of turmoil: my marriage had ended, I was working in AIDS (I developed the first AIDS counseling in California, back in ‘85, working for UCSF in the Department of Public Health). It was a very emotional time, and a lot of the staff died of AIDS, and there were a lot of funerals.. I had 40 staff working for me and there was a lot of pressure, there was all this fear about AIDS. Anyway, I finally quit this job, because I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore, and I had this dream again, the exact same dream.
So I said “That’s it—I’m going.” I was in-between jobs, I took four months, like you, and I took a trip around the world, and I ended up going from San Francisco to Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, Bali, Malaysia, Thailand, and Nepal. And while I was in Nepal there was a revolution, and a bullet went over my head.
I said, “That’s it.” And I flew to India, and by the time I got there I was in quite a state of mind, as you can imagine. After being there a couple of days, I went out looking for a Tibetan, I wanted to meet one. And literally this guy walked out of the fog that night, and he took me to see this thangka painter, whose name is Thinlay Gyatso—we’ve been very dear friends ever since.
This guy’s wife, she used to hold her neck real funny, she’d cock her head, and I asked him finally, “Why does she do that?” and he said, “She has a terrible problem with her ear, we don’t know what it is.”
Anyway, long story short, I took her to a doctor, a retired ear, nose and throat doctor, three hours down the mountain from Darjeeling to a town called Siligiri. He looked in her ears, and said “Oh my god, she has a raging infection in both ears. Good thing she came, she’d be dead within a year.”
I said, “Well, can you do anything?”
“Yeah, we can cure her with an antibiotic, but there’s only one problem.”
I said, “What’s that?”
He said, “It’s another 50 rupees.”
It was $2 for the doctor’s visit, this was another dollar. I said, “No, it’s O.K., I got it.”
So he cured her, and we went and bought her a hearing aid, because in one ear she was totally and permanently deaf, with the other ear she could hear 50%, but with a hearing aid she would hear just fine.. When he put the hearing aid on her, that was the moment that changed my life. I mean, her eyes got big, and a tear was in her eyes, and she said, “I can hear again.”
And I realized, for three bucks for the doctor, and 40 bucks for the hearing aid, literally, we could restore hearing.
The Tibetan woman is 65 years old and walked over the Himalayas into India to escape Chinese oppression. She ran out of money and we gave her enough money to live for a year and to attend the Kalachakra, a special teaching given by the Dalai Lama ($180 is all it took for both!). Mr. Dhunkhang said he would find her some work so she could support herself by the time the year was up. (July, 2000)
Mr. Dhunkang (Marc's Tibetan friend), Valerie Gold (Marc's sister), a Tibetan woman and Marc in Dharamsala, India.
THE MOST FUN OUT OF BED I EVER HAD...
So I went back home, and I really thought about it.
And two years later I wrote a letter to 100 people. I typed a letter—remember typing? And I mimeographed the letter (this was 1991), and I said, “Dear Friends”... this is literally to my friends, I know a lot of people—you know: friends, relatives, co-workers…“Going back to India, the average income is 400 bucks a year, I can’t help a billion people, I can help 100 or 50. You want to give me a buck or more, please do.”
I thought I’d get two, three hundred bucks, I’ll throw in a hundred and I thought, “Wow, Iook what I could do with 50 bucks, what could I do with 300 bucks?”
Well, by the time people passed the letter around, I had $2,300. At that time there was a black market with dollars, you could get more on the street than you do on the bank, and I ended up with 65,000 rupees...
And I was traveling with a friend this time, and we went to Mother Teresa’s place in the slums of Calcutta. We volunteered, and we left a donation for medicine. And then we just started meeting people in the street, going to pediatric units... And once you find one honest person, they turn you on to other honest people. And we gave it all away, and it was the most fun out of bed I ever had.
And I thought, “This is like a new drug. If the cops find out about this, it will be illegal like ecstasy and acid.
with Orphans in Southern India
I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve done it seven times, given away over $30,000. I've got literally over 100 stories. And I did it in South Africa, I did it in Mozambique, Kenya, Cambodia, Tibet, Nepal, Vietnam, and all over India. I figure I’ll keep on doing this, ‘til I croak.
And now I’m 53 years old, I’m a college counselor, I teach about 4 or 5 classes, and I always tell my students about this, the lesson being: I found something for me—Your real assignment, besides the academic work (I teach psychology and health) is to figure out what you want to do with your life, even if you don’t settle it forever, and get started on doing it.
I say, “It doesn’t have to be: go to India and help the poor. It could be make a good software program, or be a good dad or be a great runner, be a teacher, or go to Mexico and build houses.” And a number of them have.
I’ve met fellow travelers, what I call “Lonely Planet Kids.” I met one Israeli girl, she said, “Oh, this is a great project, I don’t have 100 friends.”
I said, “Have you got 40?”
“Yeah, in Tel Aviv.”
I said, “O.K., start a project called 40 Friends. Even if you raise $300…”
So I forgot about her. Two years later I get a long email from her. Her parents went to Rio de Janeiro on business, and they said, “You can come, but we’ll be busy with business stuff.”
So she hooks up with some kind of activist, and this guy takes her to a village, where about 60 kids a year die, simply because the water is contaminated.
And she raised $1000 in Israeli pounds, and for $1000 they built a very good water filtration system. Now instead of 60 children a year dying in this middle-sized village, none of them die of that cause. And the village has promised to come up with the money each year, which is about $40-$50 a year, to maintain that filtration system.
So, it just goes to show you what you can do.
I LOOK FOR THE MOST DOWN-AND-OUT...
I travel anyway, and cover my own expenses. Except for about 10% that I take out for newsletters and mailing and a few other costs, all the donations go directly to the people.
There’s nothing wrong with CARE, or Doctors Without Borders, they do incredible work... My currency is that people trust me. That people know when they put money in my hands, I’m going to put it directly in their hands.
And I go to the slums, I look for the most down-and-out people I can find, and I don’t just hand it to them, I research it, sometimes I get a bad feeling and I don’t give it. Sometimes I help individuals and sometimes organizations. I’ve learned how to do it. And I’ve got more and more contacts...
For example, I’m going to Paris today to see my friend, his name is Thierry. Nice guy, I met him ten years ago in Calcutta. He’s got an orphanage for 65 kids in Calcutta. Great kids, I’ve known some of them for 10 years now.
Saved from Calcutta's Streets
And now Thierry has started a project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to protect kids against pedophiles. It’s a big problem. You have poor kids on the street who are hungry, and you have these mostly European and Australian pedophiles who want little boys. They’re dangling money in front of them, and when you’re hungry enough and little enough, you’ll do that.
So he got a bunch of money from Spain to help him with this project, and now there’s like three safe houses, they’ve started some businesses so the kids don’t need the money from the pedophiles, and it’s just a great program.
So while I was in Tibet last summer, he emailed me, and he said, “Can you come here a few days early and do a workshop with the staff on how to do counseling, especially with kids?"
So I said, “Thierry, I’d be happy to, but I don’t speak a word of Cambodian, and from what I’ve heard the staff doesn’t speak English.”
He said, “Oh, we’ve got a Cambodian guy who speaks great English, and he even has a degree in psychology from Thailand.” So I went and I did it, and it was great, a really great experience.
Marc Training Counselors in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
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