Carlotta founded and runs a non-profit called the Ayuda Foundation. Here's what is documented as a description of the organization: Ayuda Foundation is a humanitarian organization that responds to regional disasters with donations of medicine and supplies. We give tickets to patients in our Wings for Life program; we run after-school programs for girls through our Island Girl Power in teen abstinence, substance abuse programs, mentoring, and self-esteem building; we also coordinate projects such as community gardens and restoring nearby abandoned parks.
That's a lot of do-gooder stuff.
The timing of my trip to Guam was opportune, for many reasons, but for this one particular project (or is it 2, or 3?), especially. One of Ayuda's projects is called the Broken Crayon Project, now in its fourth year. Used (and for a few generous donors, unused) school supplies are collected to be distributed to the remote islands of Micronesia. Carlotta sees it as kind of a Robin Hood thing, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Since it doesn't involve thievery, I see it more as recycling, in the way that giving to thrift stores is a kind of recycling. Your used and broken crayons and other school supplies will live again in the hands of the islanders.
There is only a small window through which the donations - these and others - can be sent to the islands. According to Carlotta, the islands only receive 2 ship visits a year, one in June and one in August. This is because students from these islands have to go to the more populated islands to further their education after the 8th grade. The one in June picks them up to go home for the summer, and the one in August brings them back to school. From Guam, the cargo has to reach a certain mission ship by a certain date in order for the goods to be delivered.
Lucky me, I arrived in time (with a pick-up truck, no less) to help meet this deadline. Carlotta calls me up and asks what my plans for the day are. I am on vacation, so I am enjoying not having a lot to do. That day the only thing I had to do was redeem a free mocha coupon at Port of Mocha cafe. Saying no to her was never even a thought. I had said I wanted to do some volunteer work while on Guam. Proof: I checked out a book from the public library titled Volunteer Vacations. I hadn't figured how yet, and here it is, right in front of me. There isn't much I wouldn't do for Carlotta; I cherish her company. But then again I haven't lived on Guam over the nineteen years that she has been doing this work, so it's novel to me.
On our way to the schools, she tells me how much fun it is, how much she enjoys it, how satisfying it is for her. "I like it because it's real and tangible. You know that they need these supplies, that they will appreciate it and use it." She reminds me of Tom Sawyer, getting me excited about this wonderful opportunity to work with her. "It's physical. You really feel you're doing something."
She throws in the health benefits of moving around, lifting things, working up a sweat. "People pay money to gyms to get these same benefits," she jokes, "I'll let you do it for free!"
I will be the first to admit that I'm gullible. But it's okay. I agree with her on all points. If you go to a gym to work out, this is so much better. Sweat for a good cause. That's a good slogan, a good call to action. Thanks for asking me to help. Really. I enjoyed it.
Guam readers only:
For next year, here are some things to keep in mind when donating:
There is no electricity, so Zip drives and anything that will require electricity are not appropriate. (VHS tapes and other old technology especially).
Pack in boxes no larger than a copy box. Carlotta explains that when they deliver to the islands, people will be getting the goods either on canoes or on their heads, wading out across a lagoon.
If you are able to pack up the boxes for us, put a variety of things in each box. For example, crayons, markers, pencils, paper, rather than a whole box of crayons in one box.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.