What is happening in Washington this week? A lot of noise, and from the daily news it might cause citizens to think we are in chaos. But alas we are not — our government and economy are sailing along quite nicely — the economy is humming. We do have, and will always have, serious controversies that we must work out. But overall we are a blessed nation and a lot of good things are happening.
How can this be with all the crisis reporting? It is because we as a nation have several layers of activity — state governments, businesses, educational institutions, charities, nonprofits and other productive organizations that function almost independent of the federal government.
When I was in the U.S. Senate for nearly two decades, people brought me problems demanding the government address them. I think it's easy to get into the mindset that if something is wrong, by golly, the government should fix it.
I recently met a woman who personally takes the opposite approach. Her name is Becky Douglas, a Utahn, and she works in India with people who have leprosy_What_? There are people with leprosy in the world these days? I thought that disease disappeared long ago.
But apparently not so. In her travels to India, Becky was taken aback by the plight of leprosy-affected beggars on the street, many of them with rotting limbs, open wounds and crippled bodies. There are actually millions in India with leprosy. She wondered why someone wasn't doing something to help.
Bothered by a seemingly unresponsive public and government, Becky did what most of us would never consider doing — she gathered her friends around her kitchen table and started a Utah-based charity. She had no knowledge of medicine or of leprosy. She also had no idea how to run a business, or how to do business in India. It was a valiant effort, obviously doomed to failure.
But somehow she was able to find people in the U.S. who responded to the suffering of people halfway across the world. Today, her Utah-based charity, Rising Star Outreach, has raised millions of dollars and has drastically changed the lives of thousands of people in India.
Most people disbelieve her business model when first hearing of it. Instead of spending a significant percentage of donations on administrative costs like most charities do, Becky has gathered a dedicated board of directors, who are expected to fund the operating costs of the charity out of their own pockets. This allows nearly every dollar that other people donate to actually do what they expect it to do: help children go to school, not pay for envelopes and office staff and not finance a government bureaucracy.
I was so enchanted by this idea that before I knew it, she had convinced me to join this board. It was an expensive choice. But I have since been astounded to learn what power one person has to make significant change in the world. This year, Rising Star Outreach will provide 40,000 medical treatments, will help hundreds of former beggars to create and sustain small businesses, and will be involved in educating more than a thousand children from leprosy colonies. They will also send another 50 students to college this year. They're working to open up a new campus for 600 students in the poorest state of India, as I'm writing this article. This is with no foreign aid from the U.S. government.
What Becky has shown me is that all of us have a unique power within us to make a difference in the world. If you'd like to learn more, look up their work at RisingStarOutreach.org and see what's possible when people come together to make the world a little better.
The normal approach would have been to get the federal government to give more foreign aid. Rising Star has sent over 1,000 Utah volunteers to India — it is an example of not asking the already overburdened federal government to do something that can be done privately. And on this hot humid Washington, D.C., day it is an example of how our blessed nation hums along in service even if there is a lot of noise at the top.