Thursday, November 22, 2012

Doing my happy dance

Soon I will be partying with heartfelt abandon with Tribal
children and teachers on the Summit of Serenity.  
I'm doing my happy dance and feeling content, lighthearted and free. Such a sweet and often short-lived emotional state: happiness.  What provoked my cheerful mood is the realization that many of staggering stressors of this year are now behind me and there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

The semester will end in two weeks and shortly after my grades are posted, I board a Thai Airways jumbo jet for an 18-hour ride to the Land of Smiles.  After a few days of business in Bangkok we fly north to Chiangmai, my second home. Sasha (Thai friend and charity co director for those who may not know) and I will stay in Northern Thailand throughout December. 

The trip will be our 13th humanitarian trip together since 2006. 

Sasha and I will navigate (weather permitting) in four wheel drive vehicles using expert local drivers to take us down rugged mountain roads. Visiting village schools in Om Koi and Huay Pooling, where we have been many times before, we'll bring food to prepare a special meal for the children and teachers.  During previous trips spaghetti, peanut butter and jelly and tuna salad sandwiches were introduced, burgers are on the menu this year. Preparing food in places without refrigeration, running water or sanitary conditions (or can openers) is a unique challenge. Photos will be posted on  Facebook.

Our "to do" list while in the backcountry of Maehongson, Thailand includes contracting to build two school playgrounds and a water filtration system, buying vocational tools, gardening supplies and providing basic need items to select schools. We'll be busy from morning to evening just about everyday...but what a gratifying way to spend the semester break.

The highlight of our trip will be hosting the third annual Small World Festival (SWF), a national geographic type event that brings together hundreds of children representing nine different hill tribes. Our festival was created to inspire HOPE for children to express their tribal traditions and to be rewarded for their talents. The SWF is the favorite day of my year (Dec. 24), a soul satisfying time of celebration. 

It's a small miracle that our charity Toys for Thailand  (T4T) has been able to didn't look promising earlier this year. Upon returning from Thailand in January 2012, we learned that T4T, a project under the International Humanities Center (IHC), lost all of our funds...yipe, every hard earned donation dollar was lost when IHC closed their doors due to fiscal mismanagement. Toys for Thailand was left penniless and homeless (with no fiscal sponsor and therefore no way to do fundraising).

The reality of losing our project funds ($18,000) hit me hard and was one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life... to explain to our supporters that their contributions were basically swindled. I was devastated and blamed myself (Catholic guilt, totally irrational but ingrained in my DNA).  The idea of starting our charity all over again from scratch was totally overwhelming and the thought that T4T should just call it quits was questioned often. 

Despite my humiliation and feeling like the Universe played some really bad joke on us...I (prayed and meditated) about what to do and something inside me said that I would get an answer soon. My instincts said not to jump ship but my ego demanded it was too much work to continue... I reminded myself how much I hate asking people for money. The next week I got my answer in the form of an email from an attorney friend of one of my colleagues. The attorney wrote that he was sorry to learn we lost our project funds and basically said that he would help us (pro bona) to become our own 501 © (3) organization. 

With a guardian angel sent to help, we worked together to create Toys for Thailand, Inc. After weeks of organizing documentation, writing bylaws, getting a board and officers to serve, our applications were sent to the IRS, State Attorney General and State of California.  The application to become a 501 (Form 1023) took me over 150 hours to complete, with 37 pages of was complex and confusing and completing it was relief but having it approved by the IRS made me do a happy dance for days! 

Toys for Thailand, Inc became an official non-profit and we are back in business. Solicitation letters were sent to our loyal supporters and the response has been positive. Our board met a couple times and decided to host on Open House. A successful fundraiser was held earlier in November and thanks to the volunteers who helped cook, serve food, wrap and sell gifts, we were able to reach our fundraising goal. Our project budget has now miraculously exceeded what is was
in our account before the IHC loss. 

Sasha and I will soon pack up our toys (as many as we can stuff in our luggage) and head back to Thailand. So I am doing my happy very relieved that the financial loss and the hundreds of hours of work to reinvent our charity efforts are now behind me.  I have learned to believe in divine intervention and forgive IHC for their actions. What was viewed as a bad joke is now understood to be a huge favor, closing one door so a better one could open. With that forgiveness has come a wonderful feeling of freedom and healing. It propeled me from a place of anxiety and distress to a state of joy and happiness.