I have been in dozens of schools in Uganda and estimate that 90 percent of the classes I’ve visited have only one or two books in them—or none at all. School libraries often have no books. Teachers are not trained and often go unpaid. Uganda offers “free” education, but the government only allocates about $3.50 per student per year, so “free” can be descriptive of what the children receive. This is the norm in many developing countries, and it can seem overwhelming.
But I’ve also witnessed something else: A suitcase full of good illustrated books can make a world of difference in a school or orphanage—especially if they arrive with someone who is willing to stay for a bit, to read them aloud, and to be curious about the outcome. What really makes a difference is if the person is not there on a “volunteer vacation” or a “selfie” trip, or even a religious mission—those may all be great, but they’re different. One thing that can really make ripples is if the person is essentially “on assignment”—acting as a participant journalist. That means the person starts with enough knowledge and focus to successfully “pitch” the story in a query to get the assignment, and yet remains open and curious—committed to finding and cocreating a story about making a better world—and finally writing the story so others can learn from the experience.
And that got me to musing.
Paul Sutherland is hopeful that people of all ages will write their own assignment in the S&H/ Utopia Foundation SAVE THE WORLD project! spiritualityhealth.com/utopia
SAVE THE WORLD project!
This is the 20th anniversary of S&H and a good time to reflect on what spirituality is about. What is our responsibility as spiritual beings? Is spirituality a “calling”? How do we get beyond being all about Me and a small group called We? How do we do things that are good, helpful, and loving, and then work to overpower the evil, callousness, and indifference in our society today? In our magazine, we typically do that by reporting great stories and ideas. But for our anniversary we also want to cocreate great stories—to put our readers on assignment to do good works. And so we’ve partnered with the Utopia Foundation to make that happen.
So maybe you would like to attempt something that’s potentially good and helpful—like take a suitcase full of illustrated books to read to orphans in Kathmandu. Or maybe you’d like to create a meditation class in your local high school. Or perhaps you want to start an interfaith group. But you’re blocked because you say to yourself, Who am I to do this?
Well, your answer may be the three most liberating words in the English language. When confronted by “Who are you? Why are you here?” you may be able to say, in all honesty, “I’m on assignment!” And your assignment is to attempt the good deed that you have always dreamed of—or maybe you just dreamed up—and report about it for this magazine or at Spiritualityhealth.com.
As a finance guy, I also know the obstacle to doing great work is often not actually money. In Uganda I see people do amazing things with almost nothing. But I also know that money offered at the right time and with the right purpose can make a huge difference. So this is—in part—a paid assignment.
So how does it work?
Start dreaming about the most loving, impactful, heroically selfless, and specific story that you can imagine yourself being assigned to help your community or the world. Feel into it. Does your story have heart? Does it potentially have legs? What is the overall budget? Our goal is neither to create your adventure nor to entirely fund it. Our goal is to be the catalyst that transforms your dreams and intentions into specific actions that serve the good. Utopia Foundation has committed up to $30,000 and S&H has committed up to another $30,000, so we have $60,000 to assign people to do good—in amounts from $100 to $2,000.
Keep in mind that Utopia Foundation’s emphasis is early childhood and it has a strong bias for projects that help young parents learn how to parent, that support early childhood education, and that provide life skills that will help the next generation feel more connected, capable, wise, and happy. A significant portion of our assignments may involve things like filling suitcases with illustrated books or providing toys to immigrant kids held in detention camps, but we might also help a little girl with a single parent get to the zoo. (We’re happy to assign kids a project if they write a great query.) We might also help pay to fix a neighbor’s front porch light—if it’s a good story that might encourage others to do the same thing. Also keep in mind that all queries are due by January 15, 2019. For details, go to spiritualityhealth.com/utopia.
Whether or not you get an assignment, we hope you’ll take this as a call to action—to come from a place of courageously engaged spirituality that takes a share of responsibility for the world’s welfare. S&H