Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Your little corner

One of the benefits of maintaining a blog is that it gives you an outpost, a place to hang your hat, a place where people can find you. I've been spending a fair amount of time lately talking about events that happened a very long time ago. But something interesting has been happening lately in my little corner of the blogosphere - a number of people who were very important people in my life, especially during my younger years, have been finding this space. One of these people is a woman named Laura. I first met Laura over 25 years ago. The context of how we met, and where Laura is now, is the subject I'd like to discuss today.

During my high school years I was the majordomo of my school's Key Club. For those of you who don't know, Key Club is a high school service organization that is sponsored by Kiwanis International, which is itself a service organization. The Xavier Key Club was a fairly active group and we had fairly regular involvement in charitable activities and public service in the Appleton area; I remember well organizing relief walks, serving pancakes at the Columbus Club and providing whatever help we could. When I was going to school, there were active clubs at about 75-100 high schools throughout the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan district. I ended up getting elected to serve as a division Lt. Governor, which in the Key Club governing structure meant that I was responsible for representing my high school and about five others in the Fox Valley area. Laura was a student at Wausau East High School and held a similar position. All told, there were about 15 high school students who were members of the governing board for our district. There are a number of Key Clubs in Minnesota as well, including a very good and active one at Fridley High School.

The fifteen of us on the governing board shared a similar profile - we were all good students, we were all civic-minded, we were all pretty clean-cut kids by the somewhat scruffy standards of early-80s Wisconsin. We all became good friends, but I always thought that Laura was special. She was a live wire - funny, unpredictable, passionate about her beliefs and relentlessly optimistic. At the same time, she had something that anyone who is serious about public service really needs - a working b.s. detector. She always seemed to understand that while all of us were doing nice projects at our own schools, there was a bigger world out there, beyond our little corner.

After we graduated from our respective high schools, we saw each other from time to time but eventually we drifted off to the lives that awaited us. I ended up in Minnesota and Laura ended up in Arizona. She married young and had two children, but the relationship didn't last. Eventually she ended up going back to school and completing her degree, then went on to earn an MBA from Thunderbird, a well-regarded business school in Arizona known for its emphasis on international business. Such credentials could have led Laura down any number of paths, most of which would have been lucrative. But Laura remembered her childhood trips to Mexico and she knew that there was an opportunity to use her skills and her passion for something beyond providing financial modeling for a multinational. There were people she could help.

Laura founded the Tia Foundation, which is in the business of providing health assistance to the poor of Mexico. We tend to think of assistance in terms of helping after a hurricane hits the Yucatan, but that's not what the Tia Foundation is about. Tia's mission is not to provide relief so much as to provide the know-how so that those who are living in poverty can take care of themselves. From their website:

Tia offers a different health solution than many NGOs, because we seek to create independence in the communities where we work rather than dependence. We teach communities “how to fish, rather than giving them fish” in the realm of physical wellbeing. Instead of making the villages reliant on constant outside intervention, we teach them how to take care of themselves and plug them into a permanent supply line of local resources. Favoring local resources ensures that the local economy is stimulated and that resources are tailored more specifically to each community's needs.

You often hear the word "sustainable" in this context. Too often those who use the word are thinking in reductionist terms -- it's been my experience that people who are talking about "sustainable resources" tend to see the world as a zero-sum game. That's never made a lot of sense, because it presupposes that are limits to natural resources, but also limits to human ingenuity. In the 25+ years since I first met Laura, we've seen enormous changes in the world that have made it a better place. The advances have been uneven, as they always are, but one thing I've always believed is that people can come up with solutions to problems if they are given the knowledge they need to understand the nature and scope of the problem. That's what Laura's organization is doing and it fits well with something else I've always believed; you can't solve all the world's problems, but you can make a difference in your own little corner of the world if you choose to. Laura is finding neglected corners and making a difference. And what I learned about Laura 25+ years ago remains true - she is special and her organization is doing wonderful things.

If you are interested in learning more, please visit the Tia Foundation website at:



Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm special, too. Why don't you write about me?

--Morris Fargen

Anonymous said...

Or what about me? I still raise my hand when I go under an overpass!

-- Ken Tousignant