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This is a space where Foundation staff share their thoughts and musings on giving and community:

Philanthropy for the Mind and the Heart

Posted by: Stuart Comstock-Gay on 4/18/2014

Well, I’m back from my trip to Southeast Asia—Singapore, Cambodia, and Malaysia. It was impossible to take everything in. Most compelling to us, we spent a week in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and saw the ancient, awe-inspiring temples at Angkor Wat. Then there were the night markets, the monkeys on the side of the road, the meals… We saw a stirring circus put on by a local performing arts school, water buffalos, and a floating village, heard heart-wrenching stories from locals who experienced the nightmare of the Khmer Rouge—

I won’t tell you all about it, but I do want to share a few thoughts about philanthropy. 

To my way of thinking, there are at least two strains running through the best philanthropy. One is the focus on impact and data—this feeds our minds. The other is the stories and emotion, the impact that cannot be quantified, the deep joy we experience in giving—these feed our hearts.

What I was reminded of in Cambodia is that those two strains aren’t unique to us in the United States. They are global truths.

My family and I spent a day and a half working at a school run by Caring for Cambodia (CFC), rebuilding and painting a swing set, and providing advice to the librarian (my brother is a technology coordinator at a school in Singapore, my sister-in-law a librarian at the same school) about how to manage book distribution.

Our modest cash contributions bought playground equipment and paint, our sweat put them to use. Our host from CFC talked to us about the number of children served by the schools, about how our dollars were used, and about the dramatic needs. He spoke to our need for data, and for concrete results. 

Then he set us to work rebuilding the playground and working in the library. The kids watched us and giggled, speaking with us in halting English. The librarian asked question after question of my brother and sister-in-law, seeking to make her work better. They connected with our hearts and spirits.

Mind and heart. The best philanthropy feeds both.  

* * *

Two postscripts on this one:

First, our host at the CFC school is a fulltime employee whose job it is to manage the many volunteers who come to help with their network of schools. As anybody who runs a volunteer program will tell you, these programs are not free. They take time and energy and creativity. That program has it nailed.

Second, I was wowed by the many nonprofits doing just tremendous work in Siem Reap, most of them with a U.S. outpost. Here are two more:

Every day in front of the Angkor Hospital for Children we saw lines of locals waiting for treatment of all sorts, including help with an epidemic of Dengue fever. On their website, the hospital notes that “surgery for one child costs $50.” 

The Cambodian Land Mine Museum was created by Aki Sa (celebrated in 2010 as a CNN Hero) to support his work removing land mines, and providing a school for needy area children.





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