Marc Gold travels Asia paying it forward through little acts of kindness
'Shoestring philanthropist' Gold pairs tiny but powerful donations with acts of kindness
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"He focuses on the bang for the buck," says Shon Pistoll, a musician from Philadelphia who accompanied the itinerant philanthropist on his recent six-week trip to India, Gold's 13th visit there. "A donation goes straight from his hand to the hands of people who need it most."Skip to next paragraph
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Gold once put a 50 cent piece to good use. It was from a fifth-grader in Los Angeles, who gave Gold his lunch money. He took the coin to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he spent it on a pair of flip-flips for a street child he saw walking around barefoot. The most he's ever spent was also in Afghanistan: $20,000 to build a school in the war-torn country.
He's also built schools in Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Burma (Myanmar). He's helped stock libraries in Vietnam, India, Tibet, and Indonesia. He bought warm blankets for orphans in Malawi in Africa and paid for 500 wheelchairs for disabled people in Vietnam. In Cambodia, he sent a young land-mine victim to vocational training so he wouldn't end up as a beggar. In Nepal, he sponsors 150 young girls, at the price of one goat each, to keep them from being hired out into bonded slavery by their parents.
"Marc has saved me and my family," says Lhamo, a young Tibetan woman who first met Gold near her hometown in China's vast hinterland. "If not for him, I would have spent my whole life [in poverty] on a farm."
Instead, Lhamo has completed a two-year college program in China. Next September she will continue her studies on a scholarship in California. Her younger brother is in school, too. "Marc encourages me to study hard. He's been like a father to me," Lhamo says.
"I want to enable people to support themselves," Gold says.
His help comes with a string attached.
"I have this principle that people have to pay me back – by helping others, by paying it forward," he says.
A man in Calcutta, whose broken-down rickshaw Gold repaired, now takes nuns from Mother Teresa's local mission on their charity rounds free of charge. A fisherman in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, whose boat Gold restored after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004, gives away some of his catch to poor families.
"Marc told me not to try and save the world," says Dwight Turner, a teacher from Atlanta who was inspired by Gold's work and now runs his own volunteer project for children in Bangkok slums. "He said, 'Help the people you can.' "
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