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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Treat Them Right

I have, over many years, been a volunteer at a number of non-profit organizations. 

I also stopped volunteering at several of those organizations because of the way I and other volunteers were treated. A few examples:

  • A local rescue group put out a call for a photographer to photograph three dozen incoming dogs. I volunteered, my offer to help was accepted, I drove to the shelter, and I photographed each small dog. I e-mailed the photos within a couple of hours. No one at the organization could be bothered to even acknowledge receiving the images. Guess what? I haven't volunteered there again.
  • After volunteering every week for two years, I and two other volunteers stopped giving our time at a food pantry when we were 'replaced' at our jobs by community service workers working off court-imposed volunteer hours. I guess it didn't matter to the operations manager who assigned them that those court referrals would never be seen again after they had worked the required number of hours, or that the four of us who worked the Wednesday shift were quick and efficient because we knew from experience how the tasks were to be done.
  • At the same food pantry, the volunteer coordinator never bothered to introduce himself to the volunteers (he was hired after we had been volunteering there for more than a year) despite frequently being in the kitchen where we labored. The business manager would routinely pass us in a narrow hallway and never acknowledge our presence. We didn't feel valued or respected. If management didn't care whether we were there or not, why should we?
  • After being told to 'get out of the way' by a volunteer at another food pantry where I was learning the ropes (and apparently not learning fast enough), I never returned.
  • I did some volunteer photography work for another organization. I never felt welcomed, and I was left to handle tasks that I was not prepared to handle when all the other volunteers disappeared. And when I e-mailed the photos within a couple of hours after I got home, again no one took a few seconds to let me know the images had been received.
Despite being retired, I lead a busy life. I have three dogs, a big house and a large yard to take care of. I am helping my daughter plan her wedding. I travel frequently, so I don't have a regular volunteer schedule as I once did. But I try to help out when I can. 

I don't expect, or want, accolades or effusive praise. Many people do much more than I do. All I -- and other volunteers -- ask is to be treated with respect. Acknowledge our efforts. A simple "Thank you" is all it takes. Make us feel welcome, and maybe we will volunteer again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

Today terrorists struck another European capitol with suicide bombers and explosives. Today, more than 30 people in Brussels, Belgium, were murdered by a bunch of so-called Islamic cowards. Another 300 were wounded.

This attack comes just five months after similar attacks on Paris that killed 130 people. Prior to that, another attack on Paris left 17 people dead. Islamic terrorists gunned down 14 people at a holiday gathering in San Bernardino, Calif., in December 2015. Innocent people were slaughtered in Kenya, Lebanon, Egypt and Nigeria. And the list goes on.

After each attack, people around the world offer "thoughts and prayers" to the citizens killed and wounded, and their families. World leaders pledge to stand together to bring to justice those responsible for the carnage and to support the countries struck once again by cowards who enjoy murdering innocent men, women and children.  

Yet time after time, peaceful nations are again attacked by those who follow a perverted version of Islam. How can any sane person believe that any higher power supports -- even encourages -- the slaughter of people who happen not to believe in their version of a religion? These cowards, who hide behind anonymous threats and black masks, do not represent Islam any more than the inbred members of the Westboro Baptist Church represent mainstream Baptists or Christians in general.

So remembering victims of violence -- whether perpetrated by  cowardly terrorists or gun-happy people with anger or mental health issues -- in our thoughts and prayers does nothing to either stop the violence or console victims and survivors of the carnage. If I lose a loved one to an attack, all the thoughts and prayers on the planet won't assuage my grief. I'm not slamming prayer. Many people find comfort in prayer and in knowing that others are praying for them. But words of support and defiance are not enough.

"Thoughts and prayers" haven't stopped the violence, nor are they likely to do so. We need to marginalize those who believe only followers of their particular version of a religion -- any religion -- should be allowed to live. We need to attack at its core the conditions that lead to radicalization. We need for moderate voices of all faiths to speak out against those who have hijacked their religion and use it to spread hatred, fear and death.

We have to move beyond thoughts and prayers. I don't know what the answer is, but greater minds than mine can surely move the world closer to the day when innocent people no longer are slaughtered in the name of religion.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Mother of the Bride

This year will see me becoming the mother of a bride.

My daughter is getting married in October, so there are lots of things to do. We have booked a venue with lovely views of the mountains, she has finished her guest list, and we bought her wedding gown, veil and sash/belt. Invitations and save-the-date cards have been ordered, and the kind of cake chosen. She has chosen someone to conduct the marriage ceremony and selected a photographer.  And I got my mother-of-the-bride dress. I hate shopping, so I took a chance and ordered two dresses online. The one I preferred, my daughter didn't like; she said it made me look old. I told her that I am old, but I don't need a dress to age me even  more. So I settled on the other one. It's champagne-colored and glittery. We both need to get shoes and figure out appropriate jewelry.

All the hotel rooms at the resort where the wedding will be held are already booked, so she and her bridesmaids will have to get ready at my house, along with a house/wedding guest and me. It promises to be a very hectic time. I haven't yet decided what to do with my three dogs: board them at a kennel for the day, or leave them home.

It has been decades since I got married, and weddings have grown considerably more complicated, and expensive, since then. I was married in a church. The reception was hosted by a church women's group, and consisted of wedding cake, punch, and champagne provided by my father. Now there are 'save the date' cards, fancy receptions with either a plated meal or a buffet, and a bar, professional photographers and musicians, in addition to wedding invitations, imprinted thank-you notes, etc. All of these things are paid for by me, as mother of the bride. My daughter is doing a great job of keeping costs under control while still planning her dream wedding. Maybe years of hearing me talk about saving for the future and spending wisely have paid off.

This is a very special day for two lovely young people. My daughter has landed on her feet after a very rocky childhood in her native Russia. She struggled to find her way, to figure out who she is, and to learn to deal with the emotional damage inflicted both by her birth parents and by life in a Siberian orphanage. I am so very proud of her. She is now a licensed hair stylist with a great job, a kind and generous young woman, and soon to be married to a terrific young man serving his country in the US Air Force.

Sadly for me, my future son-in-law  recently got orders for Japan. So just a month after their wedding, they will move to Japan for at least three years. I will add that country to my long list of places to visit. And maybe I will finally decide to leave New Mexico's cold winters for a place with a climate more to my liking. Perhaps I will move someplace in Europe or Africa, since I travel there so often. Regardless, big changes are headed our way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Am I Ready?

How I wish I were 20 years younger.

I wish this not to escape the creeping debilities of old age -- arthritis, osteoporosis and cataracts -- but to have more time and opportunities to engage my passions for photography and wildlife, wolves and elephants in particular.

I am now at a turning point in life. I have been retired for nearly six years, and my daughter, who is getting married later this year, will move to Japan with her new husband, who is in the military, for a minimum of three years. So I will have no reason to stay where I am, aside from the fact I love my house and the privacy it affords me. 

So if I were younger, I would shed most of my personal belongings, downsize my house, simplify my life, and spend a lot more time traveling the world. I would love to live somewhere on the other side of the world, so it doesn't take 19 hours on an airplane to reach someplace in Africa, one of my most favorite destinations. 

But as I told a friend the other day, inertia is very powerful. The thought of getting rid of most of my possessions, selling my house, transporting my three dogs and moving someplace on the far side of the globe is a bit more than I wish to take on at this point in my life. I would love to learn about life in a foreign country. I would love to live somewhere that has no ice and snow. I spent 3 1/2 months living in Moscow close to 20 years ago, an experience I fully embraced and enjoyed. Of course, I speak Russian, so navigating the subway system or shopping for groceries and even asking for directions was not an issue for me. But am I up for such a dramatic change in life at this point? Am I ready to be totally on my own in a foreign land?

It's a lovely dream, but am I ready to make it a reality?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Buy a Photo, Change a Life

I love to travel, and I love photography. I also am a firm believer in the power of education to change lives and to make the world a better place. 

So when I heard about the wonderful scholarship program of Nairobi-based Save the Elephants, I had to learn more. According to the group's Web site (, they "work closely with local primary schools in the area to select highly motivated intelligent students who come from pastoralist backgrounds and whose families are unable to afford the school fees.

Sponsoring these young people provides them with a rare and precious opportunity that will change their lives.

So far 29 students have already completed their secondary school education under this program and 10 are in university. One, who completed his secondary education in 2005, emerged as the top student in Isiolo District. With the help of the program and his sponsor Chip Owen, in 2013 Anthony Lekoitip completed his 6-year Medical degree in Nairobi University and is now a doctor in Isiolo. Benjamin Loloju, our first-ever scholarship student to get straight ‘A’s in his final exams – appearing in the country’s top 100 students of 2009 – is taking on the technical world of Geospatial Engineering at the University of Nairobi, a path that may lead him straight back to studying the very elephants that brought him this far.

Dr. Lekoitip says: “I thank Save the Elephants and Elephant Watch Camp for all they have done for my life. They are my heroes and heroines.”

This program goes the extra mile to build both intellect and character, and the sponsor has a unique opportunity to be part of this journey. The students build friendships with their sponsors, and with STE and stay in close contact the whole way through termly letters and pictures."

The cost to sponsor a deserving student through four years of secondary (high) school is $6,000 US, or just $1,500/year. I am sponsoring a female student, who will be chosen in January when scholarship recipients are named.

I have set up two Web sites, and at, with my best
photographs for sale. Every penny raised from the sale of photographs and other items will be donated to the Save the Elephants scholarship program. 

So if you believe in the power of education to change lives, please consider sponsoring a deserving Kenyan youth. If you can't afford $6,000 for a four-year scholarship, please help by purchasing a photograph. And please, share this opportunity with friends, family and coworkers. If you prefer to donate directly to the scholarship fund, please do so.

The Kenyan people are warm, kind and extremely nice. I have visited Kenya twice and I am planning another trip next year. The students are eager to learn, and with your help, more of them will be able to make their dreams come true.