Getting priorities right during the holiday season and beyond18 december 2013, 13:51
A European friend called me the other day to say that he and his wife wanted to give me money to make Christmas brighter for a widow with 3-year-old triplets.
It's been hard on Yuliya, a school teacher, since she lost her husband a couple of years ago, and I was happy that my European friends had thought about her during this holiday season.
“We want this to be anonymous,” said the husband, knowing that if he didn't say it, I might write about his good deed, embarrassing him and his mate.
My friends' generosity got me thinking about what the Christmas/New Year's season really means.
Of course we all want to have fun during this time – to relax, hug our wives and kids, eat good food, party.
But we should also be thinking about helping others, especially those of us with no financial worries.
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I've been in Kazakhstan seven years, and it's been great seeing life improving for many folks here.
But a lot of Kazakhs have yet to taste prosperity. They're the ones I think about often -- not just during the holiday season but all year long.
Now I'm goiing to tell you something that will surprise you.
In my seven years here, I've given about $120,000 to Kazakh families who have needed help.
The biggest chunk was about $40,000 over three years to 19-year-old twins in Almaty who in a four-month period lost their father to a heart attack and saw their mother suffer a debilitating stroke.
The girls, whom I had met at a coffee shop near my home, were second-year university students. After the dual tragedy in their family, they were ready to drop out of the university and work.
I knew the twins would never have decent lives without university degrees.
My son and daughter had master's degrees and were doing well, so I told Aknur and Ainur I'd put them through university. I did, paying for their educational expenses, their apartment, their food, clothes and everything else for three years.
The happy ending was that they graduated and got good jobs.
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The second-biggest chunk of money I've given away here was $30,000 to help a 19-year-old waitress beat leukemia.
Rabiga had had a tough life even before developing cancer. Orphaned at 13, she fell for the first guy who came along. The result was a baby at 16. The guy refused to marry her or help her take care of their son.
I met Rabiga while she was working at the same coffee shop where I'd met the twins.
A few months later, she was diagnosed with leukemia. She was desperate to survive so she could keep bringing up her son, who was her entire life.
I didn't know what I was getting in to when I agreed to help her. It turned out to be a perfect storm financially.
Because Rabiga was too sick to work, I not only paid for her expensive radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but also her apartment and everything else she and her son needed – food, clothes, utilities and so on.
It was a tough year for me financially because the twins were still in university, too. I ended up pulling $30,000 out of savings to help Rabiga. I've never regretted it, though. In fact, I was grateful I had the savings when it was needed.
A year later, Rabiga was in remission from the cancer – and she still is. I was relieved she could continue caring for her son, a bright and beautiful child.
The rest of the money I've spent on Kazakhs has involved medical expenses, educational expenses and scores of miscellaneous items.
As far as I know, no local friend has ever tried to con me out of money. All who asked for help genuinely needed it.
Many Kazakh and foreign friends have asked why I do this. Some are totally mystified that I would help anyone outside of family and close friends.
I reply that God has been good to me and that the Bible and Koran call on all of us to help those less fortunate.
In addition, I read long ago about Kazakhs' generosity to neighbors and even strangers during tough times.
If not for generous Kazakhs, many of the Germans, Ukrainians, Chechens, Koreans and others whom Josef Stalin deported to Kazakhstan between the 1930s and 1950s would have perished.
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Most of the Kazakhs who reached out to others didn't have a lot themselves, either, making their generosity even more laudable.
At times it hasn't been easy for me to meet all the requests I've had for help. They can come in bunches.
If I'm overwhelmed, I'll sometimes ask foreign friends who have money to help me help those in need.
I've had no regrets about pitching in, even when it's made my financial situation tight.
After all, what are a few less nights out?
Most of you have read me long enough to suspect I'm going somewhere with this column.
And you would be right: If you're enjoying a comfortable life, join me in helping folks who are still struggling. And not just during the holidays but throughout the year.
Let me close on a funny note.
I have a foreign friend with a girlfriend who loves goodies and hits him up for money whenever she can.
One day, when she asked for some expensive cosmetics, he became exasperated and blurted out: “Ya nyet Bill Gates.”
Whereupon his girlfriend grinned and responded: “Yes you are.”
I'm not Bill Gates, either.
But as long as I have a little extra, I'll help out.
Ole Bill would be proud of me.