The Man and the Humanitarian Awards....
One of the biggest challenges of making an impact in the lives of those disdavantaged children is that most non-profit NGOs are tucked away in some outlandish forsaken backwater where CNBC and People magazine would never venture into. Needless to say, the leaders and dedicated individuals serving in those 3rd world environs are equally invisible. Let's see what I can do about that right now shall we? At the risk of sounding a tad narcisstic, I want to share with you who I am and why I am here in Peru's high Andes for the last nine plus years. Once you understand why I am here and why I created Changes for New Hope, you might feel like we have known each other for ages.
I was born in 1956 and raised in the Baltimore suburbs of Maryland in the United States. I lived in a comfortable lifestyle, nothing luxurious, but we had everything we needed. I am proud to say that I never had to experience a hungry day, involuntarily, in my life. Nothing of any significant importance happened for the next fifty years. Like most people, I graduated and got a job. Though some went onto college, my parents didn't believe that college was important. "College is a four year vacation at my expense and I am not paying for it." I recall my Dad telling me. So, I took the only job I could find in 1974 with no job skills aside from my diploma, during a recession. A sewage treatment plant worker was my lot in life for the next dozen years or so. Let's fast forward to the good part because the years that followed graduation were filled with inconsequental stories that only molded my thinking and desire to do better, become better and help others do the same. Besides, working in a sewage plant was not one of my proudest accomplishments.
2007- After enjoying a growing level of financial security and affluence, I took a trip into the west coast of Nicaragua where I was looking at an condo investment property on a golf course resort. My driver passed through several grass hut type pueblos and being more than a little curious, I asked him to stop. I visited the people of the villages and with what communication we could attempt between us, I learned that they ate whatever could be caught out of the river. The children were wearing ragged clothes, clearly malnourished and told me they did not go to school. These kids had nothing going for them and zero opportunity to escape their situation. We had already been driving for hours to get where this place was. I had decided then and there that one day, I couldn't be sure when, I would do something to help children living in this kind of destitution. What I saw there was branded into my mind permanently. I thought perhaps when I retired I could come back here or somewhere like here and start a project of some sort. Hardly specific but the pilot light was ignited in me.
2008 was the worst economic crash the world had ever experienced. My assets were being ill affected. I sold off what I could before taking any more losses. I got out in time and ahead of the game. I was in a cash position and as a day trader, self employed. My plan was to wait it out and jump back into the market which would inevitably bounce back. Unfortunately, my alcoholic, bi-polar wife, (now ex) suffering from anti-social personality disorder had other ideas.
2009- One January night as she dove into another bi-polar rage, I headed for the door to escape an incident. Realizing it was Baltimore city (rated by USA Today as the most dangerous city in America.) I opted to stay inside and lay low and silent. Thinking I was out of the house, my dearly beloved picked up the phone and for the next half hour I listened in shocked amazement as she plotted my murder with a hit man. With the police telling me there was nothing that they could do until an actual crime was committed, I decided to flee the country. The worst possible experience of my soon-ending life began the greatest experience and most purposeful that I could ever imagine. Never forgetting what I saw in Nicaragua, I began searching the internet for organizations that I could volunter with and become a value to destitute children, if not in Nicaragua, then somewhere like it in Latin America.
I landed in Huaraz, Peru in the high Andes with an organization that was soon a disappointment. The chasm between what relief they could have given the children, numbering about 40, and what actual value was provided was deeply disturbing based on the volunteer staff and massive cash available. I left and decided to create and develop my own project using my remaining savings. I was fortunate that I had no idea how massive an undertaking this was to become. Swimming is easy as long as you don't know how deep the water really is and what else is lurking in the lake with you. My first ostacle was the language barrier. I had one class in Spanish back in high school forty years earlier, which I failed. The culture, customs and conditions in that 3rd world town took some getting use to. Water had to be boiled before it was safe to drink. Taxis were homicidal maniacs and yielding to pedestrians crossing the road meant blowing the horn. My stomach took months to become accustomed to the food choices and the level of sanitation that would make a hog sick. Public bathrooms did not have soap, seats, paper or towels. A gringo tax meant foreigners paid at the market whatever vendors thought they could get away with charging. I had to learn fast. This was to become home for me and has been ever since.
Changes for New Hope was launched in October 2009 and registered as a Peruvian NGO with the government, June of 2010 making us offical. With fifteen curious young faces watching the inept gringo doing magic, teaching them how to draw and make art projects and giving them vitamins to attempt to arrest their obvious anemia, I had planted my flag in the ground. The small adobe room that I was renting, served as our first base of operation. Almost immediately I was not satisfied with a mere fifteen kids when destitution was so ubiquitous. I set out to create a second group, then a third. I added language classes to try to teach english with mixed results. I bought shoes for kids who wore ripped ill fitting shoes, I bought school supplies for them because most were sharing stubs of pencils and there was no paper for them to write on. It was clear that they needed a lot more than I was able to provide. Volunteers came along and some were salt of the earth, hearts of gold. Others, not so much. After some curves in the road, we found our footing and developed several other projects in various locations. In time I decided to focus primarily on value based living teaching much needed ideas under our Do the Right Thing initiative. How to be a good student, friend, son or daughter and what it meant to do the right things in various situations was a game changer for them. In a place where honesty was optional, women were treated poorly, stealing was encouraged so the family could sell their loot to buy food or beer, this was as needed as much as any other material benefit. I took it to the mayor of the city and it became an endorsed campaign city wide with great results. Art projects enhanced self esteem. I believe that we can influence change among the children from the inside out. Self esteem building was imperative and once embraced, their actions followed their newly adapted attitudes. I brought our artwork to the director of the museum in Huaraz who allowed us to exhibit it prominently in the main gallery. To date, we have had eight art exhibitions in a variety of locations, five of which were in national museums. Anemia was rampant and a continuing challenge. Ancash which is the department (or state) where Huaraz is located, has the worst numbers of anemia in all of Peru. Partnering with a grant from Vitamin Angels in California, we provided vitamin A supplements to several hundred children. Albendazole, which is an anti-parasite medicine recommended by the World Health Organization, and available here for 20 cents-per child, has massively eradicated the worm issue among children. In three separate surveys, over 90% of the children were tested positive for parasites.
Since those humble, finding our way beginnings, Changes for New Hope has been my joy and expanding effort and is the one thing that I have done in my life that I have never regretted, not for a minute. No one changes the world, we can only influence people to want to change. By example, by encouragement, by rewards for following a recommended path. The intrinsic development is far more powerful than the notion of punishment and shaming. What I have learned about myself since being here and what I have become is a story all to itself.
I have become a far more compasionate person, caring sincerely and deeply about the people here. My level of love for everyone, even those who seemingly do not deserve my care and concern, is profound and so powerful I feel it surging throughout my being all the time. I live in a constant state of gratitude, realizing it is one of the most powerful of attitudes. I was once in possession of material wealth in excess of a million dollars. I now realize that wealth can not be counted in money terms only, just as we know that potatoes are not the only food. I have become a grateful minimalist. I use just the resources that I need to maintain a life of health, safety and dignity. The notion of fancy cars, boats, manisions and dripping adornments seem such a waste in light of the fact that 785 million people have nothing to eat. I have become an avid writer. I had a column in Living in Peru Magazine in 2017 and in that same year launched Changes for New Hope Humanitarian Magazine which highlights other humanitarians around the world and their projects to raise awareness for them. I also write about my own feelings and insights to share my influence hoping to encourage others around the world toward a better, brighter life. My first e-book, A Gringo in Peru-A Story of Compassion in Action was published in 2013. Other books share my realizations and observations and my heartfelt passion for living as well as solutions to some of the world's ills. (Find them on Issuu.com for free)
2017 also gave me reason to celebrate. I was one of seven recipients of the David Chow Humanitarian Award for my years of dedication and service to the children of Peru through Changes for New Hope. We have partnered with schools, police agencies, the Fiscalia (State Attorneys office for juvenile deliquency) we have put photo artwork in hospitals to promote healing with a grant from Healing Art Photos in Florence Italy. We came out of obscurity when we were recognized and won a grant from Julian Lennon (son of Cynthia and John Lennon) via his White Feather Foundation in London England. By the kindness and shared compassion of some incredible (and few in number) donors, over eight tons of school supplies, clothing, shoes, recreational equipment, books, vitamins and medicine have been provided to Changes for New Hope.
Some people have referred to me as a hero, an inspiration, a humanitarian, a legend and a philanthropist. Those accolades may be quite kind but all I am or ever want to be is Jim Killon, an ordinary man that gives an extraordinary damn. I believe that we can all be heroes, great and small, in 3rd world environs or right where you happen to be right now. I believe that apathy is humanity's most profound humiliation. If my work here and what I am does anything for the people of the world that, like me, never had to see a hungry day in their life, I would urge them to go outside of themselves and do some small thing to make their piece of the world a better place. I believe that if you want to see the impossible accomplished,attempt the impossible.
I hope you appreciated reading my story and thoughts here. I hope you will let it mean something to you.
I love you all.
~~~ Jim Killon 2018 Huaraz, Peru
Announcing The Jim Killon Humanitarian Awards 2019
Ok, let me beat everybody to the punch and respond to what I know you are probably thinking; I am not a narcissist. I wanted to create this humanitarian award out of a deep concern for so many dedicated and compassionate people around the world who are making incredible inroads to find solutions to human suffering where they serve. I looked up humanitarian awards available around the globe and found that there were many however they were either very specific for a narrow group of individuals or awarded to people who are already famous and world renown. Those who have followed our magazine each month know that I am passionately engaged in solutions.
This humanitarian award is another one of these solutions I endeavor to create. Why should there be a humanitarian award for the obscure and nearly hidden altruistic individuals?
a) It is a gesture of gratitude for their compassion in action. Gratitude is one of the most powerful tools available to the human race.
b) It is a tangible expression of recognition for those who have set aside their own personal ambitions to alleviate the suffering of others.
c) The credibility afforded by such an award opens doors for humanitarians as they seek grants, co-operation from government agencies for assistance needed to accomplish objectives and fund raising efforts.
Small NGOs and other non-profits are notoriously anemic in their funding because they are either unknown or donors prefer to give to well known and well advertised charities. Case in point Catholic Charities USA received $858 million last year compared to Changes for New Hope that received less than $5000. Of course the number of people served is a contrast in the millions to be fair.
Let's Talk About That 500 Pound Gorilla in the Room
Why is this being called The Jim Killon Humanitarian Award? Was I not breast fed as a child? It has nothing to do with having a nearly uncontrollable ego. Those that know me personally would tell you that. Most of the time that I lived in Peru I was domiciled in one room, eating just one meal a day to be able to conserve funds to get the children what they needed.
Last year in July, 2018, I was viciously attacked by two thugs in front of my home who beat me so severely that I nearly died and needed months to recover. I was left unconscious in a pool of my own blood and I believed that death was certain to soon follow from the internal injuries. Two things happened.. One, when I regained consciousness, I was smiling, knowing that I was one of the rare individuals that found my purpose in life as a humanitarian and if I died, I was going to die on empty, having completed the goals and objectives that I came to Peru to do. Of course, unless I am writing this from the grave, I did not die. I could continue my work of love and reach thousands more disadvantaged children here in these Andes.
I decided to jettison the obstacles that either intentionally or unintentionally had blocked me from accomplishing an even wider range of objectives. This experience definitely showed me who my friends were, and were not. Over two hundred people reached out to me to share their outrage about the attack and concern for my safety and condition, for which I am grateful.
The second awareness was that, had I died that night, there would have been some slow walking and low talking but a year later, conceivably, Changes for New Hope and the name Jim Killon would be an ever darkening memory and whatever I had been to people would be buried under the daily life that consumed everybody and forgotten.
Now at age sixty two, how many tomorrows do I have anyway? I believe I need to create something that will outlast my physical existence or memory. I want the sense of altruism and compassion in action to continue to grow and reach out beyond just here in Peru, beyond people's temporary notion of giving, sharing or doing for the disadvantaged beyond any holiday season of giving or the time it takes to stroke a check at the office. I want to recognize those who are influencing positive changes around the world because so few are doing it.
The Jim Killon Humanitarian Award is a Legacy I Want to Leave Behind.
I believe that people will Google the name of this award asking "Who in the hell is Jim Killon?" I want people to read about who I was (but still am because I am still on this side of the grass) I want people to understand the motivation and importance for recognizing some great people who no one would ever know about otherwise. I hope that people would be inspired to emulate and step into a project, wherever they can and for as long as they are able selflessly.
I believe small changes make for great advancements that benefit thousands. Consider a commitment of 1% of your day that you would dedicate for the benefit of someone else (someone who does not have your last name) which is only fourteen minutes. Imagine if half of the people in your office or school decided to join you in that effort. What a wonderful world. Try it!
Who do you know that deserves to be recognized for their selfless acts of kindness and compassion? Who has inspired you by their acts of kindness?
Let me know at email@example.com or on the comment section of this website. In time I hope to make this an event where award winners will receive a plague at a ceremony that will publicly recognize their achievements in a manner that is well deserved and worthy of their achievement.
Sounds like a pretty cool program now doesn't it? Let's all be heroes!