The Third Wave, the truth about volunteering, just do it

When I came across The Third Wave movie, I got it mostly because it was involved with Warrior Poets (the production company of Morgan Spurlock, which should be a blog post topic on its own – stay tuned!)  and I tend to like their documentaries. After watching, I was moved, fascinated and slightly stunned. And after some minor digging I found that there was also a book by the same name that was more than an account of just the movie, so I read that too. Written by Alison Thompson, who both stars in and produced the film, the book also included other volunteering she had done on Sept. 11th and in Haiti with Sean Penn, who she met because of this film, and who incidentally liked this film so much he came on as a later producer and brought it to the Cannes Film Festival. The book also delves a bit more into her life and her adventurous (and kind of crazy! But in a good way) spirit.

The Third Wave is the story of how when the Tsunami occurred Sri Lanka the day after Christmas in 2004, (which killed about 230,000 people in fourteen countries, and over 35,000 confirmed deaths and over ½ a million people displaced in Sri Lanka alone) Alison, and her then boyfriend, Oscar Gubernati dropped everything in their lives and went to help. The amazing thing about it though, is that they did not join an organization or take direction from anyone. They saw the need, gathered some medical supplies, and just went.  When they arrived, they met up with two other random people who had done the exact same thing, Bruce French (who is a travelling chef that had worked for Def Leppard, Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and others) & Donny Paterson. I could imagine doing this in a wild philanthropic fantasy maybe (hey, as I’ve said, I’m weird) but actually leaving everything behind and showing up with just a spirit of helping to a disaster area completely blows my mind.

So, joining forces, these four people look around to see what they can do. They come to the Sri Lanken village of Peraliya, and decide that this is where they are going to help, and hearing about aid, thousands of people come pouring in trying to find relief. It’s an amazing story. What started out as a two week journey stretches to a 14 month rollercoaster of joy and pain. As the shock of the tragedy wears off, you see the life and struggles of living in a poor community, the jealousy and infighting that occurs, and learn that some of the larger NGO’s (non-governmental organizations aka charities) are spending money in the cities on their own people in lavish meals and hotels, and sometimes taking pictures of this wayward refugee camp, claiming the work on websites and letters back home as their own.

I’m not trying to knock NGO’s (well, maybe a little I guess) but I do want people to look at the charities they support critically to make sure they really are doing the most with your money. (Also, should you wish to check up on your own favorite charities you can go to this fantastic site, charity navigator, which is an independent company that rates charities and shows how well they do their jobs and spend your money) The truth is that sending spoiled North Americans (I am one, and I’m spoiled, so I can say that.) and other ‘civilized’ peoples to a disaster area without access to proper food, water and personal space, and expect them to live with the people they were helping would probably violate their employment contracts. But, comparatively speaking, when these 4 random people can actually live, and eventually just live near, the people and still do so very much for them, it can’t be that hard for other NGO’s to try to do the same and rough it a bit more to save some of the people back homes hard earned cash.  Americans spent $1.54 billion in aid, alone, in this disaster. None of that, or extremely little if you want to count some of the trucks they flagged down and begged as they drove by, was spent in Peraliya, so where exactly did it go? It’s no wonder the people there started going crazy.

Here’s the trailer:

But problems aside, this was an eye opening and inspiring movie. It’s truly amazing to see what 4 people did for their fellow man, and how their kindness snowballed and attracted others to their cause. It inspires us to know that this is what you can do if you just go out and do. That’s it. You don’t need more money, or a group to join, or even a leader. Just do something.

This concept is both terrifying and exciting. I want to challenge you, but for a minute, maybe I should look at myself instead. What would happen if I could throw my terror at travelling alone in a strange country to the wind? Writing a blog terrified me, but now after challenging myself to write 52 blogs in 52 weeks here I am, scheduled to be on post 11 and already on post 16! I’ve turned this crazy flood of literary enthusiasm that blogging created into words, and I’m writing short fiction again. And finishing it. I’ve even found a market and am going to send the freshest one out to a publisher for the first time in well over a decade. I’m searching for markets for the others. Who is this person I’m becoming? How was it that fear of failing actually kept me from writing, from this? The only change I made was to turn to my dream and actually go for it. Maybe I haven’t accomplished it yet. But I sure as sweet freakin’ sunshine am doing it. Holy housecats batman! I am doing it!!!!! Now what the heck else can I do?!?

Do you want to volunteer? Do you want to change the world? Do you have a dream? Maybe, as this movie shows us, you just have to follow your heart and ask yourself, “What can I do?” Then, and this is the hard part, do it. Just do it. You can change the world, or your world, right now, and lead the charge to change on your own. You can do it.

And if you need more motivation, here’s a link to Donny’s side of the story written in his book, No Ordinary Bloke:

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4 thoughts on “The Third Wave, the truth about volunteering, just do it

  1. I applaud anyone who wants to help and to better the living conditions of the poor of our world. I agree with you that anyone to gives to an NGO had better check them out well. Having said this I worked for an NGO in Canada (not overseas) and know that the one I worked with had integrity and good stewardship of funds. I worked for them for 13 years until having to retire because of MS. But there are many who would take people’s money and not do what they say they are doing. Making them accountable for what is being done is paramount.

    I’m glad that you have found writing so productive and rewarding…Diane

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