Monthly Archives: July 2011

Fort Collins

This weekend I drove to Ft. Collins to visit a few friends
who were in town for Campus Crusade staff training. If you’ve ever been there,
the town has a significantly different vibe from the more conservative and
straight-laced Colorado Springs. The trip was fun and fairly uneventful, but as
we were leaving was struck by a girl sitting on the sidewalk. I never found out
what we name is, but she was wearing ragged clothing and holding a sign that
read “Wandering, Free Broke” in Sharpie on old cardboard. I’m not entirely sure
what the sign meant, but I from what I know about the margins of society, I
could tell that this girl was a teenage runaway.

A few weeks ago I was given the privilege of screening an
upcoming documentary on human trafficking in the U.S.  In it, the producers outlined statistics that describe the
most vulnerable members of society to sex trafficking. Overwhelmingly, these are
younger teenage girls (13-15) who lack strong family structures or male role
models. Traffickers will observe these girls, begin relationships with them,
often as boyfriends, etc, and over time turn them over to drug addiction and
traffic them in prostitution rings. When I saw this girl I knew that she was
exactly the type of girl who would be vulnerable to people like that, if she
wasn’t already. I’m not an overtly emotional person, so I didn’t do anything
about it or talk to her, and it was only as I left that I realized that not
only did I not try to help her out (or at the very least just talk to her and
find out why she isn’t with her family), but no one else looked like they were
about to either. And then I realized my hypocrisy in working for an
organization that frees children from those situations all over the word, but
refusing to act on my impulses to do anything about it right where I live.
That’s pretty screwed up.

The Great Sand Dunes

This weekend I road tripped out to Great Sand Dunes National
Park. The interns hang out a ton, but for the most part it’s big, mixed groups,
and the guys and I had been missing some quality “guy-time”. We set out Friday
afternoon after work for the 3 hour drive, set the car up with some good tunes,
and stocked up on snacks for the weekend.

As we drove South, we witnessed some of the most
breathtaking landscapes I have seen. Desert towns with scattered trailers and
always a few liquor stores littered the highway as we made our way to the
dunes, and all the while the sun set red all the way across the Western sky.

We got to the park well after dark, and decided to set out
on our hike before making camp. Our goal was the top of the Great Sand Dune,
the highest point in the 25 square miles of Sand Dunes, and we would do it
without flashlights or any formal direction. The hike went on and on, and was
harder than many I have done because when you walk uphill on sand, for every
pace you step up, you slide half of one back down the hill. We made it though,
and something there was very different from any place I have ever been, except
for a cave maybe. When we stood up on top of the dune and gazed around at the
starry sky around us, we heard nothing. And it wasn’t the absence of people or
the absence of cars or white noise; it was the absence of nature. We found ourselves
in the middle of the desert without any animal to howl or leaf to blow, only
ourselves and our thoughts.

My photos will be here soon. But in mean time:

 

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Where I Work

Working for Compassion International has been a worldview
shaping experience to say the least. Particularily, I have seen some of the
world’s smartest and most successful people make huge sacrifices to work for a
company whose mission, changing the lives of the world’s most forgotten
individuals, they believe in. My boss is a 52 year-old Texan man who left his
career as a private construction contractor 3 years ago to head up Compassion’s
building projects. As a private contractor in 3 states, he has built a
portfolio of over half a billion dollars, and hopes to reach a billion before
he retires. Having worked for him, I can tell you that it is more than
possible. Everywhere I look here I see men and women who left guaranteed wealth
and high profile positions to be a part of a group that is changing societies
everywhere and breaking humans free from lives of hopelessness and failure.
Somehow these people have experienced wealth and status at the top of the
ladder and counted it as an unworthy pursuit for their lives. And it’s not
necessarily that they think that the work that Compassion does is somehow more
personally fulfilling for them than what they used to do. My boss has told me
many times that he’d love to go back into contracting, though he does feel that
his time is being better used where he is now.

And it makes me ask myself; do I want to wait till I’m 40 to
realize what is in front of my right now: that pursuing security and wealth
might not be worth it.

Independence Day

If you’ve ever been to Colorado, you’ll know that people
here are crazy about what they call “Fourteeners” (mountains over 14,000 ft
high). This weekend my friends and I summated two of them: Grey’s and Torrey’s.
As an avid hiker, I’m generally prepared for any mountain, and spent my high
school years hiking the Alps back home, but the Rockies are a whole new game.

A woman died on the mountain the day we hiked Grey’s and
Torrey’s. We’re not really too sure what the cause was; we hear it was a
seizure, but we haven’t read anything official yet. As we began our hike, we
quickly came across a large group surrounding this woman attempting to aid her
through CPR and other measures, but she was too far out of the way to get any
real medical attention in time (no one on the mountain had cell phone coverage,
and the trailhead was a far way from the highway). The strange thing though, was
that it didn’t really stop many people. We respectfully acknowledged our
inability to help her, and left her in the hands of the people who were already
with her, and we moved on.

A strange question hit me that morning. “Is it really a sad thing
to die?” I do not mean to belittle the grief that the death of a loved one will
cause us, but I write of the position of the dying individual himself. I’m
asking whether the individual himself should consider it truly something to
grieve.

I think that the answer lies in what your view is of
eternity. The odd thing is that people who “adhere” to major world religions
are often the first to fear death. Christians fear death, even though the Bible
clearly states that “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). People don’t believe
it though, and I think that’s funny, because it’s another one of those things
that although logical, aren’t practical, or at least aren’t easy to believe.
Logically, if the next 60 years are all that there is, than what does life or
death matter in the end. And if there is more to it than the next 60 years,
then there are two other options: either what’s to come sucks, and thus people
should be scared, or it is really, really sweet, in which case people should be
excited. This may be a bold statement, but people who claim Abrahamic faith
(Jewish, Muslim, Christian) but don’t believe in Hell probably have more
fearful connotations with death than joyous ones, even though a positive,
semi-detached view of eternity should result in a more happy-go-lucky attitude.
But yet people still fear dying.

C.S. Lewis made an interesting observation in his book, Mere
Christianity when he made a case for morality existing as a result of Natural
Selection. As he saw it, the argument was simple: it benefits the collective to
observe moral standards such as not killing each other, not stealing from each
other, not abusing each other, etc. This makes perfect sense, he mused, except
that we continue to kill, steal from and abuse each other daily. And bad people
do still win. For all of our logic and reason, it is amusing to note the
inconsistency in human Modus Operandi.

Happy Independence Day

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Pikes Peak or Bust

My First Rodeo:

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USAFA

Here in Colorado I live with a local host family that my
organization set me up with to save on rent, and to give me a better foundation
for living here in the Springs. They are great. My host-mom works as the tax
specialist at Compassion (where I work), and my host-dad opens customer service
call centers for tech companies around the world. They have 3 kids, all guys,
all of whom are swimmers and tons of fun to hang out with. In addition to me,
they also take care of a cadet from the US Air Force Academy here in town. My
friend, the cadet is entering into his sophomore year at the Academy, and as
such is required to participate in the summer training programs: soaring
(flying planes that don’t use engines), global engagement (which is a fun
euphemism for combat training), and lastly survival training.

I’m not one to boast in our Armed Forces, glorify war (or
soldiers), or encourage the colonial mindset (though I do wholly agree that war
is necessary), but I will admit that I believe that the Air Force Academy may
be one of the most comprehensive and best systems of higher education that I
have been able to see into. If you’re into liberal arts, I’d may still
recommend just about anywhere else, but only because those programs aren’t
offered at USAFA. However, there are two things I’d like to explore that the
Academy does better than anywhere else I’ve seen: strengthening character, and
attracting valuable investments (the cadets).

First, students at USAFA are beat into shape and strength
from the day they arrive. Cadets are verbally and physically abused to the
point that would make summer 2-a-days for football camp look like a joke. Their
entire freshman year they are pushed around by upperclassmen, forced to study,
clean their rooms, participate in drills, all in addition to the rigorous
physical conditioning that they undergo in order to be prepared for their
careers as men and women in uniform. A number of kids drop out, but the ones
who stick around become pretty stable and capable young men and women. They are
able to be left in the woods for weeks on end without food or shelter, and
learn to survive hunger, cold or attack without complaining.

On the other side though, it is important to take note of
the Air Force’s brilliant design to recruit the Nation’s best and brightest for
their service. As seniors in high school, these kids commit to 4 years at the
Academy, and a minimum of 6 years of armed service in the Air Force. How do
they do it? Great teachers, beautiful campus? Sure, they have those, but I’m
willing to bet that in our slow economy, much of the students’ interest has
less to do with the academic program than it does with the fact that Cadets are
paid to go to school. Imagine that. Students are not only told that they are
the future leaders, but an organization will actually commit to them, train
them, and reward them for their service. In turn, the Air Force wins over young
men and women whose service is guaranteed by contract for a minimum of 6 years
after they graduate (and often well beyond that). From an HR standpoint, that’s
a pretty good investment, especially since the training is so particular. For
roughly $150,000 (note; this is an estimate) of training, they gain 6 years of
highly technical service by some of the most capable kids around. That’s pretty
smart. What I wonder, is whether a company such as GE would be able to do the
same. Imagine GE (or another Fortune 100 company) funding full ride, non
need-based scholarships for engineering students at a tailored Penn State
4-year program including summer commitments (internships) and a stipend for the
student’s living expenses. I think that a lot of people would jump at the
opportunity. And I know that because I have a friend who just accepted a
similar offer from the Department of Defense to finish school for free, earn
$50,000 and be guaranteed a job when he graduates. I think that this is a
win-win engagement for the student (who no longer would be burdened with debt),
and the company (who gets to now pick from the cream of the crop).

A win-win of course, unless you examine the nature of
student debt, and whether there really is freedom in committed service, even if
they will pay for your school.

Ultimately though, I struggle to commend the Air Force
Academy as a truly holistic agent of personal and professional development for
one reason. It, and any institution that will choose to follow a similar system
of recruiting, will inevitably hinder an individual’s freedom to question their
values, and follow a pattern of life that is anything other than what that
system requires. I will suggest first that our world is terribly screwed up,
and second that any change to the status quo will only come from individuals
who choose to deviate from societal norms. From a business standpoint, I
believe that it is highly profitable (and highly competitive) to find a similar
system of recruiting to what the DOD is beginning to do, but from a social
standpoint, I do hope that there are individuals out there strong enough to
resist the allure of wealth and security, and that will strive to be agents of change
in a world where stability is valued more than social innovation.

Week 3

I’d like to take a couple paragraphs to reflect on some of
the things I’ve learned about doing business in 3rd world countries
since beginning my job here.

As the International Facilities Database Intern, my job
description is two fold: improve the current database systems being used to
maintain Compassion’s 40+ field offices around the world, and assist my boss in
negotiating new lease contracts for offices who have outgrown their current
spaces, or in the case of countries like Haiti, have to open new offices when
old ones are destroyed. Of all the funny practices and odd clauses that I come
across in my work, two things stood out this week:

This week, I prepared and sent off a schedule of payments
for one of our offices in West Africa, and in so doing discovered a peculiar
tax practice. The payment schedule was promptly returned to me by the local
office with a few adjustments made to reflect the landlord’s income tax
payments, and I soon found out that contrary to how business may be done here
in the States, in Togo it is the Lessee’s duty to pay the Landlord’s income tax
to the government. I still haven’t figured out why they do it that way (or why
we do it our way), but it made me laugh.

The second thing that I came across this week was a clause
on the lease for one of our offices in Central America that stated that the
Lessee must take care of the premise “as the good family father”. My boss and I
chuckled a little as we pondered the wide disparity in quality parenting around
the world.

Internship Orientation

Today we had our first day of orientation. There are 21 of
us in the program this summer, interning at Compassion International in
Colorado Springs, CO. There are 21 interns from all over the states (2 Penn
Staters!), and each of us will be working in different departments.

My job, as the International Facilities Database Intern is
to assist the manager in charge of opening Compassion’s Field Offices;
specifically through lease negotiation, database compiling and translation
services. I’m a little nervous because I don’t know too much about IT, but
hopefully things will go smoothly.

interns