How to Save a Life

About ten years ago, I made a list of things I wanted to do before I’m not here anymore. Like a bucket list. It included living long enough to hug my grandchildren. It also included “saving a life.” At the time, I wasn’t sure how I was going to save a life since I’m not a medical professional and I’m not very strong. But I now realize that “saving a life” doesn’t require a dramatic gesture to prevent someone’s imminent death. It’s also helping people feel hope, easing their pain, and supporting their path with dignity. This isn’t very hard to do.

One way people save lives, especially at this time of year, is by giving to charities. Charities are important, partly because they do a lot of things most of us can’t do. Unfortunately however, most charities (unintentionally) reinforce the very inequality that creates a need for charities because they excuse “us” from engaging with “them.” The most common fundraising message is “you” can help “them” if you just donate to or volunteer with “us.” It can’t be helped — and I give to charities — but there is another way to save a life.

Most of my sharing budget goes to people directly. I have found a lot of ways to do this. Some are obvious (making sack lunches for the homeless). Some were opportunities I learned about through friends (buying a plane ticket for a woman in Iraq so she could get surgery in India). Some benefit the broader community (donating fabric to a couple of women who make masks for people who can’t afford them.) This kind of giving assures that every penny goes directly to support people. And it supports people who don’t have access to the support of charitable organizations.

My sharing strategy has enriched my life in unexpected ways.  I’ve heard people’s stories and made friends. I’ve felt connected to my ancestors and the bigger world. They have changed the way I think about people whose experiences are different from mine.

And sometimes when I connect with people who need support, I find that I need theirs. We all have gifts. When we share them, it’s no longer charity. It’s people building bridges together.

Pepe’s murals are creating soulfulness and bringing tourists to his hillside barrio in Guanajuato, Mexico. I donate to Pepe instead of museums and community development organizations.


  1. I totally agree. I remember many times when Caitlin, Jack and I would go to Gordon’s in SF and we would usually see a few homeless sitting in front of the taqueria. We would always buy a couple extra burritos and the kids hand them out when we left. Great burritos for the homeless and food for my kids’ souls.

  2. Short and sweet and to the excellent point. I like your term “sharing budget.” I think in the end you’re probably saving your own life, too.

  3. One of the many cherished memories of our times together in San Miguel: Walking with you and you stopping to give a ten-peso coin to every single beggar we passed on the street — because you had filled your pocket before the walk with LOTS of ten-peso coins. Guess who has followed in your footsteps (well, sometimes with smaller coins)?

  4. Beautiful Kim and Pepe! Thanks for sharing.
    As a medical professional who has saved a few lives, I can say that it’s very gratifying to be able to help one person/family at a time. But it’s equally wonderful to uplift entire communities by art.

  5. Oh I love this idea! Thank you for sharing. I’ve done this myself when on trips bringing supplies with me for the locals but I see there’s more ways to “go direct” thanks to your blog

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