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The "100 Friends Project" started with a boy's dream, literally. When Marc Gold was seven years old, he dreamt of standing on Mt. Everest and looking across India. A family in the village called to him. Gold had the same dream thirty-one years later. In 1989, Marc acted on his dream and traveled to India. He met a Tibetan woman who needed antibiotics to cure an ear infection and a hearing aide to enhance her life. Total cost: $1 for the antibiotic and $35 for the hearing aide. The health care proved too expensive for her family, and Gold happily supplied the money. Marc said, "I was shocked to learn that something so important could be accomplished with so little." That trip became the maiden voyaage to ten more trips and the birth of "100 Friends Project".
Gold started the "100 Friends Project" by asking for donations from 100 friends. "I've got a big mouth and I know a lot of people," said Gold. "I wrote letters to co-workers, friends, acquaintances, family, the folks at my corner bakery, my favorite waiter." In 1992, his fundraising brought $2,300 in donations. Gold traveled to India again and sought out the most needy people. He wanted this project to be directly from the donors to him to the poor. Trustworthy people pointed him towards families that were not being helped by other organizations.
In subsequent trips, he found New Light, a program for prevention of HIV/AIDS. They primarily helped sex workers and their children receive health benefits and a start for a better livelihood. Funds from Gold should help house teenage girls who need to learn a skill, receive education, and prevent them from becoming sex workers like their mothers.
Gold's "100 Friends Project" addresses the needs of the poor, sick, and needy with children and women at the top of his list. Gold visits and helps hundreds of impoverished families in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Nepal, Tibet, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Afghanistan, and Turkey. Donations grew to a total of $64, 530 since the beginning of the "100 Friends Project". For 2005, he collected an additional $35,000 in donations. Gold's trips are funded with his personal money. Eighty-five percent of all donations go straight into the hands of the poor. The remainder of the money is used for administrative costs, newsletters, and fundraising.
The donations are tax-deductible, and every amount is accepted. Though donation recipients are not required to pay back the funds, Gold sometimes asks them to "pay it forward and help save another person's life." Donations are used for health care, medical equipment, clothing, food, and toys. Sometimes donations provide materials, such as a sewing machine or goods for a shop, to help families start a livelihood.
Gold retired from teaching and moved to Thailand in August 2005. He wanted to focus on hands-on activities rather than the fundraising aspect. "I usually do my fundraising while I'm in the U.S. Some funds come all year long, but most happen while I'm in the U.S." Mark said. He generally visits the U.S. from January to May for fundraising and public speaking to youth about poverty and Third World countries.
"As the project has developed, I have been speaking in front of children in more states. I'm only limited by time and money. Last year I spoke in front of children in California and, upstate New York, and New Jersey. I hope to do more when I am in the U.S. from January to May 2006."
Gold hopes that his travels through Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and India this year will yield more opportunities for hands-on work. His focus turns to the Tsunami victims of 2004. While many people have donated to Tsunami relief, Gold recognizes that their need is still overwhelming. He plans to travels to Sri Lanka for one month to work with Tsunami survivors.
In Thailand, he meets with another American, Reid Ridgeway, who runs a program called Ecotourism Training Center, which is part of a long term Tsunami recovery effort. Gold explains, "The center will train young Thai men and women in three integrated areas of study: Computers, English and Diving-all part of a curriculum focused on environmental education and sustainable tourism. I'm going to learn more, perhaps make a sizeable donation, and maybe do some hands on work in teaching English and computers."
Gold's other goals are to help sex workers in Cambodia and Thailand. He hopes to prevent young girls from entering the sex trade. While Gold reaches out to those in need, he avails himself to others who want to start a non-profit project like his. His website http://www.100friends.com lists a how-to guide for those wanting to start similar projects in the U.S. or abroad.
When asked why he continues this work, Gold answered, "This work brings meaning to my life. I know it benefits those I have reached through my work. If I can die knowing I have been able to help some needy fellow human beings, then that is enough for me."