Gary Kaplan Interview: Brings Water to Desolate African Community
Where did the idea for your charity organizations come from?
I was raised in Brooklyn, NY and relocated to Costa Rica as an adult over thirty years ago. Wow! Time flies.
Anyways, I always did a little charity work, but never in abundance or as a focus to my days. I’ve always been blessed with a steady business career that took daily precedence and usually all my focus. I am eternally thankful for what I have and what I can provide for my family.
It is not one cause that particularly calls me, but I do have a special place in my heart for children all over the world and like to advocate for them. I see communities in Africa where there is no water or children left homeless on the streets of NYC…it is heartbreaking stuff.
As a businessman, I’m used to seeing and sniffing out problems. When I see a problem, I assess it and then I devise a plan to fix it. My mind automatically works in this way.
When I traveled to Zambia, I saw hundreds of frail and hungry children and women – carrying 5lbs. containers similar to paint buckets, and standing in line in the sweltering heat waiting to gather water from a tiny hole in the ground, maybe only 3 ft. by 3 ft. When you looked down the ‘Well’ if you can call it that, the bottom of the hole in the ground was dirt. The people were using dirty containers to collect even dirtier water. The wind blew hot and the ground was between painful, heartfelt, and completely incomprehensible. When you come from our part of the world, is hard to believe that in this day and age people had to wait for water like this. I know the reality is that there are hundreds of those stories. But this was the one I saw. And felt. For me, that was just a day, but to them, it’s life. In my heart, I knew I should and can do something about this.
But there was an inherent problem. I had the means to help a portion of the community, but not everyone. I knew that it was better to do something rather than nothing at all, so I inquired how we could revive some of these community systems concerning the water.
I was with a local magistrate who was helping me maneuver the landscape of the community and get the water to the makeshift well in the easiest, safest and most effective way possible. When we began, their system of water basically consisted of no… WATER (not a good enough system!) and it did not look like rain was coming to that community any time soon, so we had an idea to find and tap into the nearest fresh water source and the next thing you know, we have got a pipe to pump water from a nearby river to the middle of the community.
Next, they needed a way to keep the water so they could ration it over days, so I thought the best use of my funds would be to finance the building of a real WELL to store the river water that would, in turn, benefit everyone in the community.
It doesn’t just stop at the water. When they tell me someone needs a roof on their home, we source the different possible suppliers of the materials. We look to employ local people from within the community to do the work. I am usually the liaison between the community and the contractors that come in to assist with the builds. We have to be careful to assess who will give us a fair price and who will make the building a positive experience for all of the community members. I take photos of the project during and after to show the progress and share it with everyone involved.
I enjoy being involved to the extent that my time will allow me. It’s easy to fund the meals in La Carpio (Costa Rica) but it’s more fun to fund, prepare, serve and eat with the community members. It’s more fun to see and interact with the people. I truly receive so much more from these interactions than I could ever give. It’s that simple.
The TRADE-OFF FOR ME
120 Pieces of Pizza
Charity is almost a selfish act in itself as I get so much joy from watching others receive. I get so much from it. I went to Ukraine. I remember I was out at night drinking and having a good time. The next day I wake up and know that I have fed half of me and there’s another half that needs to be fed. I ask the driver to assist me in finding an orphanage that I could help. I feel that if you’re going to “take you have to give back. If you have the resources you should share. It is a moral responsibility. “There is a Jewish Word for it…Mitzvah.
In Hebrew school, we were taught that Mitzvah is a blessing. Most people say I would love to do more of that myself. They wish they would do more, but it slips through the cracks.
It’s a priority for me.
When I’m on a business call, I say, “I have to go because I have forty kids and a pizza to deliver”. I just decided somewhere that I would not be one of the many who let these people slip through the cracks
Sometimes you don’t get around to doing things you want or need to do. Sometimes those things are the most important things in the world like spending time with your kids.
This interview has helped me to reflect on the project at hand and the way that I use and allocate both my time and money. If someone asks me to do something that will benefit ‘ME’, it’s never my first priority nor is it the things that I really enjoy doing the most.
How I go about Setting My Priorities
I make a list on the computer:
- Things that I need to do for my children
- Things that people asked me contribute to,
- Requests from the Humanitarian foundation CR
- Requests from the headmaster in Uganda
- Report cards to see how the children we sponsor are doing.
- Etc, etc.
Priorities are recognized and based on when they were entered into the list and how much time they will take to finish all together.
I can see the bigger picture for every single project that is brought to me, but I am not always certain if or how I am and the charity is supposed to be a part of each of them. Once I make my list and break the projects into bite-sized, manageable chunks of information, I can attack each chunk systematically and complete projects with ease and a smile on my face.