Our country has changed in many dramatic ways since it was founded almost 250 years ago. But some things never change.
An innate love of freedom is perhaps our most obvious characteristic, but another is our can-do spirit. Americans, by and large, don’t sit back and bemoan problems. We look for ways to fix them.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the French author of “Democracy in America,” noticed this trait first-hand during his extensive travels in the United States during the 1830s.
“In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have taken an opinion or an idea they wish to promote in society, they seek each other out and unite together once they have made contact,” he wrote. “From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are heeded.”
It was true then, and it’s true now. Americans will volunteer their time, and of course they donate to groups who engage in charitable work both here and abroad.
One of the most impressive, I’ve found, is Spirit of America. Founded by entrepreneur Jim Hake, Spirit of America (SoA) has been described by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as a “philanthropic rapid response team.”
Its mission is simple: Find out what our troops and diplomats say they need to assist in building bridges to local populations, and then supply it.
And not just in the most obvious areas. SoA’s work is truly global.
Sure, it operates in countries that often dominate the news cycle, such as Syria. A few years ago, SoA supplied independent media there with solar-powered radios ($25 each), and activist Raed Fares and Radio Fresh with warning sirens ($700 each) so that innocent civilians could be warned of attacks by the Assad regime and by extremists.
But SoA is also in Mongolia, which few Americans ever think about. Mongolia was part of China for over 200 years, but it has been independent since 1992. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it established diplomatic ties with the United States.
To reinforce this bilateral relationship, the U.S. government supports Mongolian education initiatives and border security. But it can’t do everything. So when U.S. officials sought to support early childhood education in Mongolia’s Far West, they turned to SoA.
The group is now working to supply two specific needs: security wands for the Mongolian General Authority for Border Protection to counter transnational crime and the transportation of illicit goods in and out of Mongolia, and computers at three separate kindergartens to maintain accurate records of students’ information.
You can find many other examples of SoA lending a hand in other regions around the world. It has purchased English-written books for poor and disadvantaged schools in Vietnam. It has supplied cookware to Filipino youths. It has improved health care in the eastern European country of Georgia for critically wounded veterans of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s so quintessentially American. We don’t wait on government. We know even the most well-intentioned public program can’t do everything. There will always be people who fall through the cracks.
So we roll up our sleeves, just as Jim Hake did, and find a way to help. That may mean creating an initiative of our own, or it may mean donating our money and time to a group such as SoA (spiritofamerica.org).
That wouldn’t surprise de Tocqueville. “I have seen Americans making great and sincere sacrifices for the key common good and a hundred times I have noticed that, when needs be, they almost always gave each other faithful support,” he wrote.
The news cycle is constantly crowded with negative stories. But let’s not forget that good and decent Americans are still out there, fulfilling the true “spirit of America” everyday with their generosity. We should always strive to be among them.