Attached is an article which appears in today’s China Daily about TransAmerica 2010 and A New Day Cambodia. This is the first of a series of articles in the Hong kong press about this project.
Changing the world one spoke at a time
Updated: 2010-05-18 07:15
Todd Miller plans to cycle across the northern US to raise money for A New Day Cambodia, a children’s charity that focuses on education and nutrition in that country. Provided to China Daily
Todd Miller’s need to speed: his bicycle link to Cambodia’s neediest kids. Elizabeth Kerr reports.
When you heard about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami what did you do about it? How about the 2008 Sichuan earthquake? Haiti? You may have been moved to action by the devastation caused by all three events, and little evokes check-writing more than natural disasters, but we all know there’s more to charity than responding to Mother Nature’s tantrums.
Cue Todd Miller. Hailing from Kentucky, soft-spoken and reasonably unflappable Miller is busy drumming up awareness for his upcoming summer vacation, which is no mere holiday, since Miller is also on a mission to help 100 or so children in Cambodia break free from a cycle of poverty.
Miller, an unassuming, youthful fortysomething has been living in Asia for the past two decades. Like many non-natives, his arrival in Asia was prosaic and based on curiosity, “Which to me is the best reason,” Miller reasons. With the exception of a business school stint back the United States and five years in Singapore, he’s lived in Hong Kong the entire time. “We all come back to Hong Kong eventually,” he muses.
So Miller finds himself in the midst of making plans for a cycling trip across the northern US for the dual purpose of vacationing and raising awareness for A New Day Cambodia (ANDC), a children’s charity that focuses on education and nutrition. He’s doing this by riding over 5,800 kilometers from the Pacific to the Atlantic on a 10-speed – and if things go his way, he’ll also raise $30,000. The whole trip will take 50 days at just around 125 kilometers per day. As Miller sees it, “No one cycles 3,600 miles without some kind of reason. It’s not a typical vacation … I’m told a fair number of people do in fact adopt a cause and use this as a fundraising event.” Miller gets to fulfill a personal cycling goal at the same time as doing something for a kid’s charity, another long-held desire. “For me it’s about trying to accomplish – in true multi-tasking Hong Kong fashion – several things in one activity … It would be hard for me to imagine doing what I’m doing without a purpose,” he says.
Miller has been distance cycling for years, and does in fact train right here in Hong Kong; the island’s south side, Tai O (“world class cycling with the exception of the double-deckers”) and Shek O are favorite spots. The stars aligned when a perfect cycling vacation coincided with his son’s school break. Then it was simply a matter of finding a worthy cause. ANDC resonated with Miller because of its emphasis on education. “Charity isn’t just about donating money,” he says. “It’s about trying to provide a solution. And I believe the solution for poverty is through education.” Miller took a series of trips to Cambodia to see what ANDC was all about, and the last piece of the puzzle fell into place.
So the question is why Cambodia? Why isn’t Miller putting his time and energy into poverty at “home”- be that Hong Kong or Kentucky? Miller agrees that it’s a valid question if not that simple to answer. “I think in Hong Kong, as affluent as it is, we tend to forget that there is significant need. It comes down to personal passion. For me, to be able to speak with conviction there has to be a certain amount of passion.”
So why ANDC, particularly when, in Miller’s words, there’s no scarcity of worthwhile causes in Asia? “I was trying to find an organization where I knew I could make a difference. That meant something younger, less established, where I could add value.” As he sees it, $30,000 for Oxfam isn’t going to move the needle. Ultimately his choice was an amalgam of personal reasons. Miller had been to Cambodia on numerous occasions before coming across ANDC, and was struck by a complex and sticky socio-political history that, admittedly, “maybe the US has played a not so glorious role in.” Miller by no means suffers an excess of liberal guilt, but he is willing and able to realize he may be on the hook to contribute to the larger picture. “I didn’t set out to do anything charitable … but I was already predisposed to help.”
While raising any level of consciousness or awareness on either continent is ideal, Miller is not evangelizing and doesn’t even want to. “I’m not going to be cycling across America with a dish out saying ‘Please give!'” he reveals with a laugh, novel though that sounds. “I recognize that times are difficult and that not everyone’s inclined to give. My approach is to just do something. It’s so easy to not take extra time or effort to try and give back in some way. This is my way of giving back (and) if it inspires someone else to do something, then I think this will be of great benefit.” Just don’t hand him cash. Miller is avoiding dealing with finances and recommends people donate directly to ANDC or to local partner Variety Hong Kong.
As time-consuming and training-intensive as Miller’s trip sounds, he doesn’t think he’s part of a minority anymore. He’s privileged, in that his employer, Sony Pictures Entertainment gave him the leave he needed. (How did he swing two months off work? “I asked,” he explained crisply.) But Miller honestly believes there’s a sea change coming, pointing to a general shift away from the last two decades’ unfettered selfish consumption. Technology like Facebook and Twitter have made getting the word out about worthy causes easier, and he dismisses worries of donor fatigue. In addition donating has rarely been simpler: Look at the contributions to Haiti relief efforts thanks to help from mobile providers.
But the urge to “give back” now transcends cash donations. Miller theorizes that “the economic crisis, for rich or poor, has caused things to realign. I think people are going back to basics, and becoming a bit more humane and aware. I see it among my peers trying to get back and make a difference.” Any number of factors could be driving what Miller sees as a full-on movement, the so-called touchy-feely Obama era among them. “I really feel there’s a movement on a global scale,” he thinks. Bottom line it’s hip to give again.
You can follow Todd Miller’s trip via his blog at transamerica2010.wordpress.com and donation information can be found at Variety Hong Kong, http://www.varietyhk.org/about and A New Day Cambodia, http://www.anewdaycambodia.org.
(HK Edition 05/18/2010