Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Dobri Dobrev: The Beautiful Beggar

You’ve seen his type before, at the bottom of Freeway off ramps, sitting outside a church, sleeping in dark corners.  His clothes are worn and dirty.  He’s haggard, despairing, defeated.  Or is he?

A familiar figure who spends his days sitting outside the Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria Dobri Dobrev, seems to fit this description perfectly.  His weather-beaten face, long white beard, and scraggly hair coupled with his homemade clothes and shoes certainly give one the sense that he is a lost soul.  But the man commonly known as ‘Grandpa’, who just turned 101, is anything but.

Dobrev remembers little of his childhood, where his widowed mother struggled to make ends meet.  During World War II, a bomb exploded near him, and left him almost completely deaf.  Along the way he married and had four children.  And sometime around 2000 he gave away what little he had to the Church, and began begging.  Until recently, in sunshine, rain, or snow, he’s walked a 15 mile route with his little donation box in hand to the Cathedral to ask for money from passersby. At his advanced age, he’s finally agreed to take public transportation, but nothing deters him from his work.  And for a long time people assumed he kept the money he collected.

Recently, however, it’s come to light that Dobri has given away 100% of the donations received from his decades of begging, and has lived only on his monthly state pension of 80 euros (about $85 U.S.).  Churches and orphanages have been the beneficiaries of Dobri’s generosity to the tune of 40,000 euros (almost $43,000 U.S.).

Ultimately, however, generosity should not be measured by how much one gives, but rather in how much the giving stretches the giver.  Like the widow in the Gospels who gave a mite, Dobri Dobrev has been out-given by many in terms of amount donated.  But because his life has essentially become a continuous act of giving, you’d be hard pressed to find someone more generous than the old man of Bajlovo.

And why does he do it?  His answer is simple.  “We must love each other as God loves us.”

It’s been said that we make a living by what we get, but a life by what we give.  Dobri Dobrev is a living testament to that truth.  What a beautiful life.

Dobri Dobrev is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Alok Dixit and Laxmi:  Celebrating beauty

In Agra, India, one mile from the breathtaking Taj Mahal something just as magnificent is taking place.  Sheroes Hangout is a cafĂ© where women who have been maimed in acid attacks work---and heal.

In 2014, there were a reported 309 acid attacks where men purposely threw acid in the faces of women to scar them?  Often the reason involves the rejection of a marriage proposal.  As barbaric as it sounds until 2013 it was difficult to even prosecute the attackers because of archaic laws and prejudice toward women.

Alok Dixit, first confronted the horror of acid attacks as a journalist, and soon became a full-time crusader for the victims when he founded ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ in 2013.  He realized well that in India, a person bearing the scars of an acid attack is typically shunned and finding employment is virtually impossible.  Thus the idea of Sheroes Hangout was born.  The business, launched by ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ in 2014 served over 5,000 customers in the first six months of its existence and has continued to grow since then.  Here, these survivors are empowered to leave the shadows of shame and learn to embrace life again.  Here, these remarkable women are free to develop new skills---both personal and professional.  And here, society learns to see facial and body scars as signs of courage and perseverance.

And as if this story couldn’t get more inspirational, in his quest for justice, Alok found love.  He met Laxmi, a television host and advocate for acid attack survivors.  She had survived such an assault herself at the tender age of 15 when a man more than twice her age threw her to the ground and splashed acid on her face and arms after she rejected his marriage proposal.  Alok and Laxmi have been inseparable ever since, and welcomed a baby girl into the world in 2014.

This couple continues to challenge the legal and social systems of India for greater justice, and in 2014 Laxmi was given the International Women of Courage award.

Change in India is slow, but progress is being made.  Since 2013, it has become illegal to buy acid over the counter, victims of acid attacks now receive free medical attention, and acid attackers can be sentenced to up to ten years in prison. 

Alok Dixit and Laxmi remind us all that there is nothing more beautiful than goodness, and their courage and love inspire not just India, but the world.

He is a hero, and she a SHEro, you should know!  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.