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Life Arts    H3'ed 3/3/13

Angels Among Us and Dancing Cows in Uganda

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This is Part 2 of Turn Right at the Dancing Cow:  A Miracle in Uganda with John Shimer, published on February 26, 2013 at .  

Welcome back to my interview with philanthropist and fundraising coach, John Shimer, author of newly published, Turn Right at the Dancing Cow: A Miracle in Uganda. In July, 2010, he had a near-death experience that changed his life and paved the way for his trip to Uganda and the African Hospitality Institute (AHI).

Before we get to the human angels, and I promise we will, I want to go back to AHI. Let's talk about the students' experience there, what they came out with and where they go after completing the program. And the nature of the graduation celebration, which was very different from analogous ones here in the States. 

John in Uganda
John in Uganda
(Image by John Shimer)
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The students eligible for AHI consider themselves members of the "walking dead." They have been so beaten up by life by the time they are 15 years old, they really have lost all hope.

Can you imagine what it is like to then learn they have this new opportunity to be reborn with real skills, and real self-sufficiency?

Well, at first, they just can't believe it. Then, they come to live at AHI and they find they are in a funk. The new opportunity does NOT wipe out and erase forever their old worldview of death and destitution. They want to go home and back to what they have known. Even though what they knew before was horrible. At least, it was familiar.

But 30 days into the program, they never want to leave AHI. That's a problem, because they must leave in two years and go out into the world as independent men and women. Maggie learned that to help them, she must provide them short, away-from-campus internships. This allows the students to slowly discover their new strengths and to use them.

These students have to be partially westernized also. They have to at least understand what tourists want and how they think. They have to learn how to help solve problems for tourists who seek their help and support. Sounds easy enough, but Western values are frequently counter-culture values to Ugandans.

Teaching the students to think as cultural anthropologists and to act accordingly is very hard. Eventually, they get it and they acquire a host of new skills.

When graduation day arrives, they are never fully ready. And sometimes, before graduation, old values learned in their early life trip them up. Students and teachers alike have made poor choices and have had to leave the school.

So, success in this adventure is never guaranteed. But those who make it to graduation day know they have REALLY accomplished something. And so do family and friends, who get gussied up and walk for miles to celebrate graduation.

They do this because, just like us, they live for hope that the next generation will climb mountains the previous generation was unable to climb. No wonder they celebrate all day long. No wonder they endure one speech after another, dance and sing and eat all the food they can take in. No wonder!

No wonder, indeed! Tell us what a thrive team is and why it's so important, John.

Thrive Teams are made of friends, family members and associates who embrace your life goals and are your best cheerleaders, helpers, boosters, and advocates. They are people who share your values, and get involved because they love and care about you and what you are trying to accomplish with your life.

They work like a team and create synergies with you, and in some way or another every member of a Thrive Team is on it because they also see how helping you helps them. They don't usually come into being by accident. But when you grasp the concept, and realize how we all need help to accomplish anything worthwhile, you can go out and enlist and engage that help in a conscious, intentional way.

To make Thrive Teams work well, you have to know and use the 10 magic secrets of human motivation.

Are you going to spill the beans about those 10 magic secrets, John? And, what does a Thrive Team have to do with Uganda, the AHI and the students there?

Sharing the 10 magic secrets of human motivation is always fun for me, but it takes more than a word or two. There is a short-course on this topic presented in the last 20 pages of my book.

These 10 motivational secrets are almost universal in their application, so they apply to getting the help you need in Uganda just as much as they apply here in the US. And I taught a class on building Thrive Teams at AHI because the students will need to build these teams once they leave Mother Maggie and AHI.

If they try to succeed without doing this, they will find many detours and some of them will be most attractive. You can tell someone, "WATCH OUT FOR THE DETOURS" but how will they know which roads lead to their hoped for destination, and which roads only look wonderful but lead to trouble?

When you have a Thrive Team, you are not alone, you have trusted fellow travelers who can brainstorm with you and help you think through important decisions for your life.

Let's face it, how important is it to share the journey through life with trusted friends? It's really important.

Boy, do I know that! I have a copy of your book but haven't quite finished it yet. Now, I have extra incentive. In the meantime, you faced special challenges regarding your AHI  graduation speech, despite the fact that you have been doing public speaking for many, many years. Can you talk about that?

Imagine you were asked to give the "Welcome To Planet Earth" speech to aliens. The good news is, you know what you want to say.

The bad news is, you don't know their intentions, you don't know if they have equivalent words in their language, and you don't know if your tone of voice and body language will send a totally different signal than your words.

The worse news is that you have been assigned an interpreter who you are certain understands your language, but you haven't got a clue what he or she is REALLY saying. He could be saying, "Welcome to our celebration feast!" Or he could be saying, "Gaze upon and celebrate the feast that stands before you." YIKES!

I only knew after my graduation keynote speech that I had done a good job. Before and during the speech, I was nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. Fortunately, Ugandans are very forgiving, but I had heard stories of others from the States who came and gave the keynote speech and said very stupid things like, "When do you plan to buy your first car?" OMG!!!

The actual content of my entire speech is in the book, and I was asked by several Ugandan adults after the celebrations for a copy of it. I consider that a real compliment. 

Yes, it is. Can you tell us more about the Angels Among Us Project?

The Angels Among Us Project is a storytelling platform meant to shine a spotlight on the very best of human behavior as represented by human angels.

Human angels are people like Maggie Josiah who, in spite of all the messages from our popular culture that say "No, don't go there," decide consciously to live their lives selflessly to help others.

You might naturally ask, how many of these human angels are out there? That remains to be seen, but from my experience and the first weeks of this campaign, they are everywhere. Because human angels are very humble and never seek out accolades and recognition, they don't come to our attention.

More than ever, however, we need to learn of their stories to uplift our spirits and help us believe in the human potential for goodness and decency. The more robust we make our storytelling platform, the better.

Right now, we have a website where anyone can come and nominate someone. There is no cost, no barrier to participation at all. You, or anyone, can go to and learn of the stories already posted and/or nominate someone to have their story told.

We have one award we give out called the "Angel On Earth" award. Hopefully, if the project becomes popular, we will be able to expand our storytelling platform and make it more robust. In a perfect world, communities across the nation will start their own local campaigns to seek out human angels and tell their stories.

And if they want my help, I'll give it to them.

I love it, John! Some potential nominees immediately come to mind, too. People I have worked with in the past who richly deserve the title of human angel. What haven't we talked about yet?

I just arrived back from dinner with a radio personality who interviewed me about one week ago who lives in Phoenix (which is where I am at the moment to do a TV segment in the morning). He wanted to meet me in person, and I kept a promise to contact him if and when I came to Phoenix.

Turns out he had a small hidden agenda, and I was delighted he shared it. Ten weeks ago, he had heart by-pass surgery and was only days away from certain death but did not know it. I suspect coming so close to dying increased his motivation to connect with me. No, I'm certain this is true.

He feels he was saved from certain death for a reason and he is feeling very certain about what that reason is. He wants me to come back on his radio broadcast with some of the human angel stories that result from tomorrow's "calling all angels" shout-out, and I will do that.

But he caused me to remember to respond to you and say that this project, the Angels Among Us Project, is NOT about me. It is about a hunger we all have to know, to absolutely know, that humans are capable of so much more than the murder and mayhem we hear about and see from the "gore reports" on radio and television every day, or that we read about in the newspapers.

That hunger can only be fed if we learn how to tell the stories of today's Good Samaritans, and tell them brilliantly. Can we do that? I certainly hope so!

Me, too. 

Thanks for your interest in this project. And thank you for your time and effort to make me think and respond through these questions and answers. I've enjoyed this sharing, and look forward to reading the final result.

I've enjoyed myself immensely, John. It was a pleasure talking with you. Good luck with your project. It's a keeper! 


Click here to read Part 1 of Turn Right at the Dancing Cow:  A Miracle in Uganda with author John Shimer.

Nominate your own Human Angel for the Angels Among Us Project.

John Shimer's website

African Hospitality Institute website

Maggie Josiah's FaceBook page
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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