If you have any last-minute holiday presents to buy I have a suggestion that’s inexpensive and will make a difference in a child’s life. Or, you could go to the mall and buy reindeer-red lounge pants. (I Googled “frivolous Christmas gifts” and I swear that came up on top.)
K.I.N.D. (Kids in Need of Desks) is a UNICEF Project. With donations from the public, they purchase desks for students in Malawi, Africa, who otherwise would sit on dirt floors. K.I.N.D. is literally changing children’s lives one desk at a time.
You can buy a desk (or hopefully a classroom full) in the name of a friend or relative online or over the phone. These kids are so bright, articulate and appreciative that seeing their reactions to getting a new desk can’t help but bring a smile to your face.
I first learned about K.I.N.D. from Santa Monica resident Lawrence O’Donnell who’s a journalist, actor, writer and Emmy award-winning producer. For the past five years, he’s also been host of MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.”
O’Donnell was raised in Dorchester, South Boston, in a working-class neighborhood. His father was a police patrolman who became a lawyer by using the G.I. Bill to put himself through law school at night.
Getting kicked out of Catholic school, O’Donnell was a bit rowdy and pugnacious. (And is occasionally on his show). And yet he managed to get admitted to and graduate from Harvard where he worked on the famed undergraduate humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon.
Though he’s also a capitalist, O’Donnell is a self-described European socialist. “I’m not a liberal who is so afraid of the word that I had to change to ‘progressive.’” O’Donnell is often attacked on Twitter by right-wingers but takes great pride that many of them wined up contributing to the K.I.N.D. Fund, proving helping the kids in Malawi is bigger than politics.
“Last Word” is fast-paced political analysis. It’s entertaining, informative, occasionally combative and often funny. Recently, there was a hilarious analysis of the letter from Dr. Harold Bornstein, Donald Trump’s physician who claimed “unequivocally” that Trump “Would be the healthiest individual ever to elected to the presidency.”
The absurd letter begs the question how did Trump find a doctor as bombastic as he is? Or did Trump write the letter and pay Bornstein to sign it?
But back to K.I.N.D. In 2010 O’Donnell made a life-changing trip to Malawi, which led to MSNBC and UNICEF partnering to create the groundbreaking project with the mission to deliver desks to African schools. They’ve raised over $6.5 million for approximately 100,000 desks, manufactured in Malawi, resulting in local jobs as well.
But there are still over 5,000,000 school children in Malawi without desks. That’s where you come in. Seeing the kids delight in receiving their new desks (https://www.facebook.com/thelastword/videos/914333361954844/?theater) will undoubtedly touch your heart as it did mine.
How I discovered that O’Donnell lived in Santa Monica is curious. In 2011, murderer and mobster Whitey Bulger was arrested after living incognito here for sixteen years. That’s when O’Donnell wrote that he had lived near Whitey growing up in Dorchester and now again as an adult.
In fact, O’Donnell had walked daily by the apartment house at 1012 3rd Street where Whitey lived. (And yes, Whitey was living in a rent-controlled apartment!)
For years, Whitey had been at the top of the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list along with Osama Bin Laden. In May, 2011, Bin Laden was killed while in June, Whitey was arrested. (Scratch two names off the list!)
Along with his girlfriend, now also in jail, Whitey used to shop twice a week at the Farmers Market on the Promenade. They also frequently dined at Michael’s Restaurant on 3rd Street and took leisurely ocean-view strolls in Palisades Park. (How sweet, especially for a guy who would be convicted of 11 murders!)
It was in Palisades Park that Bulger approached a homeless man about using his social security number to be able to rent his apartment. Thankfully, in 2013 Whitey was sentenced to two life sentences, plus 5 years. (So no more ocean-view strolls.)
Whereas Whitey leaves one depressed about humanity, the kids in Malawi do just the opposite. For O’Donnell, his journey with the K.I.N.D. Fund has been among the most meaningful of his life. But April 12, 2014, all that almost ended.
O’Donnell and his brother, Michael, were vacationing in the British Virgin Islands when they were involved in a near deadly car accident. Highly serious injuries kept Lawrence in the hospital and recuperating for almost three months. (Google “O’Donnell returns post accident” for the June 23, 2014 “Last Word” but have Kleenex handy.)
Lastly, ordering a desk from the K.I.N.D. Fund is tax-deductible. Unless I’m wrong, you can’t say that about reindeer-red lounge pants.
To order a desk, phone 1-800-4-UNICEF or go to www.msnbc/kind-fund. “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” is on MSNBC Mon-Thurs at 7 p.m.