National Edition

Would you skip a meal to feed a child?

Published: Saturday, June 7 2014 4:50 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, June 13 2014 12:52 p.m. MDT

Shelene Bryan wasn't looking to be a do-gooder.

Bryan and her husband, Brice, had been been sponsoring two kids in Africa for $25 a month each, mostly for the benefit of their young son and daughter, to teach them compassion and an awareness of "how blessed they are to live in America," she says.

She had the pictures of the two children — a girl named Omega and a boy named Alonis — on her fridge.

The sacrifice wasn't a big one for Bryan, who was a Hollywood producer at the time, working on independent projects starring celebrities like Mira Sorvino while Shelene was raising her son and daughter, Brooke and Blake. She didn't give her monthly donation much thought until one night she was giving a party at her Los Angeles home, and a woman pointed to the photos on the fridge and said, "You fell for that? How do you know those kids aren't a 40-year-old scam artists taking your money?"

Shelene realized that she didn't know. She hadn't done any due diligence. It was possible that she was being taken advantage of and misleading her children. She told her husband that night that she wanted to go to Africa. A few months later, when some friends were going on a tourist trip, she found her chance.

"My motivation wasn't to do any do-good thing," she said. "I was going to do this Diane Sawyer thing and bust this open. I thought, if this is fake, I'm going to be ticked off."

What she found in Africa changed the way she looked at the power of her own pocketbook. She arrived unannounced in a village in Uganda, where a local woman led her to one of the mud huts that dotted the village, and pulled back the sheet for her to enter. On the other side was Omega, the girl on her fridge: "I'm Shelene," she said.

Omega knew exactly who Shelene was because she had the Bryan family Christmas card on her wall.

"I was overwhelmed," Shelene said. "She was real. I just held her and wanted to give her anything she wanted."

What Omega wanted, it turned out, was a bed. In the nearest city of Kampala, Shelene bought Omega and Alonis beds, sheets, blankets, mosquito nets for Malaria, and new shoes for $20. A bed was only $3. She was stunned by how far her money went: "I thought to myself, if my girlfriends knew how much $20 could do, they would skip lunch or a pedicure and give the money to a child instead."

It turned out the children she had been sponsoring did receive and rely on the money that her family sent every month. Before she sponsored them they had been living on just one meal a day.

Shelene's experience led her to found Skip1, a nonprofit with a simple concept: skip just one luxury — a latte, a car wash, a pack of gum — and donate the money to provide food or water to a child by donating on Skip1.org.

Since its founding in 2009, Skip1 has funded a farm and a clean water well in Omega and Alonis' village in Uganda, and built school kitchens in the Dominican Republic and Peru, and two more are under construction in Rwanda.

Shelene talks to Deseret News about micro-giving and trusting charitable ventures.

Skip1 encourages people to skip an indulgence and give what they can — even if it's the cost of lunch. Why small donations instead of more significant ones?

If you slept in a bed last night, or grabbed your clothes from a closet, or have a roof over your head, you are better off than 75 percent of the world's population. If you skip a latte you can buy a bed for a kid in Uganda. If you skip lunch, you can feed a child for a week. It's amazing how even a little currency can make a difference in a third-world country. Literally almost anyone can make a difference.

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