In particular, I'm grateful to UNICEF for my first trip to the continent of Africa, which was that journey to the Ivory Coast and Liberia with Laurence Fishburne. That experience, the opportunity to hug and kiss former child soldiers, to watch UNICEF fieldworkers work so diligently at child reunification, and to hear a group of schoolchildren taught in a bombed- out church singing, "We want peace, not war," to us, created in me a lifelong commitment to Africa and a lifelong respect for that troubled but inspiring and enriching continent.

Last but not least, I think my time at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF taught me that field-workers—no matter which government agency or NGO they work for—are the angels who live on this earth. I'm not a field- worker—I do some hands- on work, yes, and that grounds me and nourishes me to a remarkable extent, but most of my work is in creating and supporting programs. Those heroes who live every day in the shantytowns of Johannesburg or the refugee camps of Sudan or the homeless shelters of New Orleans are the people I most admire. I don't think that I'd have truly appreciated the work they do if I hadn't had the chance to meet the UNICEF staff and to see for myself just how much difference they make in the lives of the people around them.

So I spent three wonderful years at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF—and then it was time to leave. But UNICEF holds a special place in my heart as the agency in which I really discovered my inner humanitarian. Of course, you don't have to find a full-time job at a nonprofit, but I hope my experience shows you how rewarding this sort of work can be.

However, there are as many ways to contribute as there are causes that need your help. One of the most basic forms of service and a way to begin to make a connection with an organization is a simple charitable donation. If a journey begins with a single step, a journey for change can begin with a single check.

Excerpted from If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service and 100+ Ways You Can Too by Malaak Compton-Rock, foreword by Marian Wright Edelman. Copyright © 2010 by Broadway Books. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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