Long-time Grassroots International supporter and Leadership Circle member Deborah Milkowski spoke with us about her values, mission and connection with Grassroots International. A portion of her responses appear below, with our gratitude for her insights and commitment to creating a more just, sustainable world for everyone.
Why did you choose to give to Grassroots International – what prompted you to put your dollars and your heart into this work?
Indigenous people have been successfully navigating their surroundings for centuries. They understand how vital their role is in preserving the environment to maintain their way of life. Today, governments are being controlled by corporations whose only concern is short-term gain. They place profits before people and, therefore, our world has become seriously degraded. Grassroots International assists Indigenous people and communities by helping them to help themselves. This, in my mind, is a very sustainable way to succeed.
How have you been affected by the movements and partners that you support with Grassroots?
After the murder of Berta Cáceres [in 2016], I realized that activists were being murdered. There is very little knowledge of this in the United States. It saddens me deeply that so many young activists are dying.
Can you tell us a little about your motivation for supporting grassroots movements?
I was listening to a program on National Public Radio regarding charitable giving to Haiti. They said that charity will not work in the long run. This person was interested in working with people that could help his community help themselves.
I graduated from Dartmouth Medical School (now the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine). Many medical schools offer opportunities for students to participate in overseas health care. Sometimes, when people from the United States go overseas to help understand and end suffering they may actually cause harm. Unless you understand the needs of the people you are trying to help you will likely not find a genuine solution to the problem. In order to do this, we must temporarily suspend our own values and judgments and really LISTEN and RESPECT the people we are there to help. Many charities are run this way – top down instead of bottom up. Thankfully, Grassroots International is a very different model, community-led solutions are at the front.
What would you like your legacy to be in supporting small farmers, women, and/or people’s movements? What would you hope to happen?
My philanthropic concerns are for animals, nature and human rights. I would really like to work with organizations that take all three into concern. I get enraged when I hear people talk about animals as commodities. People should never profit off of another animal’s suffering. Small farmers show respect for the land and I hope for the animals that they raise. While I am vegan I realize that many people use animals for work and for food. I understand this. I hope that someday we can move away from this. All living creatures need to be treated with compassion, dignity and respect. Also, from a human health standpoint it would be immensely beneficial to move away from a meat-centered diet. Obviously, this has great benefit to the environment as well.
Is there anything else you would like to share with Grassroots’ supporters?
I would just like to emphasize that we all need to live in balance with nature, even if we are urbanites. For too long our societies have been dominated by a patriarchal belief structure. Within this structure, we are taught to “dominate” or be dominated. We are not taught to live in harmony with nature. We are not taught to be respectful of other people’s belief systems if they are different from our own.
We, as Americans are sucked into the insanity of consumerism. We are taught to buy 10 of the same thing if “it’s on sale.” … It has sickened our society and turned us into a country without a soul. People live in fear all the time – even people with good salaries fear that it is never enough. I hope that organizations like Grassroots International can spark a revolution which will allow us to replace our current value system with a value system that respects the environment and treats all with compassion, dignity and respect.