In 32 years of traveling to nearly 100 countries, I’ve come across some darn good people, the kind who exhibit good character when there’s no fame or fortune in it, just the satisfaction that comes from knowing you’ve done the right thing.
I don’t know the name for the person I want tell you about. I spent a grand total of perhaps an hour with him, in short increments as he gave me rides in his rickshaw from one place to another in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in August 1989.
I gave him something without ever expecting he would do with it what I asked. I lived in Midland, Michigan at the time. The area press featured stories about my upcoming visit to Southeast Asia.
A woman named Sharon from a local church saw the news stories. She called and explained that a few years before, her church had helped Cambodian families who escaped from the communists and resettled in mid-Michigan. The families had moved on to other locations in the United States but stayed in touch with the friends they had made in Midland.
Through Sharon, each family asked if I would take letters and cash to their desperately poor relatives in Cambodia. When they sent anything through the mails, it usually didn’t end up where it was supposed to, especially if cash was involved. I offered to do my best with no guarantees.
The families in Phnom Penh were easy to locate, but the last family was many miles away in Battambang. That would have involved a train ride, some personal risk, and a lot of time it turned out I didn’t have. If I couldn’t locate any of the families, I was advised not to bring the cash back but to give it to any poor persons of my choosing.
When I realized I wasn’t going to make it to Battambang, I approached the rickshaw driver I mentioned above. As on previous occasions when I needed a ride from him, he smiled and said hello. He spoke enough English to carry on some short conversations. I had a sense – intuition, perhaps – that he was a good and decent human being.
“I have an envelope with a letter and $200 in it, intended for a very needy family in Battambang. Do you think you could get this to them?” I asked. He replied in the affirmative. “Keep $50 of it if you find them,” I instructed.
Back in Michigan several months later, I received an excited phone call from Sharon. “The Cambodians in Virginia whose family in Battambang that last envelope was intended for just received a letter from their loved ones back home!” And then she read me a couple paragraphs from that letter. The final sentence read, “Thank you for the two hundred dollars!”
That man had found his way to Battambang and not only did he not keep the $50 I offered, he somehow had found a way to pay for the train ride himself.
Does his act tug at your heartstrings? If it does, then you appreciate something the world desperately needs, something that is crucial to a free and moral society – honesty for the sake of it.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. He writes about exceptional people, including many from his book, “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.”