Entrepreneur, surfer, and humanitarian, Jon Ross has been compelled to help others throughout his life. For the last twenty years, he served as the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Achilles Track Club, a running club for people with disabilities. In addition to guiding blind runners and people in wheelchairs in marathons, he also builds houses with Habitat for Humanity. In early 2005, he was commissioned by a financial firm in New York to evaluate the disastrous effects of the 2004 tsunami and the needs of the victims in Sri Lanka. He explains, “What I found was that no matter the response of the big relief organizations, there are always individuals and families that still need help, months and even years, following a disaster. This planted the seed for MicroAid International.”
Launched in 2008, MicroAid is a 5013(c) organization whose mission is to provide assistance to those who remain in need after the initial emergency response and relief operations of other aid organizations begin to wind down. With Sri Lanka as the first project site, Ross met with local NGOs and victims of the tsunami who were overlooked or underserved by relief and recovery responders. Years after the disaster, many families still need houses, tsunami orphans require support for their education, and workers have not been able to replace their lost tools of livelihood. Ross adds, “These now comprise the portfolio of MicroAid projects, and I am raising the funds to complete them. MicroAid is a charity–we are not loaning people money–because sometimes people just need help. All of the money we raise will go to assisting the victims; MicroAid’s overhead will be paid for by the board of directors and other specific donors.”
Despite the tsunami, the island has retained its vibrancy, and for those interested in traveling to Sri Lanka, Ross reports, “It is a beautiful tropical island with gorgeous beaches and turquoise water. The highland region has tea and rubber plantations and old-world colonial charm. The people exude warmth and the food is delicious, especially the southern Indian-style curries, dahl, and the rotis. I enjoyed visiting the small beach resorts in the south: Unuwatuna and Marrissa, and the famous surfing beach on the east coast, Arugam Bay. I took a train from Batticaloa to Colombo; it was a long trip (10 hours), but seeing the lush interior of the country, the rice paddies and the fog-shrouded mountains was amazing. (I would recommend the overnight sleeper instead of the day train.) Of course, in Colombo, tea or drinks at the venerable Galle Face Hotel transports you back to the days of cricket and gin and tonics. The Buddhist temple of Gangaramaya, an oasis compound in the midst of the crowded city, has an incredible display of all of the gifts people have given them over the years, including a fleet of automobiles, art, antiques, jewelry, and even an elephant. The highlight for me was meeting people I could help. They were gracious and grateful. And they were doing their best under difficult circumstances.”
To learn more about the organization and its work, check MicroAid International.