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From The Chronicle of Philanthropy
September 5, 2002

Family of Slain American Journalist Promotes Peace Through Charity
By Domenica Marchetti

Daniel Pearl loved turning conventional wisdom on its head. As South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Pearl was known for writing lively, often humorous, and sometimes absurd stories -- including one about the thriving leather industry in India, where cows are considered sacred -- that sought to shed light on a part of the world few Americans paid attention to until September 11.

Now his family is using the charitable organization it set up in memory of Mr. Pearl in ways that go well beyond the conventional response many people would have taken if their loved one had been brutally murdered. Instead of shunning Pakistan, where Mr. Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded last winter by Islamic militants, the family is reaching out to young journalists there and throughout the Middle East, and hoping to recruit them to come to the United States to follow a path similar to the one that led Daniel Pearl from Stanford University to a career in journalism.

The Daniel Pearl Foundation will also take many other steps to promote understanding between Eastern and Western cultures. Mr. Pearl's parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl, and his sisters, Tamara and Michelle, say that although hate took the life of their son and brother, the family is determined to keep his sunny spirit alive through the foundation.

"The root cause of this tragedy lies in hate: hate of the West, hate of America, and hate of Jewishness," says Judea Pearl. "We would like to reduce that hate by presenting the good image of the West, of America, and of Jewishness in those pockets of terrorism, those pockets of ignorance that exist around the world."

Internet Project

Next week, on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the first major effort by the organization gets under way: The Spirit of Daniel Pearl Campaign is an Internet-based effort to get young people from around the world involved in promoting communication, understanding, and tolerance among cultures. Later this year, the Pearls hope to inaugurate the journalism-exchange program, and they plan to find ways to use the music Mr. Pearl loved -- he was an accomplished violinist whose tastes ranged from Bach to bluegrass -- to encourage peace.

If their goals seem far-reaching, the Pearls say they have been much buoyed in the months since Daniel Pearl's death by the outpouring of support, from words of condolence and donations from more than 1,000 strangers to the countless hours that volunteers from the nonprofit and business worlds have logged helping the family get the charity off the ground.

Since it was organized in April, the Daniel Pearl Foundation, based in Los Angeles, has raised $400,000, nearly all of it through unsolicited contributions and foundation grants, including a $50,000 operating grant from the Flora Family Foundation, in Menlo Park, Calif., and a $10,000 grant from the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation, in Oklahoma City. All profits from a recently published collection of Mr. Pearl's articles are being donated to the charity and to a trust fund to benefit his widow, Mariane, and the couple's son, Adam, who was born in May.

The foundation has assembled an influential honorary board that includes Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent; Bill Clinton; Abdul Sattar Edhi, a revered figure in Pakistan and president of the Edhi Foundation, which provides social services to the country's most destitute residents; the violinist Itzhak Perlman; the financier George Soros; and Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace laureate.

Michelle Pearl, Daniel's younger sister, says the family realized early on, even before her brother's body was recovered and returned to the United States last month, that his story had struck a chord with millions of people in America, the Middle East, and around the world, not only because of his violent death, the circumstances of which were videotaped by his captors, but also because of the way he lived his life.

"We thought that with the power of Danny's story behind us we had a unique opportunity to do something different that other organizations couldn't do," says Tamara Pearl, Mr. Pearl's older sister.

The family quickly agreed that the best way to honor Mr. Pearl's memory was to create a new organization that reflected his character, rather than give the donations that were beginning to pour in to an existing charity.

"Danny was an original thinker, very kind of grass-roots," says Tamara Pearl.

While he did some volunteer work, including teaching violin to inner-city children in Washington, he did not belong to any large charitable organizations, and in fact, adds Michelle, he was "a bit mistrustful" of them.

No Nonprofit Experience

The Pearls readily admit that starting a charity from scratch is proving in many ways to be a challenge, from matching volunteers with tasks to sorting through conflicting advice on how to raise money.

None of the family members has extensive experience in the nonprofit world, and most have other careers. Judea Pearl is a professor of computer science at the University of California at Los Angeles, Ruth Pearl is a retired computer engineer, and Michelle Pearl is an epidemiologist who specializes in maternal and child health. Daniel Pearl's widow, Mariane Pearl, a journalist, is writing a book about her husband but plans to be more involved with the charity eventually.

The charity plans to hire a fund raiser soon, but will remain without an executive director for a while. The Pearls did use the pro bono services of an acting executive director for a couple of months, but they let the director go, says Michelle Pearl, because "we're in the stage where we're all too hands-on to have an executive director. But we hope to get to the point where we could bring on a really good director who could take over."

The charity also has plans to expand its board of directors, which is currently composed of just family members.

Judea Pearl says the family was unaware, until advised by Steve Toben, vice president of the Flora Family Foundation, that grant makers and donors usually prefer to see nonfamily members on a board because it helps to create balance and ensure objectivity.

Aid From Strangers

The Pearls say they feel fortunate that they have been able to rely on the good will of so many volunteers who have performed countless services, from guiding them through the necessary steps to incorporate their organization to producing the charity's brochures.

Offers to stage fund-raising events have poured in from friends and strangers alike. Proceeds from those events are being used to build an endowment for the charity.

One event, a benefit concert organized by friends of Mr. Pearl in Washington, brought in $100,000. Concerts in Boston and Los Angeles are being organized.

Ali Scheps, a computer-software designer who did not know Mr. Pearl, is organizing the Boston concert. With help from Club Passim, a nonprofit folk club and music-education center in Harvard Square, Ms. Scheps has recruited members from two bands that Mr. Pearl played in, along with nationally recognized musicians such as Mark O'Connor and Liz Carroll, to perform.

"I was just incredibly touched by the story of this gentle man who dedicated his life to cross-cultural understanding," Ms. Scheps says.

Betsy Siggins Schmidt, executive director of Club Passim, says she is seeking $15,000 in corporate donations and sponsorships to cover the cost of the concert.

Strategic Approach

Others have helped with strategic planning. Tamara and Michelle Pearl, who have been focusing on designing the charity's programs, have met several times with executives from Search for Common Ground, a charity in Washington that works to find nonviolent ways to solve conflicts in war-torn regions.

Says Susan Collin Marks, executive vice president of Search for Common Ground, of the Pearls: "They seem to have found their feet remarkably quickly." Mr. Toben, of the Flora Family Foundation, says he, too, was struck by the Pearls' determination.

"The Pearls are animated by this drive to honor their son's brilliant legacy, but to do so in a way that is strategic," Mr. Toben says.

Their pursuit, he says, reminded him of another charity that the Flora Family Foundation, started by members of the William and Flora Hewlett family, has supported: the Amy Biehl Foundation, which focuses on creating jobs, educating children, and diminishing violent conflicts in South Africa's depressed townships.

The Biehl Foundation was created in 1993 by the parents of Amy Biehl, a Fulbright scholar who was stoned to death in South Africa, where she had gone to help the country make the transition to democracy after the abolishment of apartheid. Among other projects, the Biehl Foundation started a bread-making venture that now employs two of the young men who participated in Ms. Biehl's murder.

"The Biehls' story is an absolutely inspiring story of forgiveness and faith in the possibility of reconciliation," Mr. Toben says. "We sense that the Pearl family has many of the same motivations driving the creation of the Daniel Pearl Foundation."

Working With Other Groups

Mr. Toben says he was particularly impressed with the Pearls' decision to use the proceeds from fund-raising events to create an endowment, and their willingness to work with existing organizations rather than immediately embark on new projects on their own.

"They're not purporting to go out and take over the field," he says. "They're identifying organizations already working in their areas of interest and forming joint ventures."

Among those ventures is the recording of a song that Mr. Pearl wrote with friends, called "The World Is Not Such a Bad Place." Mr. Pearl wrote it for a pregnant friend whose baby was overdue, but the charity hopes the song, to be recorded by musicians from around the globe, will become an international peace anthem.

"We felt that given the way he died there was a message there," says Tamara Pearl. "Danny was so positive about life, and we felt that this song could convey it."

The charity is currently negotiating with a major recording label that would donate much of the labor and production costs, and is working to recruit musicians to participate in the project.

Journalism Exchange

The charity is also still ironing out the details of its first journalism project.

The original idea, says Michelle Pearl, was to bring journalists from the Middle East to the United States to "walk in Danny's footsteps" by attending classes at Stanford University and doing internships at some of the newspapers where Mr. Pearl worked. The exchange journalists would file stories about life in America for their readers at home.

Practically, however, the plan is proving difficult to execute.

Stanford's academic calendar, for example, would prevent the institution from hosting an intern for a short interval. The process of obtaining temporary visas is also complicated, Michelle Pearl says. The Pearl Foundation is now looking for ways to collaborate with established organizations that support journalism exchange programs to find a way to create a program that would emulate Daniel Pearl's career path.

Helping Kids

The project that will start next week is being conducted with Youth Noise, an Internet-based program of Save the Children that made its debut last summer, when it teamed up with Seventeen magazine to make kids aware of the repressive conditions in which Afghan girls were forced to live under the Taliban. An article profiling four Afghan girls drove thousands of readers to Youth Noise's Web site after last year's terrorist attacks. The campaign raised $10,000 to purchase school supplies for 3,000 Afghan girls.

The Spirit of Daniel Pearl Campaign will raise money to send kids from Israel and Palestinian territories, as well as India and Pakistan, to the Seeds of Peace Camp, which brings youths from different sides of regional conflicts together to talk about the issues that divide them and discover what they have in common.

Each time visitors to the Youth Noise Web site click on a box on the site, a corporate sponsor will donate 5 cents to the Seeds of Peace drive. Youth Noise also plans to sponsor an international essay contest that will require youngsters to reach out to a person from another culture. The group will also conduct Web chats with Seeds of Peace campers and young celebrities such as the actress Natalie Portman, who was born in Israel.

A Day of Music

In addition to those projects, the Daniel Pearl Foundation is organizing a Daniel Pearl Music Day, to be held October 10, when Mr. Pearl would have turned 39. The charity is asking that orchestras, bands, and music venues around the world dedicate their performances on that day to Mr. Pearl's memory.

As the organization develops, perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Pearls, says Ms. Marks of Search for Common Ground, is learning how to keep the momentum going.

"It's very hard to start something," Ms. Marks says. "But the only way to start is to just start, and they've done that."

For their part, the Pearls say their intention is to nurture the charity for many years, so that one day Mr. Pearl's son will know his father through the foundation's work.

"It's why we pour our energy into it," says Michelle Pearl. "It's hope."

 
©2005 Daniel Pearl Foundation