How long would it take you to delete a Facebook message asking for “assistance from u, business or financial assistance dat will help empower me pls”?
Ben Taylor of Ogden, Utah, actually responded to that very message. Now the lives of kids on the other side of the world are better because of it.
CBS Evening News With Jeff Glor is scheduled to air the inspiring story Thursday and Friday as part of its long-running “On the Road” segment. It’s the first of such stories to be told in two parts. Correspondent Steve Hartman, who followed Ben as he went to meet his so-called spammer, Joel, in Liberia, tells the story.
“It seemed like a movie, I guess. It seems unbelievable,” Hartman tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Because when you think of an internet scammer, or somebody who’s a hustler trying to get money out of you, the last thing you’d ever expect is for somebody to befriend that guy and let alone go visit him. So that’s what really shocked me. The other reason this appealed to me is because I’ve always had this deep held belief that everyone is good. The Hitlers and those other outliers aside, I think the vast majority of people at their core are good.”
And both Ben and Joel come out very good in this story. Here’s what happened:
Last year, Joel reached out to Ben through that “People You May Know” feature on Facebook, asking for help supporting his family.
“And Joel in Liberia had done this maybe 50 times before, just reaching out to people asking for money,” Hartman says. “He wanted people to send him electronics. He would sell them, and then he’d send you some of the money back. I think he really thought that business model would work, but when you factor in shipping and whatever, it was never gonna work. I give him the benefit of the doubt with that one.”
No one had ever answered. But Ben took Joel up on his offer, sent him a cheap camera, and asked him to send photos of the sunset and then other things. Really, it was a way of trolling him; he never thought he’d get a response. But Joel came through.
Eventually Ben realized Joel was for real. He got the idea to bundle together some of Joel’s photos (they were getting better and better) and sell them in a 16-page book. Ben sold an impressive 1,000 copies through a crowdfunding campaign. He split the proceeds with his new business partner and vowed to fork over his own half if Joel was willing to donate it to charitable causes.
The result is that Ben — who Hartman says had never before been out of the country — flew to Liberia to meet Joel. The two also saw some of the good work that their money was doing in the community, such as providing kids with backpacks and other school supplies.
And that’s when you’re going to need a tissue in this story. Actually, a lot of Hartman’s “On the Road” stories end that way.
“People accuse me of being in cahoots with Kleenex, but it’s never my intention to make people cry,” Hartman says. “I’m actually trying to make people happy. News does a good job with quite a few emotions; we do a good job with anger and fear, but we don’t do a good-enough job with joy. So we do a horrible job with overwhelming joy and making people happy to the point where they cry.”
Ben and Joel’s story is another step toward rectifying that.
Watch the full story on CBS Evening News With Jeff Glor at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
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