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Marc Gold travels Asia paying it forward through little acts of kindness

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As little as $10, he adds, can get a poor child into school. "Imagine saving a woman's life for a dollar, the price of a candy bar [in the US]," he says.

He may have done that in 1989. While visiting Darjeeling in the Indian Himalayas as a tourist, he befriended a young Tibetan refugee and his wife, who kept nursing her ears. Gold, who trained as a psychiatrist, thought she could have a serious ear infection. He found her a doctor and paid for antibiotics, which cost $1. Another $30 got her a hearing aid. She squealed with delight at being able to hear again.

That led to an epiphany. "I'd thought you had to be rich to do such things," he recalls. "I realized I had the power to help change people's lives."

Back home, he asked a hundred friends for small donations and was soon back in India with $2,200. He then set up a nonprofit charity and called it 100 Friends.

Two decades later, 100 Friends has some 4,000 members worldwide, and last year Gold raised $200,000. He continues fundraising via his portable office: a laptop, a digital camera, and a cellphone.

"This is 80 percent of what I own," Gold says during a stopover in Bangkok, pointing at two duffel bags stuffed with his clothes, dog-eared paperbacks, and his large collection of wacky rubber masks.The latter he uses for clowning around with children from Tibet to Thailand. "I don't need much, and I'm free."

A divorcee with two adult sons, Gold took early retirement in 2003 and began devoting himself full time to his mission.

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