Have you ever felt like you wanted to change the world or even just one little thing about it? Have you felt helpless and ineffective, believing you can’t make a difference? What if I told you, one person CAN make a difference? YOU can make a difference!
A friend recently took part in a trip to Indonesia with Hair Aid, where she taught basic hairdressing skills to adults living in extreme poverty, giving them the ability to make a living in a country without social security. On one of her social media posts, she mentioned feeling depressed because the problem was so huge, the poverty so extreme. She commented her assistance was only a drop in the ocean.
At the same time as Natalie was training hairdressers in Indonesia, I was visiting remote schools in Papua New Guinea with No Roads Education, working in classrooms and mentoring teachers who otherwise have no access to professional development. These teachers have an uphill battle, with almost no resources and no real support. The situation is so extreme, many teachers in the schools we visited had actually left and not returned. Just one teacher remained at a six teacher school and was struggling to continue on her own. At another school, two teachers remained; the others simply hadn’t returned after school holidays earlier in the year and had never been replaced. These teachers are doing it tough and the strain showed on their faces as they spoke of their struggles. They keep going, like teachers everywhere, for the sake of the children they teach. What difference could a small group of Australian teachers possibly hope to make, simply by breezing in, offering some PD along with a few resources and leaving again? I also felt like my efforts were a single drop in a huge, heaving ocean.
You know what? We were both right. We can’t change the world, but we can change the world of ONE person at a time. This is the basis of all charity, justice and equality volunteering and work. By helping one or two, we create a ripple effect and eventually a community benefits and so it continues, as the ripples grow.
By the end of her Hair Aid trip, Natalie realised the value of her drop in the ocean and had this to say, “It was so much more than teaching haircuts, the students taught me too that whatever life throws at you, you can still smile, have hopes and dreams and work hard. It was such an absolute blessing to have done this volunteering in Indonesia and I will definitely go back next year. We taught our students basic haircuts so they can establish a micro business and make money. The locations were the Denpasar Dump which was very confronting for the volunteers, a women’s centre, a foundation housing physically challenged people and a Christian Church. They were amazing students and we are absolutely delighted to announce that two of our locations opened up a Salon on the very next day after we left. They had customers booking in advance as word got round in the communities that there was a place where people could get their hair cut. Next year we will go back and see what else they need in order to continue their business.”
Kate, a nurse who volunteers regularly with No Roads Health, working with remote communities in Papua New Guinea to improve health outcomes, reminded me of the starfish story. A small child was walking along a beach littered with stranded starfish after a storm. The child carefully picked up a single starfish and threw it back into the sea. An old man who was watching, asked,
“What’s the point? Why bother? You can’t help them all!” The child looked up at him, smiled broadly and replied, “No, but I just helped that one!”
“That’s what No Roads Health is for me . . . little steps, one child needing serious help at a time. It’s about different groups coming together, to make the difference for one child. I’ve seen Koko (who used to have a severely bent leg), run and play basketball. Ikara can now wear shoes and has the chance of employment and a future. If we all thought like that man on the beach, nothing would get better. At first I couldn’t see much point in our health trips, now I can see there’s a huge difference . . only by being there when we say we will be, by thinking along the lines of improvements they can manage for themselves . . . hand holding at first and then releasing the grip so they do it themselves. That is what makes a difference for these people.”
The relief in the teachers’ faces to get a day off with others teaching their classes and participate in some professional development, to sit and chat over a hot drink with other teachers revealed the difference we were making. A small difference in the scheme of things, but a huge encouragement to these individual teachers on this particular day. This is what it’s all about – helping individuals. We don’t know how much our little bit of help might change their world. We may never know, but sometimes we are fortunate enough to find out.
After my first visit to these schools in 2016, I received a lovely letter along with the gift of a hand knitted bag and hat. Any doubts I’d entertained about the futility, the ‘drop in the ocean’ of that trip quickly evaporated. Here is a snippet from that letter: “Some angels visited our school. They really inspired the teachers and the students and motivated the average learners to pull their socks up. Grade eight students did well in their final exam. They were all selected to attend . . High School. (High school is only available if this exam is passed and students only get one attempt.) You were one of those angels. Thank you and we look forward to more assistance in the future.” How could I think my assistance was useless? How could I not go back and help again after receiving this? So, I did, one more time, this year.
Maybe local changes are more your thing. There are opportunities everywhere when you start to look for them. Deb, motivated by gratitude for her three healthy boys, wanted to help families with children spending extended periods in her local hospital. Last year, she organised a Christmas toy drive with her husband’s business, a local radio station and the charity Wishlist. “We gathered donations of toys and gifts for the kids that would be spending time in hospital over Christmas. The experience of actually being there when the kids received these gifts was something pretty special and we plan to make the drive an annual event. Something really beautiful to come out of this was my 6yr old saying at Easter time ”Well Mum, what about the kids that are stuck in hospital for Easter? Shouldn’t we try to cheer them up too?!” So, from his inspiration we put together a box of Easter Activity Books, craft packs and colours which were delivered to the kids on Easter morning. Even more rewarding than the smiles from the kids, was the appreciation from their loved ones. The fact that someone took the time to make their child’s day a little brighter without even knowing them meant so much to them.”
On a far smaller and less significant scale, I started this blog with BIG ideas. Nine months in, post reach remains low. It’s easy to feel discouraged and to wonder if it’s worth continuing. A few people have told me they appreciate something I’ve shared, that it really helped them or got them thinking. Just a few, but I’ve made a positive difference to them. This makes it worth it.
I recently emailed thanking Stasia Savasuk for her recent TED talk and explaining how she had been an inspiration to me this year. I was thrilled to receive the following reply: “SUPER!! I absolutely LOVE hearing that by showing up myself, I helped inspire YOU to show up. Those are what I call ripples. 🙂 And just think of the ripples YOU are creating. On and on. Because despite being ordinary, you are indeed changing the world.” Oh, how my heart sang to receive this little piece of encouragement.
Because this, my friends, is what it’s truly all about. Ordinary people creating ripples to make this world a better place, not just for themselves, but for others too.
Maybe you can’t personally change the world but you CAN change the world of one person. Tofe Evans speaks on the motivational circuit about his triumph over depression and addiction through the use of practical resilience strategies in the hope of helping one person every time he speaks. Just ONE.
As Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed one hundred people, just feed one.”
Don’t be discouraged. Don’t lose heart. If you have a passion to change the world, go for it! Us ordinary people can achieve truly extraordinary things. One person is worth it. A small contribution by you may make a huge difference to someone else.
Not enough? Over a lifetime, that’s a lot of people you can help in whatever area your passion lies, one at a time. You know what is really amazing? The ripple effect will spread your change even further! Now that’s really exciting.
What is your passion? How can you make a difference to ONE person today, this week, this month or this year? Get thinking, set a goal and make it happen. Go on, you can do it!
If you’ve already made a difference to one person, I’d love to hear about it.
A HUGE thankyou to Nat, Kate and Deb for so generously sharing your stories. You are not only changing the world; you are inspiring others to do the same.