By Megan Blair (Bishop’s)
The first time I ever travelled to a developing country to do humanitarian work, I was told not to expect to change the lives of millions of people. It is important to keep that in mind when doing this type of work due to the fact that it is often a long and difficult process that requires a grand amount of time, patience and dedication. Thinking back on what this individual had told me, I am reminded of a story I had once heard that has stuck with me over the years…
The story features an old man and how every morning at low tide he would walk the sandy beaches of his hometown. One by one he would throw in the starfish that had washed up on the shore overnight. One morning, another man happened to be walking those same beaches around the same time. He watched curiously as the older man picked up the starfish one by one and threw them back into the ocean. This went on for a few minutes. Moments later, the man walked up to the older gentleman and asked “Sir, what are you doing, if I may ask?” “Why I am throwing the washed up starfish back into the ocean. If they remain on the beach they will dry up and die”, he answered. The younger man stared at him with a confused look then responded “You do realize that there are hundreds of thousands of starfish along this beach, right? You won’t be able to save them all.” There was a moment of silence and the older gentleman replied “Yes, I am aware. But it matters to that starfish.”
Now, you may be wondering the relevance of this story and how it ties into my time and work in Malawi. Well, it’s easy to lose focus when conducting humanitarian work, in a context of extreme poverty. It’s easy to get discouraged and it is quite common to start questioning your work, as well as the results of the work that you are conducting. We often forget to take a step back and remind ourselves of the bigger picture. Furthermore, we have a tendency to expect immediate results because as Westerners, most of us are used to instant gratification. In the case of humanitarian work, results are gradual and often cannot be perceived in early stages.
There are times on this trip that I have struggled with this. In my case, I will not see the effects of my work until further down the road. The reason for this is that I am creating a pamphlet that will provide a detailed description of the different projects of the campus as well as allow potential donors to get a complete picture of the different project needs. In the long run, this document will help raise awareness of Praxis Malawi, more specifically the Campus Approach, and how all the different projects are crucial to the campus, as well as how they will benefit the people of the Chilanga region. If I am able to properly portray the importance of the different projects, the hope is that people will see the importance of donating to the organization.
In the moments I feel discouraged, I think back on that story and remind myself that, I may not be able to change the lives of millions of people, but to the few people whose lives I can have a positive impact on, it matters to them. On another note, even if the results of my work are not easily perceived at first, small things such as making someone smile because you took the time to sit and chat, and show an interest in their lives, is extremely rewarding. We meet so many people along the way that it is so important to take the time to appreciate those moments, as small as they may be.