My bed is made, my room is tidy, my dishes are put away and I’m sitting at my desk just having finished some work emails that I needed to get done. I feel productive. This is not how I have felt all week, or even for the past few weeks, but I’m overcoming my feelings of inadequacies.
Last time I said that the German volunteers were good to have around and motivating. They are but I also started to feel like I wasn’t doing enough, hadn’t done enough for the past year. They come in for a couple months at a time and seem to be getting things done; the things that I wanted to do but hadn’t been able to just yet. They questioned and I started to as well, why hadn’t I addressed these issues over the past year. Issues dealing with food and supply shortages and workers who haven’t been doing their jobs correctly. It was overwhelming for a few days, I started thinking about all the problems of this one organization, then of all the problems of this area, then of the country, then of all of Africa, the world, you get the picture. How can I do anything at all to make a difference? What am I trying to do here? Am I really going to survive another 5 years working in Africa?
I had a lot of long email conversations with Jason and that helped. I wanted to know what to expect in other countries, is their apathy all over Africa? Does anyone want to actually work towards change or is all just lip service? These feelings came to a head when I found out one of our orphans died while I spent a week working in Johannesburg. She was 7 y ears old, tiny for her age and always looked sick. She barely smiled but when I was at the centre I would try and make her giggle and crack a little smile. The older kids always looked after her, made sure she ate, got an extra piece of fruit if there was some, involved her in the singing and dancing. And she always danced and sang. She always tried.
It breaks my heart to think of it now, a little 7 year old who won’t get to grow up. Her mother died of AIDS and that’s what also took her life. I want to blame someone, could we have done more, is the health care system adequate enough? But as I was reminded, that is the ugly truth of the disease, it claims lives, young or old and it is swept under the rug. No one wants to hear that AIDS was the cause. And because she was an orphan, it is even quieter. It’s maddening and if I think about it for too long, I start to sink under the weight of not knowing how to fight it or where to start.
After more discussions, I realized that I just can’t let myself be consumed by it all. I have to look at the smaller picture some times. If we can help the kids that were closest to her mourn, understand what happened to her, then maybe it will grow from there. Like a ripple effect in a pond, you give them some thoughts that grown inside and when they are older, long after I’m gone, maybe that’s when the changes will start to happen.
And then I was handed a quote and it fit perfectly into what I had just come to understand and hope for myself. He even spoke about the ripples I envisioned. It’s a quote from Robert Kenney and I don’t know when or why he was saying it but it speaks to me now:
“Let no one be discourage by the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence…Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation…
It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”