A young girl was walking down a beach with her grandmother. It was a beautiful afternoon and the tide had pulled back, leaving thousands of starfish stranded on the sand.
The little girl began picking up starfish and throwing them back into the sea. Amused, her grandmother said, “Why are you doing that, dear? Look at this beach! There are far too many starfish – You cannot possibly make a difference.”
The girl listened politely, paused, and then looked carefully at the starfish in her hand, and as she threw it back into the safety of the water, said, “Well, it made a difference for that one.”
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of some of the issues I see here. I have dealt with feelings of hopelessness about how anyone could ever solve the big problems – e.g. How do you even begin to address corruption, when it has so deeply infiltrated political and social infrastructures that is has become almost an expected convention? – And I have also had days where I have questioned my own ability to make any kind of impact.
The starfish story has become a constant mantra for me over the past months. I’ve learned to choose my battles wisely and to keep my vision narrow. As frustrating as they may be to deal with everyday, I’m simply not able to fix the major issues. (This may seem obvious but it’s harder to come to terms with than you think.)
I can’t make teachers get paid on time, re-define the goals of the national examination board, or necessitate English instruction earlier in primary school. What I can do is work to implement specific, sustainable changes in one teeny tiny community. Right now, I’m hoping this will include building a library, and starting a positive behavior reinforcement system to replace corporal punishment, an illegal but nevertheless widely used practice.
Mother Theresa once said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Though Peace Corps seems dramatic and momentous to a lot of people, that notion makes me slightly uncomfortable. I’ve begun to accept and even embrace the fact that what me and my 100 or so colleagues are doing here is actually a very small thing, in the grand scheme. We are throwing a lone starfish, of many millions, back into the sea.
But maybe that’s how real change starts, like the chain of perpetual kindness in those TV commercials. Maybe someone watches the little girl tossing that single starfish into the water, and decides to do the same, until all the people on the entire beach join in, and every starfish is saved…
Much Love, Tay.
It takes a village to raise a child.