“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
This quote from the 20th c. anthropologist Margaret Mead has become a sort of slogan for my year. After all, I’m working for a small not-for-profit called Water for Waslala, which was started (surprise!) by a small group of thoughtful, committed people.
Crazy as it sounds, there are over 1.1 billion people in this world who live without access to clean water. That’s one out of every six people on the planet! So image the audacity of a group of Villanova students a few years back to step forward and say, “That doesn’t cut it- let’s change the world!” What a bunch of lunatics, right?
Might seem that way - but as of today Water for Waslala has raised over $175,000. Clean water systems have been constructed in eight communities in the rural region of Waslala, Nicaragua, providing over 2,000 people with safe water. What great work! That puts us just 1.1 billion people (approximately) away from solving this whole problem!
When you think about it that way, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to feel like you can never do enough. In a lot of ways, that’s felt like a theme of the year. Living in the Bronx, I can’t help but feel helpless. Maybe I’m raising money for some people thousands of miles away, but what about the homeless that live on my street? Maybe there are illiterate Nicaraguans, but what about the safety and quality of the schools in my neighborhood? This feeling of helplessness has repeatedly crept into my mind these past months.
For good reason, too: this year isnit easy. Living simply, witnessing to poverty, serving those in need, feeling relegated to the role of an inexperienced volunteer: none of it’s easy. Especially when it’s hard to see the impact you’re having. At the end of each long day (or at least at the end of one long year) it takes something special for me to keep going. Two things, in fact: hope andtrust.
I hope that the money I raise will make a difference in the lives of people. I hope the presentations I give to students will inspire them to future service. But even simpler than that, I hope that one person lives a longer life because of access to clean water. And I hope that one student comes to realize that their actions can make a difference in this world. This year is teaching me more and more that I can’t just sit back and “wait for the world to change.” It’s within my ability- in fact it’s my responsibility to work for change. And if every person takes this approach, even the smallest of efforts by a large number of individuals will make a difference. (For now, the world’s left to rely on large efforts by small numbers of people, who hold onto the hope for something greater.)
As I see it, the indispensable partner of hope is trust. This is where my faith comes in and where I can see the importance of integrating faith and service: for I put my trust in God. I hope that my efforts matter; I trust that God will see that they do. This is the part of the equation that sustains me: knowing that I can place my trust, place my sense of helplessness, and anchor my hope in God. And even in my failed efforts, my trust in God supports me as I, at the very least, continue to grow and change for the better.
I tend to be long-winded, so I’ll close now with a story. It may be familiar, but I like it because it speaks toward hope: the hope that the efforts of one are never too small.
A young man walking down the beach observed an old man picking up starfish that had washed up on the shore. As he got closer, he saw the old man throwing them back into the ocean. He approached the man and asked, “What are you doing?” The old man replied, “If I don’t throw the starfish back in the water, they’re going to die.” “But there must be thousands of starfish on the beach. You can’t save them all. Don’t you know you’ll never make a difference?” The old man reached down and picked up a starfish and simply replied, “I’ll make a difference to this one.”
Bronx, NY 2006-2007