I get a lot of mail from people who want to make a difference in the world, but — overwhelmed by the sheer volume of good causes and desperate cases — just don't know where to start. When I feel this way, I recall Gandhi's advice: "Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him." His words came to mind again when Sue Warring of South Africa sent me this story. She asked that I share it with you.
Starting Small by Sue Warring
We all know there are millions of people out there who are desperately poor, starving, and in need of help. But all that knowledge does is paralyze us. We can't help millions of people.
So try this instead: Think of a number you could help. Like one. Two. Maybe five or ten. Or how about 13?
That's the number of babies cared for by Botshabelo Babies Home in Midrand, outside Johannesburg. Botshabelo means "a place to run to." It started when the Covenant Life Church moved into an old farmhouse, took a look at the outbuildings, and said: "What can we do with these? How about renovating them and starting a home for babies?" That's what they did.
There are going to be millions of AIDS orphans in South Africa soon, and the church knew there would be babies needing help. But they didn't say, "We can't care for millions." They said, "We can care for ten babies. Maybe more." And the babies began to arrive. Some from hospitals where their mothers had gone to die. Some found abandoned as newborns in the veld. One discovered in a rubbish bag under a bridge.
They weren't hordes, threatening to overwhelm anyone. They weren't out to break the hearts of their caregivers. They didn't suck you in, drain your emotions, and leave you shattered. And they weren't numbers or statistics.
They were Thumelo and Siphiwe, Senzi and Nonki, Thuli and Cecilia, Christopher and David.
Because they were Thuli and Cecilia and not Baby X and Baby Y, their caregivers, Winnie, Ellen, and Priscilla — with the help of volunteers — grew to know and love them. And they did well — better than anyone could ever have imagined. Babies sick with AIDS got better, grew up, started walking, talking, playing. Babies who would never remember their own mothers learned to love and cuddle and respond. Babies found in the veld who'd sucked their little hands raw in their search for milk learned to smile and laugh. After their first hard lesson, they learned a second: that there were people who cared and could help, and who would always take care of them.
One or two, too ill to survive, were prayed and loved on their way, slipping away in the arms of the people who loved them, listening to the prayers said for them.
Others were adopted, some in Europe. There are babies there now, their ears tuned to the sounds and rhythms of African languages in the womb, who will grow up speaking Swedish. One day, perhaps, they will visit South Africa. Will the sounds of Zulu and Xhosa and Tswana touch faint memories? We don't know. We do know that a loving home is the most important thing, even if it takes you far from the land of your birth.
There's so much the church is doing. Reaching out to children, some very young, who have to be parents to their own younger brothers and sisters because their parents have died of AIDS — children who get evicted because they can't pay their rent. Reaching out to grannies who are mourning the loss of their children even as they struggle to bring up their orphaned grandchildren on a meager government pension. Yet it doesn't take much to help. You can feed a family of five on a basic diet for just 150 South African Rands a month. An English pound is worth around R14. So a little more than 10 pounds (or US$15) a month could really make a difference in these people's lives.
Helping is as easy as emailing Brian or Elke Day from Botshabelo Babies Home at firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting www.botshabelo.co.za.
Botshabelo also runs a battered women's shelter and an organic gardening project designed to help underprivileged people learn skills for self-sufficiency. A little help for such a big-hearted organization can go a long way.