October 28

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If you can make a difference, you should


#Ivolunteer because if you can make a difference, you should.

We had a great day in Zambia at Leonard Cheshire the other week. The day was a hot one, and not for the first time I marvelled at the Zambians resilience and poise as we waited in the scorching sun for proceedings to start. We had some guests of honour late to the event, which gave me precious time to play with the kids and meet the families of those we were helping out.

The purpose of the day was for Leonard Cheshire Disability International to deliver a tangible and critical part of one of the projects we have been working on. 5 families had been identified as needing wheelchairs, some having nothing to assist, others desperately needing an upgrade to a worn and defunct chair they currently had. We had organised the chairs and today was about gifting them to the families in need.

I had the chance to meet the Fred and his mum Catherine. Fred is a beautiful 9 year little boy, whose life so far has been carefully strapped to the back of his mother, with a Chitenge (Sarong). He is unable to sit unassisted due to his disability and the impact on Fred is that his physical development and independence is limited because they have had nothing to help support him other than the body of his mother.

The mother Catherine, after 9 years of carrying a growing boy on her back, stoically answers it is ok. On pressing her about how she feels, she finally admitted that it is physically straining, and that is did reduce her freedom to be mobile and get out and about.

In observing Catherine moving about with Fred, even sitting in a chair looked difficult, as there was no easy way to have Fred situated comfortably and Catherine be comfortable at the same time. In fact Catherine found the concrete floor the easiest place to sit and position her son, this enabled them both to have enough space. But it certainly was no reasonable solution, especially when you are talking about being sat for 2-3 hour periods.

On receiving the wheelchair Catherine commented that this welcomed addition to their lives would change how they both got out and about. Most importantly this change will make it easier for Catherine to bring Fred on the long journey from home to the Twatacha Community School, where Fred is in Grade 2, for the much needed weekly physical therapy. The change it would mean for Catherine is that the doors of time would open, energy given back to her that she would have otherwise spent on carrying Fred. She had choices she could make now.

This day gave me such a rewarding feeling about the hard work we have been doing, and seeing it really touch the lives of people who needed it. I swear I wasn’t imagining that as Catherine set off, wheeling Fred in his new ride, her shoulders seemed to drop the tiniest bit and a smile crept across her face. The trip home today was going to be so vastly different from the trip in for Catherine and for Fred.

It also gave me a gift that I wasn’t expecting. On missing my family, I called home later that week and did the rounds with my nephews and niece. It is my 10 year old nephew has shown a real interest in the community work I have been getting to do here, and in previous calls he had asked what have I am working on and patiently and attentively (for a 10 year old boy!) listens to the comings and goings of the week that has been. This week, however, he had a gift for me, as he was excited to tell me about some community work they had been doing at his school. He commented, ever so insightfully, that the things he liked the most about the work they were getting to do was that everybody was involved in helping and making a difference. I heard pride and content in his voice as he talked me through it all.

On hanging up the phone, it got me thinking to where does this need to make a difference come from, for me, my nephew and anyone else who has the “bug”. Readers you will have noted by now I am huge fan of quotes and one of my absolute favourites is by a gentleman and Nobel Prize winner we so sadly lost earlier this year, Elie Wiesel;

“Indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil”

This resonates with me so deeply, in reference to so many aspects of life. I have been determined for indifference to be the antithesis of everything I do. Granted Mr Wiesel was talking about the atrocities of war, but I have taken it as message on how we should be; Full of passion, opinion, care and champion of a cause.

My old man has often proclaimed to me the sentiment that if you can make a difference, you should. I believe that this concept is carved deep in the very fibre of my being. Getting to see it materialise in the next generation was heart warming beyond belief.

And that’s when it hit me, you set out to make a difference, and it changes you and others around you in ways you never anticipated. I have so much love for this little boy (actually he is not that little, he is fast approaching taking over his mum/my sister in height!), and in conversations like this you feel you get a glimpse into the future about what sort of man he will grow up to be. And it made me feel happy and relieved that the world will be in the hands of more people like this willing and wanting to make a difference, because they got the itch. And that is how it works…paying it forward.

Pulse Lesson #5: If you can make a difference, you should