Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Small Acts Make a Big Difference

I have been thinking a lot about need and the overwhelming feeling one can get when faced with the tremendous numbers of people in the world who suffer.  I have had several very interesting conversations with people who have posed questions like:  why would you help people so far away when there is need right here?  Or, does it really make sense to do something small when ultimately it might not make a big difference?  How do we make systemic change to really transform communities in the developing world?

I am by no means an expert on any of these subjects, but I keep coming back to the ideas that people like Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health (www.PIH.org) and Deogratias Niyizonkiza, founder of Village Health Works (www.villagehealthworks.org)
have talked about and acted on and the ways that they have made change in the lives of the many people in rural, poor communities.  I keep coming back to the idea of institutionalizing change as a way of understanding how addressing one need, even a small need, in places of suffering, can have a ripple affect in creating change.  Giving, helping, and positive growth are contagious, and in the cases of Paul and Deo, their clinics have institutionalized change in many ways, not only leading to increased health, to saving lives, but also to efforts toward education, community development, business development and agriculture.

For example, what started as a small clinic in rural Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world with extremely high rates of malnutrition, maternal and infant mortality, and recovering from a civil war that killed thousands, has developed into a place of healing in many ways:  with early childhood programs, mental health programs, agricultural and small business initiatives.  This small clinic now affects the lives of the over 200,000 people living in the area.  See www.villagehealthworks.org to see more about this.

The lesson that small acts can make a big difference, and that small changes can have big implications in the long run, is one that I believe in and is at the heart of our pajama movement.  Yes, in some cases pajamas for sick newborns can have life saving benefits to the treatable issue of temperature regulation that takes the lives of thousands of babies each year.  But beyond that pajamas are one step in creating awareness of the challenges faced by mothers and children in developing countries, they offer comfort to those who receive them who know that they are not alone:  that someone else in a distant place cares about them, and they connect, metaphorically, emotionally, and physically, mothers to mothers and children to children around the world.

When you put your baby to bed tonight or you remember that feeling when your babies were small, I hope your thoughts turn to imaging the lives of those children near and far who don't have pajamas.  Are we changing the world with pajamas?  Maybe not.  But you never know what the ripple affects of these simple acts can bring.


  1. Well said. One small seed can grow into a huge sunflower. Love your work.

  2. Thank you Katherine for your constant support and kind words!