When I think about doing good and helping others it’s kind of hard to scale it, to think about what your help and work can mean to someone.
A dear friend of mine that I met while on a seminar in France, Olivia is her name, one told me of how she was working with children in Burkina Faso, a former French colony in Africa. She was in charge of a Red Cross school program. It wasn’t in a war zone, there was no special outward excitement to the whole thing, but there was something under the surface she felt all the while she was there.
When she first arrived in a small village which was recovering from epidemics and conflicts she was not very happy to be on assignment that did not seem to suit her appetite for helping where it mattered.
Every task is important
As a social work and education professional, it was her job to, in a couple of months, set up a working school by modern standards. She intended to “work it off” without much passion. But that first school morning with the children looking at her like she was sent from space to give them something precious won her over immediately.
The respect, the hard work those kids put into their studies. The way they were dressed treating school like a holiday awoke in her a profound humility, to know how many things modern children in the developed world take for granted, to know how they often run from knowledge and consider it boring. She realized that her work there was as important as any of the more serious, dangerous and exciting jobs she was looking forward to in the many happy places of the world.
She knew from that point on that she can take pride in everything she does in the Red Cross, and that without that one contribution no matter how small it may seem to our egos the whole cause would crumble.
After two months the school had begun to change the entire village and adults were learning from the children about hygiene, healthcare, first aid but also writing, math and history.
One of the girls in the school Theresa had become an expert in the history of the Red Cross and vowed to become the new Florence Nightingale for the African continent. One of the older boys was turning nineteen that summer and had expressed a wish to come with Olivia when she leaves the village, to volunteer anywhere the Red Cross needs him. After a talk with his parents and months of preparation and coordination with the IRC, the young man called Ojibwa was on his way to help in other African countries and Olivia tells me that he is now one of the best volunteers the French organization has and is pursuing a career in medicine with great success.
And she was the reason he went into the practice, her readiness to “just teach” at a village school for the IRC. That is one of the many stories of how the values of the Red Cross help us help each other in amazing ways.