“Life is not a path of coincidence, happenstance, and luck, but rather an unexplainable, meticulously charted course for one to touch the lives of others and make a difference in the world.” — Barbara Dillinham
My daughter Steph came home from a year in Africa yesterday. She served as a counselor to young victims of trauma and abuse for Bethany House in Krugersdorp outside Johannesburg, South Africa. She was heartbroken to leave all the children behind who took captive her heart, as well as all the friends and colleagues who made her year so special.
Her cat Sammy (my furry grandchild) kept circling around her, sniffing her clothes and hair. She doesn’t smell the same way she did when she left. He wonders if she’s the same Steph who left our house one year ago. He’s right. She’s not.
After a year of living and working in another continent at the bottom of the world in a totally different culture surrounded by ten unique languages and the vestige of apartheid, she changed. As a professional counselor, she listened to stories of heartbreak and horror from children who:
- lost their parents to the ravages of the creature called AIDS that devours the lives of an entire generation of adults (and may have AIDS themselves),
- live with their grannies (who can’t afford to feed/care for all the little ones left to them),
- or an abusive family member,
- or pretend to live with a family member but instead serve as the child head-of-household for their younger siblings;
- have very little to eat and too many responsibilities to study,
- see no hope for the future, and
- often believe suicide is the only way out.
Steph’s world view altered irrevocably. In a good way — though at times she too lost hope, overwhelmed by the despair she encountered. Many of the children she’s come to love won’t live to the age of 14. AIDS will claim them too. Each time, she had to shake off the weight of the world, take a breath, and start over again. She’s a plucky little thing, I must say. She touches lives. She changes hearts. She transforms the hopeless by offering tools to deal with their emotions and circumstances.
Many are tempted to give up if we can’t solve ALL the world’s problems. Instead, the answer is for each of us to do what we can to make a difference: one person, one problem, one day at a time.
I may not get to spend my days out in the field helping people, at least I can take steps to make the world a better place through creative programs at NASA, like LAUNCH and Fragile Oasis. My small contribution is helping to inspire citizens of this planet through our space endeavors to take special care of our communities and neighbors — AND sending both my daughters off into the far reaches of this world to help others.
What are you doing to make a difference inside your circle of influence? A smile. A hug. No effort is too small to touch lives in a positive way.
For now, I’m doing lots of smiling and hugging, now that Steph is back!