By Norris Burkes
Feb 11 2018
Have you ever asked yourself how you, as an individual, can make a life-changing difference in the world? The question can be intimidating, especially since our culture promotes the heroic narrative of one single person making a world-changing impact.
It’s a question I ask myself as I ride along with volunteers from the Chispa Project, a charity my daughter founded in 2014 to start children’s libraries in Honduras.
Today, we head for Rancho Santa Fe, a 250-acre campus an hour out of Tegucigalpa. It’s one of several children’s homes maintained by NPH Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH), literally meaning “our little brothers and sisters.” Started by the Rev. William Wasson in 1954, the charity embraces Catholic values, but remains an unaffiliated private institution.
We bounce along dirt roads for about five minutes until we arrive at a group of buildings set on a hill. Each building contains four dormitories. There are about 260 boys and girls who make their home in this vast wooded oasis.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the children are not sad, starving orphans. They dance about our car while others stand aside and giggle incessantly. However, most give us a respectful distance as we unload.
We’ve come to deliver a 900-book library to this campus, possibly a life-changing thing. Yet first, Sara assigns me the most laborious task — using my laptop computer to enter every book title onto a spreadsheet.
My seemingly meaningless task leaves me feeling dwarfed in the shadow of NPH. The charity has made a huge difference all over Central and South America, caring for thousands of orphans and abandoned children. Chispa means “spark” in Spanish, but I feel more like a small speck than a spark.
I begin my task on an outside patio where a few kids stop for brief moments, leaning over the boxes, yearning to pull out a book. However, I wave them off, like a cook not finished with his creation.
Nevertheless, 12-year-old Maria persists, so I offer her a book I’ve already cataloged. She reads the entire book aloud in Spanish.
I offer her another. She does the same. I feel like I’m hand-feeding a famished man. Each time I pass Maria a book, she takes it with both hands. Her big, brown eyes pull me in like a tractor beam.
Inventory was not a task I wanted. I wanted to do something that would produce noticeable results. Perhaps like some of you, I tend to think charity must be something big and life-changing. We all like to think that our charitable actions result in a big jackpot of human change. But what if the rewards of change most often come just a nickel or two at a time?
Maybe it’s time we shift our difference-making efforts in another direction. Maybe we should be asking ourselves, “How might I make a little difference today that will matter to at least one person in the slightest way?”
Perhaps we need to challenge ourselves to give without needing to know what the difference will actually be. We must work to write our charitable stories without featuring ourselves as the hero.
I tire from my inventory task in the dimming light, but Maria doesn’t tire from reading.
“Por favor.” Please, she says, pointing to another book. “Una mas.” (One more.)
I began my day by asking myself if I could make a difference. I’m not sure I did, but I’m blessed to know that Maria seems to think I did.
But equally important perhaps, Maria made a difference in me.
Come to Honduras and make a difference. See NPH.org and chispaproject.org
Write Norris at email@example.com or Twitter @chaplain or call 843-608-9715.