How Small Actions Have Meaningful Effects
It’s another parched, dusty winter day in Lifuwu. A young girl squints into the bright mid-day sun, carefully smoothing her worn school uniform before hurling a plastic ball as hard as she can. A child playing ball is hardly a remarkable situation the world over, however what happened before the ball game is truly incredible. She wrote an exam that she otherwise may have not even attempted.
|Alejandro, a help2kids volunteer from Argentina, organized a week-long sports competition for the students of Kazembe Primary School as the term wound down and exams were being written. His activities, modeled on the ideals of the Olympic Games, stressed the pursuit of excellence and global peace. Among the different standards, children competed to see who could run the fastest and throw a ball the furthest. The children who excelled were recognized and lauded for their accomplishment.
As a fun way to incorporate teamwork, Alejandro finished the competition with a “three legged race” where the children had to work in teams to run as fast as possible with one of their legs tied to that of their partner’s. The children who focused on efficient, coordinated movements excelled, while the ones who recklessly went for unbridled speed tumbled in the dust near the starting line.
What he accomplished was to incentivize attendance while running an entertaining and novel activity that the children enjoyed. This means, during the last week of school, when classes can be inconsistently scheduled around exam preparation and administration, some children were more likely to attend the last few classes or write an exam that seemed unimportant (the second most common reason for absenteeism among Malawian schoolchildren is that they do not want to go). His small effort made attendance more attractive to Kazembe’s students, potentially with a lasting effect.
Even something as simple as taking a couple of hours from your day to make a connection with someone can be extraordinarily meaningful. Take for example, the women who live at Lifuwu Health Center for weeks, and sometimes months, waiting to deliver their babies.
They are in an unfamiliar situation, they miss their families, and they have little to do. Lately, our volunteers have been visiting them regularly to do puzzles, activities, and crafts. Despite the language barrier, powerful connections are forged as actions speak louder than words. The women deeply appreciate their time with the volunteers. The visits instill a sense of community and caring that go a long way to making the shelter at the clinic a more welcoming place.
Our newly implemented sports program at Lifuwu Basic Primary School stresses teamwork, life-skills, and open-mindedness while developing athletic skills. While the leaders of the club lead excellent drills and activities, they are always looking for new games and exercises to adapt and adopt. Recently volunteers Cecile and Paula led some new activities that developed teamwork and communication. Like the “three legged race”, the ball relay requires team-mates to work together to complete the course without dropping a ball held between their foreheads. In a variation of the game, two teams compete with individuals running the course while gripping the ball between their knees and must not drop it. The teams must brainstorm the most effective way to keep the ball from dropping. In another activity, the group must work together to coordinate hand movements with a “leader” without cluing in an observer to the leader’s identity. These activities will remain long after Cecile and Paula return home, continuing to teach communication skills and teamwork.
Without exception, the help2kids volunteers that have the best experiences in Malawi are the ones who make a strong connection with the community. Bear in mind this is not difficult to do: people are extremely friendly and the effort is as simple as visiting someone’s house or farm, sitting with women at the clinic, or helping develop activities at a project site with our community partners.
While your time here as a volunteer may be brief, the community greatly appreciates your efforts and will remember you fondly. Time and again, we see that even small actions can truly have a deep impact.