“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop
It’s often the small acts of kindness we remember. I awake in the hotel room this morning, fondly remembering a time, not so long ago, when a friend traveled with me to help refugees. She made me a cup of coffee each morning before we set off to the camps. It wasn't needed, I could have easily made my own – yet that small act of kindness causes me to remember her almost every time I wake up in a hotel room.
I know that much of the work we do in refugee camps may seem insignificant. It often feels like our small acts are nothing but a ripple in the huge crisis. My hope is that, just as I remember fondly something as simple as a cup of coffee, refugees will remember the small acts of kindness we extend. I want to share one of those seemingly insignificant acts I believe will have lasting impact.
A few months ago I met a friend, Hayat. Last time I saw her she was eight months pregnant and was being pushed through the camp in a wheelchair to meet our doctor; the crippling effects of childhood polio robbed her of the ability to walk. Where most families would struggle with her level of disability living in refugee conditions, her smile is infectious and her bubbly spirit makes everyone smile.
Even though she smiles, she carries the heavy weight of recent news that the baby growing inside of her might have a genetic abnormality that could prove fatal. For years she has dreamed of being a mother and now she is faced with terrible gut-wrenching news. Like many refugees, continuity of care is virtually non-existent. We are not sure what kind of doctor she last saw, or if any real tests were done. Our doctor provides a check-up in our pop-up clinic, but is unable to verify whether or not the news is true.
Ironically, I’m in the same camp today. As I approach Hayat’s tent, I wonder what we will find. It’s been a few months and I know the potential exists of finding a grieving mother. I brace myself as we reach her door. She beams as we enter through the blanket-covered doorway. She is seated on the floor and I see a tiny bundle in her arms, which she immediately holds up for us to admire. All are mystified by the perfectly healthy baby she is holding. She shares of how the baby makes her long days in the camp seem shorter; how she is much happier now the empty place in her heart has been filled. Clearly, she is one of the happiest mothers I have met.
We continue to visit as I cuddle the newborn and launch into an animated voice and silly antics to see if I can get her to smile. I’m vaguely aware that I may be more entertainment for the adults and the other children in the room than the little one I’m holding. After a few minutes, Hayat interrupts to let me know that the baby is obviously a boy, not a girl as I had thought. I laugh and stand firmly corrected.
While I play with the little guy, I notice Hayat use her arms to drag her body around the room, preparing tea for her guests. We laugh and chat over a glass of sweet, hot tea. It’s a happy time. As we prepare to leave, I hand little bundle back to his mama as I step near the door to put on my boots. Without the use of her lower body, I see her struggle to move now that her arms are full; using her elbows to almost crawl across the floor. “How do you manage to carry him and move around?”, I ask. She speaks of how easy it was in the beginning when she could manage to hold him with just one arm. Now, with his ever-increasing weight, it’s more difficult. I talk of how strong she is and how difficult a newborn is even without a disability. I wish her well and we say our goodbyes. Tomorrow I will be back to surprise her with a baby carrier, just one small insignificant act that will transform her daily life.
Proud papa is there when we return the following morning and is eager to model the new baby carrier that will make his wife’s life so much easier.
I know we are making a tremendous impact in many lives; I can see it on their faces and feel it in their grateful smiles. I’m left wondering how I describe impact to those who can’t see or experience it first-hand. How do I really describe the impact of delivering one baby pack to a disabled mother? All I can really say is, I notice a little less worry and hearts that overflow with true gratitude. This is impact. I don't know how to describe it – but it’s real. It’s timely. It’s the right thing to do.