Don’t change the channel

November 4, 2019

There are a lot of things I learn about in my job at Plan that I find difficult to comprehend. But near the top of the list is the destruction and desperation that natural disasters leave in their wake. Imagine growing up with nothing, and then a cyclone hits. Is it possible to have less than nothing?

The stories we received from the communities hit by Cyclone Idai really got me. There was a woman who survived by climbing a tree and holding on with her life. Another woman said she didn’t know exactly when her newborn baby slipped from her grasp, carried away by the raging water — only that her child was gone.

It’s so simply, painfully terrifying. It’s something you only see in movies. Except it’s not.

Technology has made us numb, and cynical. I think a lot about a line from the movie Hotel Rwanda, when one of the characters imagines how the genocide will play on the TV news back home. He says, “People will say ‘that’s horrible,’ and go back to eating their dinners.”

And he’s absolutely right. The extent of tragedies like genocides and cyclones is almost immediately overwhelming, making you feel small and helpless — and there’s a temptation just to turn away or change the channel, thinking, “Nothing I can do will make a difference.”

But if I’ve learned one thing from working at Plan, it’s this: every little bit helps.

As Plan was responding to Cyclone Idai this spring, I read about a woman in Zimbabwe named Tsitsi. In some sort of cruel irony, she and her family were surrounded by water with nothing to drink. The flooding and landslides caused by the storm wiped out any pipes and tanks that might have provided clean water.

But then came a turning point.

“I am truly grateful,” Tsitsi said. “I know that my four children would have gotten diarrhea if Plan hadn’t provided us with clean water here.”

Just a few containers of water made all the difference. In the face of terrifying disasters at a massive scale, you are still just one person helping another. You do what you can.

And I’ll add that there’s one more beautiful thing about Plan: you’re not alone. We are a community of people doing what we can for others. There’s a lot in our world that just doesn’t make sense. But we don’t just change the channel. We listen, we show up and we won’t let anyone have less than nothing.