I came to India with high hopes to do good for the local community that I’m living in and to effect as much change as I can for the time that I’m here. Been here for about 3 months but was starting to get a little disillusioned with the work that I’ve been doing and the people that I’ve met. As with all places in India, you get faced with the huge disparities in income and lifestyles and feel that there has to be something that one can do for the people around us. I work with about 70 students from the villages around where I am and conduct classes to help them get ahead in whatever they may do – some may go on to higher education while many others are preparing to start working pretty soon. I felt that I could do more, that I could try to work with a bigger and broader group of students from a wider area. I see poverty along the streets and people living in canvas tents by the roadside. Sometimes feel a sense of loss uselessness of not being able to do much there. There’s much to be done and here I am stuck with this programme to work with my group of 70 students. This got me down for a while and I kept on wondering where and how I could go beyond this count of 70. It seemed that I came all this way for just a small little project.
This sense of not being able to do more was put into perspective over the past week by a few events that made me relook these thoughts. First was a conversation I had with friends (Thanks Lishan and Preman!) who told me that our work should not be subject to the normal calculus of the corporate secular world. The fact that we can help 70 means that the 70 have benefitted and we should not look at the fact that we are unable at the moment to help the 71st. It’s not about an all or nothing game but something that we do. If I can serve one more person then great but one should strive to do one’s level best for the 70 that I’m working with and not worry so much about the others that I’m missing for the moment.
This idea is echoed in a book that I just finished recently by Sudha Murty. In Wise & Otherwise she recounts little vignettes and anecdotes of her work in an NGO and has this to say. Faced with a number of situations where traditions and inertia thwarted her work, she began to lose hope in her ability to help others. It was her father who told her that every one extra person that she helps counts. She ends the section by writing,
“It is more difficult to recognise our weaknesses than our strengths. Don’t aim for the sky. Keep your feet firmly on the ground and work around you. There is so much misery and gloom, but it is better to light a single candle than to remain in darkness. Try to light as many candles as possible.”
This helps me put things into perspective. There’s always something else that we want to do and there’s always another person that we think we can help but in the process we might lose sight of what we’re supposed to do in the first place. By worrying about helping more, we can lose sight of those that we were there to serve in the first place.