Have you heard the starfish story? Even if you have, humor me because I’m going to introduce you to one of the sweetest starfish you’ll ever meet: 11-year-old Pendo – a delightful little girl in Singida, Tanzania.
Here’s the starfish story: A young man was walking along a beach one morning and saw an old man bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean. As the young man drew near, he noticed the old man was picking up starfish that had been stranded by the receding tide. Thousands of starfish littered the beach.
The young man was puzzled so he asked the old man, “Look at all these starfish. Do you really think you’re making a difference?”
The old man picked up another starfish and hurled it into the ocean then said, “I did that that one.”
When that first little five-year-old hungry Nicaraguan girl asked me to feed her almost two decades ago, I purposed to do all I could to help hungry children and families have food to eat. That quest has taken me to the far reaches of the earth.
I’ve traveled under the protection of the Columbian military as we delivered food to starving people in the jungle but had to stop because the FARC rebels were ambushing relief efforts. I’ve been in the world’s largest refugee camp in Dedaab, Kenya, 20 miles from the Somalia border as 1,500 people a day were fleeing the real terror of El Shebab. Most were women and children because their husbands and sons had been killed or abducted along the way.
I’ve delivered life-saving food to farmers in the remote mountains of Central America after floods had wiped out their crops. I’ve looked into the haunting eyes of hungry children in Kibera, Kenya, the largest slum in the world where millions of people cram into rusted tin sheds. I’ve had gang leaders escort me safely through the serpentine paths of the tent camps in Haiti as I met the women who make, eat, and sell cakes made out of mud.
Sometimes, the enormity of the suffering overwhelms me.
But, I remind myself it’s all about one starfish at a time.
Let me introduce you to one of the sweetest starfish you will ever meet; Pendo.
Pendo was one of the first children we met at the Outreach Children’s Center in Singida. The Children’s Center is a fascinating and highly successful model of making sure the most vulnerable children (MVCs, yes, that’s actually a phrase used by aid workers) have access to an education. At the Center in Singida, we help more than 700 MVCs, who go to the local government school, get a hot, nutritious meal, have a safe place to eat and play, safe water to drink, help them with school uniforms and provide an after-school tutor.
The Children’s Center concept is so successful that the pass rates of our children are nearly 100 percent, more than double the national average.
If these Centers did not exist, there would be 700+ kids roaming the streets and begging for food each day.
Shortly after we arrived, we met Pendo because she had just won an award of excellence for her school work. We fell in love with her sweet smile, innocent eyes and loving demeanor.
We visited her home, met her Dad and siblings – Mom was still at church – and saw her the next day in school.
Pendo suffers from a skin disease that no one has been able to treat locally. It’s awful. Her skin blisters, peels and forms huge, open sores that she keeps covered as best she can.
When we were in her home, her Dad beamed with pride because, “She is like little David that’s not afraid to take on Goliath. For her, Goliath is this sickness she has that no one has been able to cure, but she’s a fighter and she works hard in school and that’s why she won the award. She’s a fighter.”
It appears her Dad likes a good story, too.
Since we met her, Floyd and Kathy Hammer – founders of Outreach – have made sure she’s been taken to a much larger hospital and research center. I received word last night that doctors there don’t know what it is either, but they will run a series of tests on her for the next few months.
If you’d like to help this little starfish get the medical treatment she needs – it’s an 6-hour ride in a hot, cramped bus to the hospital so, when she goes with her parents, they have to spend a few nights there. Trust me when I tell you they don’t have the money. Please go to: www.outreachprogram.org and click on the Donate Now button at the top. Please put in the tag line; Pendo’s Medical Treatment.
We might not be able to save the world from suffering, but we can help one little starfish at a time.
What little starfish has been brought into your life for you to make a difference to?
To read the first part of this series, click on the following links: