The rain lashed down in Dun Laoghaire this morning, taking no prisoners in Georges Street. The checkout operator in the €2 Shop did not question why anyone would want to buy 400 envelopes; anyone silly enough to be walking the street on such a morning was eccentric anyway. Clear plastic bags were not so easy to find, eventually food bags from the cookery section of Tesco seemed best. The office supply shop had packs of 160 gsm card; with no other customers around the five packs of card were the first sale of the morning.
It was DIY Christmas card time. Photographs taken by a colleague in Rwanda would appear on the front. Each A4 sheet would print out as two Christmas cards, pictures on one side and greetings on the reverse. Cut in half and folded then tucked in with an envelope – six cards would sell for €5. If I can make up and sell 100 packs, it will make €500.
With rain trickling down inside the coat, it seemed a silly enterprise. But then the much repeated and very hackneyed story of the starfish came to mind:
I awoke early, as I often did, just before sunrise to walk by the ocean’s edge and greet the new day. As I moved through the misty dawn, I focused on a faint, far away motion. I saw a youth, bending and reaching and flailing arms, dancing on the beach, no doubt in celebration of the perfect day soon to begin.
As I approached, I sadly realized that the youth was not dancing to the bay, but rather bending to sift through the debris left by the night’s tide, stopping now and then to pick up a starfish and then standing, to heave it back into the sea. I asked the youth the purpose of the effort. “The tide has washed the starfish onto the beach and they cannot return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun rises, they will die, unless I throw them back to the sea.”
As the youth explained, I surveyed the vast expanse of beach, stretching in both directions beyond my sight. Starfish littered the shore in numbers beyond calculation. The hopelessness of the youth’s plan became clear to me and I countered, “But there are more starfish on this beach than you can ever save before the sun is up. Surely you cannot expect to make a difference.”
The youth paused briefly to consider my words, bent to pick up a starfish and threw it as far as possible. Turning to me he simply said, “I made a difference to that one.
Getting wet in Dun Laoghaire on a November Saturday and standing in the kitchen folding cards and putting them and their envelopes inside polythene bags is not going to make much difference to the world; in the big scheme of things, it is all but pointless.
Yet the photographs on the front of the cards are of the artwork of a group of “Youth at Risk”; young Rwandans whose parents have no money to provide a secondary education for their children. The church tries to provide them with training so they might have some hope of employment. One email said they were trying to secure an extra teacher for the vocational training centre attended by many of the young people; his appointment depended on securing his salary and his salary was the equivalent of £480 Sterling a year. The Tesco bags and €2 Shop envelopes and the home made cards printed on our old HP printer could secure enough to pay a teacher for the year; maybe no more than a single starfish, but to those he will teach, he will make a difference.