Thursday, November 26, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 27 - What's the difference?

Here's a story I particularly like:

One day a man was walking his dog along the beach after a storm. The tide had washed thousands of starfish onto the beach. They were still alive, but only just. A woman was making her way along the shore, throwing starfish into the sea, one by one.

“Hey,” the man called out, “there are thousands of starfish on the beach. You’re not going to make a blind bit of difference!”

The woman stooped, picked up a starfish and threw it back into the sea. Then she smiled at the man and said, “Made a difference to that one!”

Pieces of litter are my starfish. They're everywhere in our suburb.

Litter is dropped by high school kids to-and-from school and during lunchtime strolls to the five fast food outlets nearby; it flutters out of council rubbish bins as the trucks' lifting mechanism struggles to flip them into the back without spillage; it appears on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings after pub night staggerings and the technicolour junk mail mates with the leaves of the plane trees to create even more unsightly mayhem.

Most people see it, have a quiet 'tut tut' about it and then keep walking or unlock their door, step inside and promptly forget all about it.

I can't do that any longer. As I walk up my tiny street with Sapphire and Milly every day, I spent half of it bending over to pick up dropped bottles, cigarette packets, chip bags, soft drink straws and leaflets; placing them in whichever neighbour's wheelie bin is within reach.

Sometimes Sapphire helps and sometimes she rolls her eyes in embarassment. "Can't you just walk by for once, Mum?"

Then, twice a week I arm myself with long-handled BBQ tongs and shopping bags and leave Sapphire at home with LC. Milly is my sidekick, eagerly sniffing out the forgotten sandwiches, chicken bones and mouldering apple cores that are scattered in the school yard. She's long since discovered that beer cans and cigarette butts aren't particularly tasty. Thirty minutes of 'touching my toes with tongs' leaves a spotless school and street and provides me with some rather satisfying grunt work and thinking time.

However, like bad summertime TV and party-hommus morning breath, its return is inevitable. The very next day, before the first lesson has started, there's already a few bunched up tissues, a Big M carton or two and some balls of gladwrap up against the cyclone fencing.

"See Mum, you'll never get rid of it, no matter how often you do it."

I pause, bend over to pick up the ones on the street-side of the fence and carry it in the hand not holding hers.

"I know love, but every piece I pick up is one less that everyone sees. One less making the place look uglier, dirtier and more neglected than it deserves to be. It's my home, my neighbourhood. If I don't make a start on it, who will?"

Perhaps this is just as small, but KIVA is an international microfinance website that alleviates people from poverty by lending them small amounts to start up their businesses and feed their families. I'd heard about the genuine leg-up that microfinancing can give people from poverty-stricken communities via some documentaries and KIVA has been recommended by a friend and some reputable reports on other websites.

KIVA reps were able to see and hear first-hand how small grants of only $100 - $150 had been used to build ongoing livelihoods that could provide for a family. They heard stories of people who were able to sleep on mattresses instead of dirt floors, afford to take sugar in their tea daily instead of occasionally, and buy fresh fish for their families a few times every week rather than once a week. Instead of meeting the poor and helpless, they found themselves meeting successful entrepreneurs who had generated enough profits from their small businesses to create a real impact on their standard of living.

I believe they have the passion, energy and dedication to put some real strength and success behind their aims. I've started up a Blurb from the Burbs/Gone Chocco lending group. If you click on the title, it should take you straight there and if you wish to donate a few dollars to an individual or collective who needs some cash to get started, it'd be great.

Starfish, pieces of litter, a few bucks. It all makes a difference.


nuttynoton said...

I know how you feel, every morning as I walk through the gates at work or outside on the street I pick up cans, bottles etc, I found this website you may have a laugh at that was designed to ket the merssage of litter over to teenagers and adults

you never know one day the message may get there

franzy said...

I don't buy that starfish story. Not for a second. No way. The starfish aren't dying tragically, they're just dying naturally. The lady in the story (and it's significant that she is a woman) isn't some benevolent starfish angel, diverting the destructiong of their beautiful little worlds (souls?) and giving them a chance to go on and succeed and become better starfish by 'making a difference' to those few thankful, otherwise-dead starfish. She's not making a difference to them, she's only making a difference to herself.
I think that story reveals the true, selfish, individualist nature of supposed altruism.

And I think it does you a disservice. I've always been sceptical about the rubbish-picking up, but I'm actually in awe of your commitment. You're not picking up a few starfish and pretending to make a difference to their squishy little lives, you're cleaning a street that real people live on and making a real difference to real feelings of satisfaction and pleasure.

Keep going.

ps. Love that picture.

Kath Lockett said...

Yeah Nutty I think there's a lot of us out there who'll see that freshly dropped cigarette packet about three metres away from a bin and pick it up. Repeat at least seven times before you reach the destination you were walking to and that's the story of our mornings, isn't it?

Franzy, whilst I do believe that starfish woman is making a difference (starfish, litter, dollars, dogturds, the subject itself isn't what's important here) I also agree with you that she's also making a huge difference to herself. And that's not a bad thing.

Doing good does you yourself as much good as the recipient. Corny but true. My picking up litter is making a huge difference to myself - I like myself better, am trying to set an example to my daughter (who, in her less-embarrassed moments, helps me and says she likes the way the street looks better afterwards) and feel as though I *am* making a small difference. I'll also admit to walking back home feeling perhaps a bit *too* proud of myself until Mr Divvy Van from the dodgy halfway house two doors up leers over the fence and says, "Dunno why you bother, luv."

The picture was taken by our local newspaper because I've received a grant from the council to try and persuade more locals to become Litter Ninjas.... what have I let myself in for?

franzy said...

That's the thing: I don't think she's making a difference to the starfish, if she is, it's detrimental; interferring with natural processes and all that.
What if only dying starfish get washed up and she's throwing back all these sick and dying starfish back among the healthy population? Could you imagine the sort of havoc some cheerful giant would create by doing the same thing emptying out our hospices and nursing homes into our malls and schools?

Kath Lockett said...

Franzy, sweetie darling sweetie, let's move away from the starfish. Perhaps I should have just deleted that as my intro and dived straight in (unfortunate choice of words there) to the litter issue.

As for: 'Could you imagine the sort of havoc some cheerful giant would create by doing the same thing emptying out our hospices and nursing homes into our malls and schools?' isn't it already happening, but by surly government programs instead of a cheerful giant? Throw in a few generous armfuls of people afflicted with mental illness and you're describing my local shopping centre.

River said...

"Every little bit helps, said the old man as he peed into the sea..."
One of my mum's favourite sayings. Ha Ha.
KIVO sounds like a great idea.
I'm no longer a rubbish picker-upper, I've found lately that if I want to pick up anything I have to actually get down on my knees otherwise I tend to either fall over or pull my back muscles causing more than a little pain.

Deep Kick Girl said...

I too hate litter. I'm not as committed as you, not by a long shot. But I do pick up the odd bits of litter at school and pick up the disgarded lunchboxes and drink bottles that I pass over (unlike all the other parents who seem happy to walk straight over the rubbish and other debris, not to mention to the kids who seem to enjoy using other kid's lunchboxes as footballs...).

I also driven nuts by the rubbish I see around our beautiful area. We live by the waterfront, with a lovely park and boardwalk area overlooking Duck River/Homebush Bay. Whenever I walk around here I am constantly nagging poor Big Jay about the thoughtless people who have left their rubbish about. I will pick up the odd bits and always remind myself (and then forget) to bring a plastic bag next time I come out.

Sorry, long boring story there.

As far as doing something small, yes I think these acts of "charity" (whether it's picking up rubbish, donating money or helping out a sick friend with a meal) are good for the giver more so than the reciever. But they do make the world go around.

Stay true to yourself, my deep-thinking, heart-of-gold friend.

Baino said...

I must admit my recent trip to Melbourne was a bit of a shock, particularly in the inner city it was very littered and a little smelly after the heat. You're doing a good thing Kath!

Kath Lockett said...

River, you need long-handled BBQ tongs but they're not something you can fit in a handbag but are instead only taken out onto the streets when you've planned it; have a few empty bags to put the rubbish into and are ready to bend over....

Thank you, Deep Kick Girl. I'm just as guilty as forgetting to take a plastic bag with me when I leave the house and wonder if I'll ever NOT be shocked and dismayed by the sheer volume of litter I see: where does it come from? Who ARE these people that do it?

Baino, Melbourne city *is* particularly dirty and it does stink on hot days which is unfortunate. I wonder whether generous deposits (20c) on bottles, cans and other items like milk cartons would help? Even 10c for a ciggie pack?