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.