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  • John Humphreys

What Can One Person Do?

One person: A fifteen-year-old Swedish girl skipped school to stand outside her country’s parliament holding up a hand-made sign, School Strike for Climate. When Greta Thunberg decided that attending school was less important than protesting the snail’s pace of climate change legislation, she was a solitary voice. I doubt very much that she expected to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, or to speak to the British, French, and European parliaments, at the United Nations and to the United States Congress.


One person: A nine-year-old Ethiopian boy, Asfaw Yemiru, walked barefoot to the capital Addis Ababa from his home 75 miles away. As he himself found a school place and started to learn – at the General Wingate boarding school on a scholarship that he won - he wanted others to learn too. He gathered uneaten food for beggars sitting on the steps of the school, and at the age of 14, he started teaching them after his classes. In 1960, he was teaching three hundred students; by 2020 the Asra Hawariat School he founded had 64 classrooms, a library, and dormitories, and had over the years given over 120,000 street children an education.


Four teenagers sit in a Brazilian classroom. As long as they could remember, the river that ran through the town of Socorro had been chocolate brown in color. Their teacher explained that there used to be a forest between the river and the town. All the trees had been cut down; now there was nothing stopping the riverbank from being washed away.


To make the Rio do Peixe run clear again, the forest would have to come back.


So, perhaps saying to themselves ‘How hard can this be?’, they decided to plant a forest. Flavia and Ana Paula Balderi, with Ana Paula’s future husband Tiago Sartori and his cousin Richieri Sartori started by begging free tree seedlings from the town park. Then by growing seeds on the Sartori family farm, and at a nursing home who gave them some land, they got a few more. Two elderly women gave their hand-to-mouth organization Copaíba fifteen acres of land. Their output rose from 4,000 trees to over 100,000 trees a year. Now they grow more than half a million trees annually. Their work is aided by established relationships with the World Wildlife Fund, Hewlett Packard, and International Paper; the companies are striving to give back to the forests that have sustained them.


Therefore, thanks to the vision of four far-from-average teenagers, the heavily deforested area of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, which is home to numerous extremely rare animal species, is now benefitting from Copaíba’s commitment.


When faced with impossible odds, these individuals from Scandinavia, Africa and South America didn’t blink. Didn’t second guess. Didn’t listen to the naysayers who pointed out the apparent stupidity of achieving these magnificent ambitions. Instead of being overwhelmed and despairing, they simply took on the next task: the next person to convince, the next child to teach, the next tree to plant.


All of us can be challenged this in this way. If we care about human rights in the Amazon rainforest, if we care about changing the odds that endangered animals and plants face, if we don’t want summer smog to trigger asthmatic crises in our children, if we loathe the idea of plastic filling up out oceans – let’s not be overwhelmed at the task. Even if many might consider the fight to save our common home as a futile, lost cause, I have hope.


As Pope Francis has written:

All it takes is one good person to restore hope! (Laudato Si’, 71)

Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities. (Laudato Si’, 165)

Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope. (Laudato Si’, 244)


And finally …

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love. (St Teresa of Calcutta)


If you care about the Earth, please support the Archdiocese in its creation care initiative, www.EcoPhilly.org.

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