This is Catherine: I’ll always remember her, as she taught me an unforgettable lesson.
We danced. We blew bubbles. We rang bells. We did all the things that bring giant smiles on these beautiful African faces. But Catherine didn’t smile much; she just stayed close enough to grab my hand every so often to let me know she was there. Quietly she said to me, “I have a problem in my mouth.” Having barely heard her, I asked her to say it again and sure enough, one look inside her mouth showed an abscessed tooth pounding with every heartbeat. It dawned on me instantly that this was the reason she didn’t smile or play like the other children. An abscess is a pocket of pus that forms around the root of an infected tooth and causes extreme throbbing pain; in the US it is considered a dental emergency because left unchecked, the infection can spread to other parts of the body.
Within seconds of our conversation, I was called to teach a health lesson to a classroom full of girls, followed by a car journey to our next destination and was separated from her. All evening long, however, I couldn’t stop thinking of Catherine and her tooth. I knew I had to go back to her.
First thing the following day, we did just that, and miraculously found Catherine. I had my driver and the school principal call the dentist immediately to get her in for whatever procedure was necessary in order to provide the relief she desperately needed, and had hundreds of dollar bills in my pocket ready to pay for whatever the cost might be. I told Catherine that I’ve had toothaches before that made me cry and explained that she’d be getting medicine and dental attention soon. Her eyes welled up with tears, and she understood that finally, relief was coming.
The principal got off the phone and said it would be $10.
Ten dollars! That’s it. Ten dollars was all that was withholding Catherine from living life fully and being free of suffering: $2 for an antibiotic, $1 for the transportation, and $7 for the extraction. Here I was, ready to fork out hundreds of dollars for something that might’ve been costly and complicated and yet, all Catherine needed was what I spend on Diet Coke in a week! What she really needed was someone to have an impression and act on that impression, and it changed her entire world.
This experience was pivotal: we all have ten dollars. Perhaps not in currency, but we all certainly can give “ten dollars” worth of smiles, of “hellos” in a school hallway, of simple and kind texts, opening the door for someone, and noticing this beautiful world around us. We don’t have to extend ourselves all the time in grand gestures or organize colossal service projects. We truly can make the world a more joyful place with simple, small, uncomplicated acts. Nothing is too small. Catherine taught me that a million $10 moments add up to something miraculous. I will never forget her.
So, when life seems too sad, dark, or heavy, remember that your $10 efforts matter.
All my love,
Chief Executive Officer, ROAM Humanitarian