I was just walking back the last quarter mile after running with Blue, my blue heeler running buddy. Lisa Brochu, my wife, and I pick up litter every day on this stretch of road near our home in Fort Collins, Colorado. It’s an early morning stewardship task that we willingly and voluntarily take on to help keep our community cleaner. This morning I found a shattered beer bottle with broken glass spread in a three-foot circle. I held on to Blue’s leash to keep her off the road and carefully picked up the fragments I could see easily, adding them to the other paper and plastic in my free hand. We walked another 200 yards to the county’s trash barrel in the small natural area park behind our house and deposited the litter there.
As we walked on home, I worked at a small shard of glass caught in my fingertip. Broken glass is like that. It gets under your skin and worries you until you figure out a way to resolve the problem. It occurred to me that our world is full of broken glass of all kinds. Eighteen plus millions of orphans in East Africa are broken glass. Since our first trip there, they’ve been under our skin. We keep searching for ways to do what we can for them with our limited resources and talents, including sharing our admiration of the work of others who have helped these children affected by wars, disease, and lack of basics like food, clean water and education.
Anne Heyman started Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in northeast Rwanda to provide homes, family and education for 550 at-risk young people, mostly orphans. We stopped in at the Youth Village on a recent trip to Rwanda and a group of articulate youngsters took us on a heartwarming tour of the nature area they have developed. They showed us a shelter they built and exhibits they illustrated and put up along the trail. Their personal stories hang in our hearts, little shards of broken glass. We know these particular youngsters are well cared for but millions more with similar stories have little or no support or prospects throughout East Africa and the world.
In February on completion of the ecotour we were leading In Tanzania, we chatted with Pritik Patel, CEO of Safari Legacy, about his work as the chairman of the African Wildlife Trust campaign to stop poaching of elephants. The slaughter of elephants represents thousands of pieces of broken glass. Though they are the world’s largest land mammal, and impressive in all that they do, they are helpless against automatic rifles. Their populations are being decimated at such an alarming rate, it’s possible we could lose all the world’s wild elephants in our lifetime and for nothing but vanity. When you see the bleached bones of elephants in Africa and learn that poachers killed these graceful giants for their tusks only to supply a black market industry in carved ivory (largely in China), another shard of glass hangs in your heart. A tourism industry built around viewing wild elephants is sustainable. Poaching is not. Broken glass.
In Malawi, we continue to work with our friends at the Museums of Malawi. Aaron Maluwa and Michael Gondwe are museum educators who have done programs on HIV and malaria for tens of thousands of villagers over the past decade. Their city museum collections sat idle so they took the work of preserving cultures to the places where people live. Saving
cultures means saving lives, especially when you use traditional stories, dances and songs to deliver messages that matter to those who rarely have the opportunity to see a doctor. Diseases and the lack of clean water and nutritious food can ruin a nation. More splinters of broken glass.
How do we find ways to help people and wildlife threatened and devalued by the carelessness of others? Some unknown person’s careless act of throwing a beer bottle from a car window to shatter on a road was a reminder to me that cleaning up what we find is a daily effort. It’s an unspeakable shame that broken glass is all around us and even more of a shame that some people walk right past it without noticing. The carelessness of others can only be undone by the efforts of those who pitch in and work to clean up, educate, bring medicine, and provide some hope for a better future.
Lisa, my wife, and I write non-fiction and fiction, train interpreters of nature and culture and work with communities around the world in hopes of inspiring others to find their own ways of helping pick up the broken glass. Our novel, The Leopard Tree, follows three orphans from Kenya on a journey across the world to tell their personal stories to the Secretary General of the United Nations. A special on HIV in Africa by President William Jefferson Clinton and The Clinton Foundation in 2006 inspired our story so we sent him a copy. He wrote back, “Thank you so much for The Leopard Tree . . . what a creative approach to raising awareness of HIV/AIDS! I commend your efforts on this critical issue.” His foundation continues to put people and essential anti-retroviral drugs on the ground in Africa, making a difference everywhere they work.
There’s a lot of broken glass in the world. In some places, it’s more evident than others, but if just look around, you’ll find it wherever you are. The little shards of broken glass that get in our hands and hearts cannot easily be removed. They remind us daily to look around and see how we can care for each other and the world in which we live. We may never clean it all up, but if everyone does whatever he or she can, we will make a difference.
– Tim Merriman
“Everything you do makes a difference. Only you can decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Jane Goodall