Have you heard the parable of the man and the starfish? One day a man was walking on the beach and came across hundreds of starfish that had been stranded on shore. They were drying out and slowly perishing, so one by one, the man began picking them up and throwing them back into the sea.
A young boy saw him doing this and asked the man “What are you doing? You’ll never be able to throw all of the starfish back in!” “Maybe not,” said the man, “but at least I can save this one,” and gently tossed the starfish into the waves.
This story has always held a lot of meaning for me, because, the truth is, once upon a time I was a starfish. While I was lucky to be born into a loving family, “easy” is the last word I would use to describe my childhood. I grew up in a mud hut in a small town called Mtu Wa Mbu, where my father was a farmer and a butcher. He worked day and night, but we still lived in extreme poverty and struggled to get by on less than 70 cents a day. We were poor, but happy. All that changed when I was ten years old.
When I was ten, my mother got sick with cancer, and my responsibilities shifted from being a student to being the primary caretaker for my two younger sisters. My only opportunity for learning became rereading the textbooks I had collected in primary school.
Two years after I had to leave school, I was lucky to meet a man who saw potential in me. He offered me a scholarship to attend secondary school, and with that gesture of kindness, I became one of the starfish that was thrown back into the water and given a second chance. I was a starfish again when I met a traveler on safari who offered to help cover my tuition expenses, allowing me to fulfill my lifelong dream of attending university. My final “starfish moment” came in 2002, when India asked me to help her start the Tanzanian Children’s Fund, enabling me to pursue my life’s work of making childhood easier and brighter for hundreds of children in Tanzania.
While you may only be able to save one starfish in your life, the one you save could go on to help hundreds of others. I know that one day, I hope to see our children at the Rift Valley Children’s Village saving their own starfish, and watch as the impact of our work continues to ripple out into the world.