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A creative blog by Lisa Schultz on The Whole 9

Lisa Schultz has spent a lifetime observing the human parade. Now at the helm of The Whole 9 and The Peace Project, she reports in on her findings and asks that you join in.

What a difference six years make.

What a difference six years make.

Shortly after launching The Peace Project about six years ago, I took my first trip to Sierra Leone, Africa. I specifically remember friends telling me that I was being irresponsible — that as a single mom, I was risking my child’s future by going. Concerned, I called up photojournalist Pep Bonet whose photos had inspired The Peace Project and asked whether it was safe. He laughed and said “Sierra Leone is the safest place in the world right now.” I suspected that, as a photojournalist who shoots some of the most dangerous spots in the world, his perspective was a little skewed, but I trusted it enough to get on a plane.

When I first landed in Sierra Leone, I saw many things — a few really struck me. One was seeing people crawling on the ground because they didn’t have crutches, couldn’t afford crutches and even if they could, had nowhere to purchase a pair of crutches. We decided to tackle that problem with one of our most dramatic efforts to date, Operation Rise, whereby The Peace Project with the support of Edward Bockarie and a team of about 200 concerned citizens, medical professionals, amputees and others, distributed 10,000 pairs of crutches to polio survivors, war victims, women and children across the entire country on World Peace Day 2011.

The other thing that immediately struck me and captured my heart were the children — the bright eyes and the smiles of children who had never really known enough to eat or anything new to wear. These children inspired the first program we implemented in Sierra Leone — a child sponsorship program where we matched about 30 kids that were orphans, amputees or children of amputees with individuals and families in the United States and in the UK. Three of our children, Marie, Zainab and Mashel Michael Bangura have a father who is a double hand amputee — both of his hands were cut off during the war. I quickly came to believe that our time and energy could be better spent on other programs in Sierra Leone as well as in other parts of the world, but we’ve continued this program for the initial group and watched these children grow up.

During an impromptu art class during my first trip, there was a girl sitting on the outskirts of our circle. I was told that her family didn’t have money to send her to school and she was too ashamed to join us. We subsequently included Kadi in the program too.

In April, when I went to go and pick up my son, Tejan, I spoke with Kadi’s father and he told me that she was doing great in school and that she wanted to go to college to be a bank manager.

On Saturday, Edward Bockarie (head of CAPS and our trusted partner in Sierra Leone) and Musa Mansaray (a member of the Sierra Leone amputee soccer team and another one of the original group) met with all the children, took photos and did an assessment of each. Today, I went through the photos and read about each child’s hopes for the future — futures that include becoming a lawyer, teacher, banker, and caterer, and I thought about the little girl that didn’t want to join us six years ago and about all of the sponsors that have contributed year after year including Heidi Huber-Kalin, Heidi Mages, Diane Connaughton, Michele D’Acosta, Eliza Wyatt, Cecelia Casey, Kelebek Travers, Liz Beckman, Sandra Cooper, Meg Zuern, and Robert Gonzalez.

I think about how to change the world most of each waking day and although most of my visions include big dramatic ideas like Operation Rise, I realize that quite often it’s the little things we do day after day, year after year, that can change a life — that can change the life of a family and can ultimately change the life of a community.

When I despair of making a difference, I often remind myself of the story of the boy and the starfish. In it, a boy is walking on a beach where thousands of starfish have washed up on the sand. As he’s walking, he bends down and picks one up. A man sees him and says “What are you doing? Look at all of those starfish — you can’t save them.” The boy throws the starfish in the water and then turns to the man with a smile “I saved that one.”

Thanks to all of our sponsors and the children that have joined us on this journey. We may not be able to save everyone, but if we work together, hopefully, at the very least, we can save each other <3

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