The Power of the Pencil

Based on the title, you might think this post is about writing, but it’s not.

I first learned the real power of the pencil a few years ago while I was teaching on a small island in Korea. One of my friends organized a fundraising event for an orphanage in India. As part of the fundraiser, she encouraged her fellow English teachers to create a lesson about the children in the orphanage, share it with their students, and then hold a “Bring a Pencil to School” day.

You see, the children in Jeju, who sit in wired classrooms with abundant materials and supplies, who carelessly throw partially used pencils in the trash, have no inkling what it’s like for students in other parts of the world who live without such luxuries.

The idea behind the fundraiser was this: One small act, like a child donating a pencil, could have a greater positive impact on the world. And it worked. The fundraiser was a huge success. The orphanage in India received loads of pencils as well as a sizable monetary donation from the Jeju expat community. More importantly, it raised awareness and gave everyone involved, children and adults alike, a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation.

Recently, this beautiful idea has touched other parts of the world as well. A former member of the Jeju community, who is now living and teaching in Hong Kong, decided to hold another donation day. But this time, the pencils were sent to Bangladesh where I had the privilege of delivering them to an elementary school in a small village.

Now, most of the students at this particular school aren’t orphans, but their learning conditions are incredibly basic, and their families are very poor, so purchasing even one pencil can be a burden. But thanks to one teacher and her class in Hong Kong, that burden has been relieved, and an entire school of Bangladeshi children are positively beaming with joy.

See how powerful a simple pencil can be?

Now it’s your turn! Please share your ideas about small acts with big impact.


Day 29: Give Someone Flowers

Twice a year there’s a big beach volleyball tournament on Jeju to raise money for a local charity. A bunch of foreigners and some Koreans, too, get together for two days of camping, eating, drinking, and of course, volleyball. Normally, I just go to the tournament to hang out and support my friends, but this time, I was on a team.

The tournament was on the other side of the island, so I left my house at 6:15 a.m. on Saturday morning, camped Saturday night and didn’t get home until 10:30 p.m. Sunday night. Obviously, this means I had to complete both the Day 28 and Day 29 challenges while participating in the tournament.

As planned, the entire weekend involved picking up lots of trash and helping to clean the beach in the spirit of Day 28. For Day 29, it involved picking flowers.

The day’s events made it difficult to go to a florist and buy a big bouquet of proper flowers, but Jeju’s landscape made it easy to stop and gather a tiny bouquet of wild ones. (Not the ones in the picture. That’s a photo from last summer. I failed to take a photo for this challenge, but the bouquet was yellow and lavender. Close enough, right?)

As I picked them, I imagined I would give them to my dear friend Rachael. She’s always a ray of sunshine in everyone’s world, and I knew she would be delighted to receive the simple gift.

That was my intention, but that’s not what happened.

As I was searching for Rachael, I noticed another friend sitting on the beach, keeping score for one of the games. As soon as I saw her, I knew Rachael wouldn’t be getting the bouquet. (Sorry, Rach!)

This other friend has had the most hellish few months of anyone I know. Numerous heartbreaking things have happened to her and the people she loves, and I just wanted to give her a little moment of beauty and sunshine. So I sat down next to her, handed her the flowers and told her just that. I hope it helped.

And I hope this challenge allowed you to lift the spirits of someone in your world.

Oh, and if you were wondering … no, nobody gave me flowers, but that’s okay with me. ; )