Inspiration Information — Chris Mburu & Hilde Back

by aaron on August 15, 2010

If you do something good, it can spread in circles, like rings on the water.”  –Hilde Back

It’s happened to all of us — late at night when you should be sleeping, but that nagging pull of life keeps you up, keeps your mind whirring as aimlessly as the flickering images on your static-glow TV.  And suddenly an infomercial comes on, a santa claus sized man with kind smile, walking through some dusty village in Africa.  And pictures of children with pleading eyes and protruding ribs, desperate for food; their frail bodies feasted on by swarms of mosquitos.  They need money, they need aid.  They need your immediate attention, now.  Not in twenty minutes when the black curtain of sleep takes over.  Not in 2 months when that raise you’ve been dreaming of finally comes through, or in twenty years when your kids get out of college and you’ve paid off that expensive mortgage.  No, those saucer-sad eyes won’t wait.  This is a wake-up call to all insomniacs.  This is the battle cry of empathy.  Call this number.  Save a life.  Do it.  NOW.

How many of us actually pick up that phone?  How many of us sit down and write that check for $10 dollars a month to sponsor a child?  I personally must have seen ads for ChildFund and WorldVision at least a hundred times.  And though the images strike me like lightening rods, though I am instantly shocked and shook out of the insignificant worries of my oh-so-comfortable life… I am guilty as most of us are of simply changing the channel; wiping responsibility with the easy click of a finger.

And then there’s the cynic in me — that nasally voice that rises up to justify the amoral decisions of my guilty conscious — who questions the validity of such organizations.  Who wonders if that money will actually reach Saye, age 7, who’s smiling face shoots daggers through my heart.  This cynic who self-righteously revolts against the propagandist assault of children in close-up, debased by poverty, arms outstretched as though to touch you through the screen.  This cynic who (i hate to admit) is extremely persuasive.

I have to stop myself.  I have to ask that burning question, yet unanswered… Why is it so easy to validate inaction?

And then I stumble across the story of Hilde Back — a Swedish pre-schooler and Holocaust survivor who fled Germany as a child after both parents were killed in concentration camps.  Hilde who many years ago began sending small sums of money to a children’s charity of Kenya, without knowledge of how her charity would impact the course of one boy’s life forever.

Meet Chris Mburu.  As a poor child in a small village in Kenya, Hilde’s donations provided Chris with the books, pencils and essentials he needed to stay in school everyday.  These small resources that don’t seem like much to us, meant the world to young Chris… afforded him the opportunities he needed to excel and thrive.  As a result, Chris graduated primary school, went on to the University of Nairobi and eventually Harvard Law School.  He became a prominent human rights attorney, working for organizations such as Amnesty International.  Currently, Chris is the head of the anti-discrimination section of the United Nations Human Rights Agency.

In 2003, Chris traveled back to his home village in Kenya to establish an Education Fund offering scholarships to children, in the same vein as he himself had received.  He named his organization the Hilde Back Education Fund, in honor of the Swedish benefactor whom he had never met.  He wanted to pay forward the small act of kindness that had created such a tremendous effect on his life.

Like the best kind of fairytale, Chris also went on a search to find Hilde, who’s letter he had stop received many years before.  When he finally found her in Sweden, he brought her back with him to Kenya so she could see first-hand how far her small act had gone.  From the little boy on TV to the inspiring man in person, the ripple effects of altruism are vast and concentric — goodness always circles back.

A stranger helps Hilde escape from Nazi germany as a young girl.  Hilde sponsors a struggling boy in Kenya.  Chris starts his own scholarship program to elevate the educational needs of his local community.  Already these students are excelling in college, and pledging to contribute their own small acts to spread their fortune to others.

Today, Chris and Hilde stay in close contact.   She treats him like the son that she never had, and he loves her like the godmother she is to him.  Their story is the subject of a recent HBO documentary called “A Small Act”, which can be seen on HBO as part of their Defining Moments Summer series.  I highly recommend you find and watch it.

And I hope this story inspires you to take action.  To think about the small acts of kindness that impassion you, to which you can easily contribute.  Because the moral of this real life fable is that even the littlest actions create a world of good. Even if it never comes back to us. Even if we can’t see the effects.   What we put out into the world, ripples, so we better make sure we throw positive stones.

In the words of Jennifer Arnold, the filmmaker responsible for the movie:

“I am a huge believer in sponsorship, and it is very easy to join a program like HBEF or one of the many others.  But I also believe in taking action on a local level.  I would love it if people looked into their own communities and did their own small acts.  It could be volunteering at a tutoring center, a community center, or a local school fund-raiser.  People can also start their own local scholarship funds, like Chris did.  There are so many little things we can do to help out and no better investment than education.”

Next time you’re up late at night, don’t change the channel.  Instead, hit mute on that cynical little voice in your head (he’s never right anyway).  Then pick up the phone and make a difference.  There is a Chris Mburu out there waiting for you.

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