I got some really sad news a couple of days ago: one of my favorite clients, who had become a friend over the years, passed away from cancer. No, this isn’t going to be a sad story or even the kind of inspirational tale you are surely expecting. Yes, she battled her illness with bravery and courage. Yes, she was a great mother, grandmother and friend. But that isn’t what I’m here to talk about. I would instead like to share something small in the grand scheme of her life; but so important to me.
Years ago, Sue Matherly walked into Mama Afrika’s shop (when we had a retail store). She smiled and looked around at first. Soon, she was beaming with joy as she told me about her granddaughter whose father is from Ghana. She was so proud of her connection to Africa. She clearly adored that child. She chose a gift for her birthday (if I recall well) and she got a banana fiber notecard from Rwanda.
Sometime later, she returned to tell me how much her granddaughter enjoyed her bracelet. She picked up a basket from Uganda, then another card from Rwanda and looked closer at them. She asked me “Don’t these women have a hard time staring at such small details each day? I mean isn’t it hard on their eyes? You know, I bet it would make their jobs easier if they had reading glasses. I think I’ll pick up a few pairs and donate them. Would you be able to get them to these ladies if I did?” I told her it would be my pleasure to.
We’d already talked about the young ladies who create the beautiful art on the card like the one she sent, girls from Mbwira Ndumva of Rwanda. And of course, it was easy to see that the weavers of the basketry in Uganda who often weave intricate pictures into their baskets had the same issues.
A month or so later, Sue returned with two small plastic bags full of different glasses. I contacted the cooperative in Rwanda and arranged the shipment.
I loved the idea so much that even when Sue didn’t bring glasses in (which she did a few times after that), I sent them to the ladies. Sometimes other clients would ask what they could bring in, I’d recommend the glasses. They sell them at discount stores locally for just a dollar a pair. We tweaked the system and began to include the magnifications that were most useful (lower magnification to simply “take the stress off” of the eyes as they wove) and included pairs for children whose parents couldn’t afford to get glasses for them. We also sent some sheets which helped the women know which magnification was best suited to them.
To this day, hundreds of pairs of eye glasses have been sent to Africa and we’ve been able to help a lot of women and children through those donations. Kids are able to see to do their homework easier, mothers are able to weave without sore eyes so that they can feed their families and young women in Rwanda can provide futures for themselves without damaging their eyesight.
I tell you the story of Sue Matherly because she mattered. Each of us matter. Each of us is able to do one small thing… one seemingly small thing, which can change the lives of so many.
I often hear the same question from people in my travels “What can I do to help? What can one person really do to fix a problem so big?”
Sue Matherly answered that question through her actions: Do something. Do anything. Think of others, no matter how far away they might be. Do your small part and God will grow it into something wonderful.
Apparently, Sue never knew what impact she’d had on Africa’s women. She knows now I’m sure.
Rest with the angels Sue, knowing that you have helped hundreds without even knowing it. Your simple desire to ease the pain of the woman who made your granddaughter’s birthday card has now grown into a beautiful thing… and I hope that this one seemingly small gesture you made will inspire all of us to continue the struggle to improve the lives of all those who cannot help themselves.