As a new Rotarian, I participated in the dictionary distribution at Oakridge grade school. As we paased out these dictionaries, I noted one child had his head on the desk. The teacher explained that his father was in prison and his mother just learned that she had terminal cancer. He wondered where he was going. I spoke to the psychologist about him and the discussion quickly expanded to what did these children need. The psychologist said they needed to have empathy. With the pressures of poverty, children were surviving and thankful that whatever bad happened that it did not happen to them. If it happened to someone else it was not their problem. The psychologist said that the children need empathy to learn.
Since I am not an educator, I researched her conclusion and wondered whether empathy was teachable. I discovered that empathy was teachable. So, with the permission of the principal and with the support of the psychologist, I put together a plan with the help of the Grace Foundation to match emotionally injured children at the school with emotionally injured horses that the Grace Foundation had saved. The school district needed $100 per student to pay for the bus from the school to El Dorado Hills. I asked my Rotary Club to finance putting children on a bus as we had raised the basic costs for the program. The hands went freely up and in five minutes, we had enough for the pilot program for these kids. That was my Rotary moment of trust and gratitude for my club members trusting that the program would benefit these children.
In this program, the children chose the horses to work with and visited with them once a week. Each child was learning how to interact with the horse and learn science lessons from it, such as measuring the horse’s heartbeat then walking with the horse and measuring the heartbeat again.
I leave you with one story of a child’s behavior. A child’s horse was a partner of a blinded donkey. The donkey had eyes removed because of mistreatment occurring before abandonment. The donkey was hitting his head against the fence when the child’s horse was removed to be with the child. The child saw what was happening and offered to give up the horse so that the donkey could have his partner again. The child gave up what he had that day the horse, the expectations and the fun, so that the donkey could stop suffering. Rotarians’ generosity created the circumstance for that child to feel the discomfort of others as more important that what was his.
That is the day I felt the Rotary spirit and became a Rotarian believing that together we can make a difference.
I am reminded a response from Mother Theresa when someone said that her work with the poor in India was just a drop in the ocean. Her response was: “Then the ocean is one drop greater, isn’t it!” So it is with Rotary’s efforts locally, nationally and internationally, to transform the world one individual at a time.