If I Look at the Mass

This is a guest post by Jimalee Sowell - a former Meaningful Volunteer who is sponsoring Pauline.
If I Look at the Mass


Mother Theresa said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at one, I will” (quoted in Slovic, 2007). 

My first trip to Africa, I worked as a volunteer English teacher with Meaningful Volunteer in Uganda. It was there that I met Pauline. She was the niece of Mary, the cook who works for Meaningful Volunteer. Mary took me to church one Sunday, and Pauline joined us. Pauline was a quiet girl with a mild manner. She would politely sneek glances at me during the service. Pauline was interested in my differences, my foreignness, but she showed that without words—with a differential smile and kind expression. For a nine-year- old, she had a certain seriousness and maturity about her. I loved her name—Pauline Gift. 

Not long after leaving Uganda, I got a message from Mary. Pauline could no longer go to school because her mother (Pauline’s grandmother) had so many obligations to take care of that even with all the scrimping and sacrifices, there still wasn’t enough money. A once happy child, Pauline had become depressed and distant, spending her days roaming the village with nothing to do. Mary wanted to help her, but she was already using her salary to support herself and other family members, and no amount of stretching came to enough to send Pauline to school. Mary contacted me out of desperation. I know that she didn’t want to ask for my help. Mary is a proud and independent woman who wanted to take care of Pauline herself, but there just wasn’t enough money. 

Truthfully, it was not the easiest time for me to think about giving more than I was already giving. I had left paid teaching to serve as a volunteer teacher for a year and a half, and my savings was dwindling much more quickly than I had expected. There was a part of me that wanted to say no, that I was already stretched financially myself. But, at that moment, I had to think very seriously about money and how I used it, and how even in my leanest financial times I still lived richly compared to billions living in moderate to severe poverty around the world. As a child, I had never faced the threat of not going to school. It was a privilege that I always had. For forty dollars a month, the price of a moderately-priced pair of shoes or a dinner out, I could send a child to school. Could I have one less dinner out every month, and still be okay? Could I live with fewer pairs of shoes? Certainly. Was it ever a sacrifice that kept me from living a full life? Never. 

But, it has made a tremendous difference in the life of an intelligent and hardworking young woman. Shortly after Pauline started going to school again, Mary emailed me and told me that Pauline was again happy and engaged in life. Pauline is now thriving. She is now a young woman who loves her school and gets top grades. She has passed her exams to enter high school. But, think of how different it could have been had I decided that I could not afford the 40 dollars a month to pay Pauline’s tuition. The money I give to pay for Pauline to go to school is a relatively small amount of money for me, but it has changed her life. We must help the one(s) we can help. 

Slovic, Paul. (2007). If I Look at the Mass I will Never Act: Psychic Numbing and Genocide, Judgement and Decision Making. 2:2. pp. 79-95.BC