Commentary: We make a difference when we make a difference for one

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Operation Underground Railroad founder Tim Ballard is joined by Sen. Orrin Hatch on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, as they gather to talk about child sex trafficking and legislation aimed at cracking down on it at Younique, a cosmetic company in Lehi whose foundation provides services for women who are survivors of sexual abuse.

As a high school math teacher, I work with a lot of numbers. My students and I divide them, multiply them, graph them, convert them into scientific notation. Numbers are part of our daily routine. And the numbers follow me home as well.

When I turn on the news or log in to social media, I’m immediately bombarded each day with numbers, many of them describing children. Seventeen children killed in a Florida school, 2,000 children separated from their parents at the border, 90,000 Indian children gone missing in 2017, 45,000 lost to suicide in the United States. I react to these numbers the normal way. I feel sad, shake my head, continue scrolling, close the screen, change the channel. Numbers are spouted off so often and so casually each day that I find myself desensitized to it all.

And then every once in a while, there’s a number that gets through to me; a number more powerful and more painful. One. One child raped. One child murdered. One child trafficked. One child abused. One. And suddenly there’s a face, a name, a story. Something entirely overwhelming happens in that moment when I realize that each thousand is made up of a thousand ones. Is it because I have one child? One husband? Because I, myself, am just one? I find myself trying to crawl my way out of a pain and helplessness that’s almost unbearable. What can I do? How do I help? What if the child were my own?

Select Utah theaters are currently showing the documentary “Operation Toussaint,” a film that shows the inner workings of the undercover operations of the nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad aimed to liberate child slaves in Haiti. The CEO, Tim Ballard, explains how an effort to search for just one child stolen from his father at age 3 has led to an entire organization that has now gone on to liberate around 1,500 victims.

But there are currently 2 million children who are sex slaves across the world today. When 1,500 saved out of 2 million seems inconsequential, I’m reminded of the story of the “star thrower,” written by Loren Eiseley and recanted by Tim Ballard in the movie. Like the boy at the sea who wishes to save the starfish from the heat of the rising sun, we can all play a part in saving children from the horrors of the world. The beach may be covered with thousands more starfish, and onlookers may question the efficacy of saving the few we can save, but like the boy, we can remember that with each starfish thrown back into the sea, we have made a difference. We make a difference when we make a difference for one. After all, we are all just one.

A few months ago, upon news of children who had been separated from their parents at the border as the parents underwent trial, an organization used social media to raise $20 million in less than a week that would be used to represent the children in court. The passion, emotion and compassion throughout the week that spread online about the issue were amazing to watch.

I have a theory that something about the number 2,000 played a part. It is a number we can comprehend. We’ve sat with 2,000 in an auditorium. We went to high school with 2,000 other students. It’s a number small enough to feel like we can make a difference and solve the problem, but large enough to evoke the necessary frustration to get things done. And that’s exactly what happened. The people made themselves heard and the government responded.

However, the work is far from done. There are millions of children who suffer and need our help. Millions of ones. I’ve come to learn that when we find ourselves in those moments of helpless despair, to remember that if we do just one good thing, donate one dollar, serve one family, share one hug, give one speech, write one article, make one person stop and think, we might make a difference for one child. And for that one child, we’ve made all the difference in the world.

Danielle Divis is a Christian, mother, wife, educator and student. She lives in Lehi with her husband and 2-year-old son and is pursuing a Ph.D. in education at Utah State University.