I have been writing for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) for three years now, and in that time, one of the things that has impressed me again and again is how small gestures-actions I would take for granted-make a big difference in people's lives.
Recently, I wrote about UMCOR's partnership with the American Foundation for Children with AIDS. AFCA helped us distribute layette kits to one thousand new mothers in a place called Kilembe Mines, in Uganda. Layette kits are like care packages for newborns. They contain many of those things you would casually pick up for an expectant sister or friend: onesies and diapers, blankets and sleeping gowns and wash cloths. In the United States, where I live, these things are easy to find and well within reach of my pocketbook.
The kits' contents are donated, assembled, packed, inspected, and shipped by volunteers. Besides the layette kits, UMCOR provides guidance for five other kinds of relief kits, plus a cleaning bucket meant to help survivors of storms, floods, and tornadoes muck out their damaged homes.
Often, the volunteers gather together in their United Methodist church or another house of worship in the community and make a day of putting the kits together. It's a time of fellowship that hardly seems like work. They then send the kits to one of the depots in the UMCOR Relief-Supply Network (there are eight in different states), where more volunteers come together to do the inspection of the kits, and ultimately to ship them out-whether to Uganda or Utah, or anywhere else in the world where there's a need.
For many new mothers in Kilembe Mines, the simple contents of the layette kits are not readily available. Tanya Weaver, AFCA's executive director, told me that "Many impoverished women give birth at Kilembe Mines Hospital, and often the babies leave with clothing that is not appropriate. Sometimes the nurses have to give women old sheets to wrap the baby in to take him or her home."
The new clothes the children receive in the layette kits mean they can meet their new world with dignity. "The mothers can leave the hospital with their babies dressed warmly and well no matter how poor they might be. It doesn't matter if they live in a shack or under a tree, their babies are warm and wearing new outfits, with no tears or stains, and the women are proud," Tanya said. "Dignity is huge when you don't have much else to hold onto," she added.
And that's the big thing that comes from the small gesture. The volunteers who gather to donate, assemble, or ship the kits are not likely to ever meet the little recipients of them. But their simple acts of self-giving-from donating diapers to giving their time-make a difference to these little ones and their mothers. They make a difference in our world.