Making a Difference

“There are probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we could really hear and understand, would be more salutary than the morning or the spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on the face of things for us. How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!”

— Henry David Thoreau, “Reading,” Walden

The fourth Saturday in October is “Make a Difference” Day. It’s a great time for neighborhood cleanups, planting flowers in public spaces, or doing a bit of volunteer work. But, like all days, it’s also a great day for reading.

If you have any doubts as to what difference one person can make, take a gander at one of these tales and be inspired.

1. Sewing Hope


Perhaps, like everyone else with Internet access, you’ve seen Kony 2012, the story of the LRA in Uganda. If so, maybe you’ve wondered whatever became of all those devastated landscapes and broken lives.

Some of those people were lucky enough to meet Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, who founded St. Monica’s Vocational School in Gulu, Uganda. She takes girls discarded by society and actual trash and turns them into something truly amazing. Sewing Hope explains how this happened and (bonus!) your purchase helps it to keep happening.

Sister Rosemary was named to Time magazine’s 100 most influential people list in 2014 and was awarded CNN’s “Hero” title in 2007. Somewhere along the way, she offered to punch Stephen Colbert in the face.

Before or after your reading, check out to get a head start on that Christmas list.

2. Three Cups of Tea


There is plenty of controversy about this book and, while not wishing to whitewash things, I think it is important to stress that this guy built 55 schools in places that really, really need schools. (If you have some feel for the difference knowing how to read and write has made in your life, imagine the impact on the children in 55 schools.)

Essentially, this fellow tried and failed to climb a very big mountain. While recovering from a spectacular failure, he found another (I would argue better) goal. Mountains do not, I think, have a deep need to be climbed, but children do have a deep need to be educated.

Perhaps most astonishingly, the book comes in at just over 300 pages or, at my rate of reading, exactly three cups of tea. That’s some precision.


3. A Path Appears

pathappearsNicholas Kristof is a world-changer all by himself. When he profiles someone in his NYTimes column, things change. (His profile of Dr. Tom Catena’s work in the Nuba Mountains generated enough donations to strain the capacity of the organization trying to account for them all.) With Sheryl WuDunn, Kristof has followed the amazing Half the Sky with a book that walks through the lives of ordinary people and highlights the extraordinary difference they have made.

Alert: The first chapter is kind of a gut punch. I had to set the book down for two months before I could forge ahead with it.

Kristof and WuDunn make it seem simple to make the world a better place. Not easy, but simple. Maybe it is.


If none of these are tempting and you have no difference-making plans for the day, at least dust off (or Google) a copy of Walden and consider taking a walk in the woods. (Try to turn a blind eye to the fact that Henry David lived just two miles outside the town of Concord while making it seem as though civilization was light years away. He did have to do without Internet, so it was no, well, walk in the woods.)