OPINION: 8,397

Abbey Marshall | Staff Writer

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8,397.

That’s roughly the number of miles from Mason, Ohio to the Philippines.

Now don’t worry; I’m not going to give a geography lesson. That number just happens to be very special to me.

Since I was a young girl, my parents have trained me to help anyone in need. At the age of seven, I was handed a crisp photo of a girl named Myrna from a village in the Philippines. My parents enthusiastically told me that we would be helping her with things she couldn’t afford — school, clothes, food, books (the list goes on). They also informed me that I would have the opportunity to write her letters back and forth. Imagine my seven-year-old self: bouncing up and down in my sky blue Crocs at the very thought of an international pen pal.

But over the course of my lifetime, as years matured both Myrna and I, we became more than pen pals. I became more than her sponsor. She became more than the girl whose photo was carefully hung up with a magnet on my refrigerator. We became friends. She trusted me enough to write about the great sorrows in her life. She faced so many hardships, such as her brother being killed in her village, but her faith was unwavering and her spirit never broke.

After years of flying hand-written notes and cards across the sea to a foreign country, I finally received the final one.

My fingers trembled as I gripped onto a letter telling me that Myrna was no longer eligible for me to sponsor her because she was dropping out of school to go to work in order to support her family. Her heart breaking words sunk into my skull very slowly at first, until it hit me like a brick wall. Just like that, she was gone — out of my life forever. I would never again hold a loose leaf sheet of paper addressed to my house from a small island. I would never again get to bond with Myrna and discuss things so foreign and amazing to me. I would never again talk to my friend.

All this was very selfish of me. I would never get to talk to her again, sure, but she would also never complete her education. She wouldn’t get to live the life that she had hoped to live. So, yet again, I delved into the letter, this time, trying not to focus on myself. The last phrase her pen ever wrote to me caught my attention; she asked me one thing: a request to keep doing what I was doing. Help someone in need.

I skidded across my tile floor to hop on the nearest computer in search of another poverty-stricken girl that I could help. As I sealed shut my first letter to Nessie, a realization hit me. Myrna wasn’t just asking to pay a monthly fee to get a child through school. She wasn’t asking me to make some sort of worldwide difference. She was simply asking me to help anyone, no matter where and no matter when.

Change doesn’t need to exist 8,397 miles away. It can exist anywhere.

 

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