I was reading Roger Ebert’s review of a documentary film called “A Small Act” when two sentences jumped out at me.
The film is the story of a Kenyan man who benefited from the donations of a Swedish woman he had never met. She sent $15 a month to help pay for him to attend school, and now he is a Harvard Law grad. It talks about the school system in Kenya, and the way the parents pin their hopes on the education of their children.
There are several things that this type of film has in common with “Catching Up.” First, is the emphasis on education and it’s ability to help you rise above your circumstances. Ebert says, “At the end of primary school, they take tests to qualify for secondary education if they can afford it. The film shows some of the test questions. To me, they look difficult for kids that age. They pass or fail; too many American schools graduate students who are functionally illiterate.”
That is exactly the nature of the theme to Catching Up: American schools are letting students out into the world who are functionally illiterate and those men and women run a good chance of ending up in prison. The film that inspired “Catching Up” states that in America’s prisons, 70% of the inmates are illiterate. (Source: How Do You Spell Murder?).
Let that statistic sink in for a moment. Almost three quarters of the men and women in prison in America cannot read. Can you imagine navigating the world without the ability to read or write? Could you get a job? Could you pay your bills? Could you feed your children? How would you deal with those circumstances that you have been dealt? What choices would you make?
“She says that her $15 was an insignificant sum to her, but she kept it up because she thought even a small act was worth performing.” (Source)
More than even the literacy statistics, this is what “Catching Up” is also about. It is about the small acts that are worth performing. The tiny moments, the decisions you make in your working day that change everything. That one moment in 1985, when Martin decides if he is going to condemn or help this prisoner. How will that moment effect the rest of their lives? Eleven years down the line, how has that small act changed the world?
It is a theme that is important to me. The little things that we do, the ways that we show empathy and compassion to others have an impact on our future in ways that we may never know. They impact others in ways that we can’t imagine when we’re doing them. That little bit of extra money, sent by a schoolteacher from Sweden to Kenya, changed a young man’s life. Now that young man has established a scholarship fund that is doing the same thing for other children in his home.
One small act, and an entirely new world that it leaves behind.