Nicholas Kristof and the Big Power of Small Acts

The Performing Arts Center was absolutely smack full on Monday night for guest speaker Nicholas Kristof.

Kristof is a two-time Pulitzer Prizewinner, New York Times columnist, and is–along with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn–the author of several books, including most recently A Path Appears: Transforming Lives Creating Opportunity. For him to visit the university was both a privilege and a treat.

Kristof was almost immediately recognizable as a writer–he was simultaneously soft-spoken and commanding, as well as passionate about human rights, a field he knows incredibly well as an international columnist. But he was not there to speak on writing. Kristof was instead interested with imparting on the students and faculty of Georgia Southern the idea that the world is a changeable place if we are willing to change it.

Speaking on the issue of humanitarian work, Kristof first used the example of the Gambian Pouched Rat, a rodent that can reach 3 feet in length and also possesses the ability to detect mines and clear an entire minefield in Angola with a fraction of the time and danger it would take a regular minesweeper.

Here is a Gambian Pouched Rat. Wikipedia tells me they’ve made deadly attacks on humans, so I feel confident in saying that the man in this picture was probably eaten shortly after it was taken.

This theme of the small being able to accomplish the big was the theme du jour of Kristof’s talk, and he had the numbers to back it up. According to Kristof, among the best ways to increase school attendance in developing areas of the world is through a few dollars spent on simple de-worming medication, which can double school attendance by children who will now be well enough to make it to class. It costs $350 per student to build a school in Africa. It costs $100 to buy uniforms. De-worming costs only $3.50 per child.

These facts were enlightening and encouraging, especially coming from a man who has managed to achieve so much in his life. Students left the event (which was put on by the Student Abolitionist Movement) electrified at the idea of what they could accomplish.

“If you are willing to bridge the empathy gap,” Kristof said during his his talk, “you’ll have a transformative effect on someone else that will have a ripple.”


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