By Lillian Pravda
Buy one, get one free. Gift with purchase. Online promotional code. Gift shopping at even the best prices and best deals could never match the value of giving gifts that do not come wrapped in a box with an extravagant bow on top.
The catalogue of what to give to make a difference in the world does not arrive in one’s mailbox. One finds it in the heart and mind.
The spirit of Chanukah is about illuminating the world, and the word Chanukah itself means “dedication.” The lighting of a menorah is a reminder that illumination begins with the dedication of self. The giving of self. Giving, not giving back. It is not about getting something and only then giving in return. It is just about giving. It is about recognizing a void or need and filling it. I call it everyone’s “power of one;” every individual doing his or her own part in making the world a better place. One action by one individual can spark a chain of positive events. Even if it only impacts one person, it sure makes a difference to that one.
A meal to a hungry girl. Medicine to an ailing mother or father. Clean water to a thirsty boy. A pencil to a student without supplies.
Think about the child born with cataracts who lacks access to vision care. Giving the gift of sight to that one child and enabling him or her to see the sun, moon, and stars certainly makes a world of difference to that one person. When I learned that many children live in a dark world simply because their families do not have access to doctors, hospitals, medicine, vision therapy, and glasses, I decided to create Vision for and from Children, so that they may get the vision care they so desperately need and deserve.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 19 million children from birth to age fifteen are visually impaired. Of those, 12 million children have conditions that could be easily diagnosed and corrected. The most prevalent vision issue is called strabismus, most commonly known as “lazy eye,” and treatment involves wearing a patch on the dominant eye to strengthen the other. In addition to undergoing ocular surgeries, I wore a patch for almost ten years to help correct my own vision issues. I had a great deal of time to reflect on “lazy eye” and what that means. I ultimately began thinking about “lazy eye” a little differently. Lazy eye. Lazy I.
It does not require an ophthalmologist to know that a person who “gives” does not suffer from the condition of “lazy I.” At the center of “give” is “I.” At the center of all good change in the world is “I.” It starts with the self.
Turn passion into power. If you love baseball, volunteer to coach a team or start a team in an underserved community. Then… think bigger. Create a league.
If you are passionate about music, teach a music class in an underserved community. Then… think bigger. Start a choir.
Those who are incapable of physically giving may give emotionally. Those who think they are and those who are thought of as only capable of being a recipient are givers, too. They give others the opportunity and reasons to give. My father’s sister cannot walk, talk, or feed herself. She has been this way since she was born. Yet, she gives. Through her, much is learned about compassion and caring for others. Everyone has something to give.
Youth who actively engage in “giving” come to understand their “power of one” to make a difference in the world. One example of an organization dedicated to the power of youth is the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, which honors Jewish teens and their giving by awarding grants of $36,000 to support their philanthropic projects or education.
As the menorah is lit each night, it is a reminder of how the “power of one” can be set aflame to positively impact another person, a community, or the world. The dedication and giving of soul, of spirit, of time, of energy, often proves as invaluable, if not more so, than the giving of dollars both to the recipient and to the giver. In actuality, what one gains through “giving” – the joy one gets from giving – is genuinely at least equal to, if not greater than, what was given.
So, is “giving” giving or getting? Either way, there is one way to find out: give. Because with dedication comes illumination.
15-year-old Lillian Pravda is the Founder & CEO (Chief Eyesight Optimist) of Vision for and from Children, a U.S.-based, global philanthropic nonprofit foundation dedicated to providing eye surgeries and vision services to children without access to care. To date, Vision for and from Children has helped more than 24,210 children in the United States and around the world receive the gift of sight.
Lillian has been featured on ABC, CBS, Fox Business, in the Wall Street Journal, and Seventeen. She also received a 2014 National Jefferson Award; past winners include U.S. Presidents, Oprah Winfrey, and Elie Wiesel. She is a 2014 recipient of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, with which Lillian is continuing her mission and outreach to ensure children receive ocular treatment.