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She Taught Me To Make A Difference This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   If you want to view paradise

Simply look around and view it

Anything you want to, Do it

You want to change the world

There's nothing to it

- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl



Unfortunately, the world in which we spend our lives is no longer paradise. It is not the beautiful world of pure imagination of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, though it has the power to be infinitely more magnificent. We have contaminated the world with more pollution, toxins and overpopulation than we can imagine.

Since the first industrial revolution in the nineteenth century, we have been ignoring the many deaths we have suffered because we believed the technology was making the world a better place. For many years we did not even consider how detrimental it was to other species of animals and vegetation. Now we find that millions of people are dying each year because those living in the industrialized world (1/5 of the world's population) take up 4/5 of the wealth. It would be acerbically accurate to say that the largest killer in today's world is the technology-run "civilized" world that pays the salaries of all the wage-earners in a prosperous town such as Weston. As a result of the world humans have created, millions of species are being killed off every day, some of which may have the ability to cure cancer.

We are at a point at which things seem hopeless, but that makes it even more important to take and believe the words of Willy Wonka who said, "You want to change the world, there's nothing to it."

Recently I met a woman who had the power to do that. She took a dangerous situation that deeply affected her and fought to make things right. She was just one person who was able to make the world a better place for her children.

I met this woman at an environmental conference at Tufts University. I was half asleep in the auditorium when a Mrs. Lois Gibbs was announced. My first response was to groan as a plain-looking, middle-aged woman took the podium. If she was as boring as the politician who had just spoken, it would be an all-out battle to keep my eyes open. At first glance, I never would have guessed how her speech would move me. Then she opened her mouth to speak.

"Every single one of you in this room has already received what is considered to be a severe dose of toxic chemicals from just living a Anormal' life." A shock of deathly fear is always an effective way to wake me up. She then told her story of the effects of the chemicals on her life. Until several years ago, she was an ordinary housewife with a family similar to that of Joan Cleaver. Suddenly her son began to get sick. It started with seizures that the doctors could not understand. He then came down with pneumonia and often suffered flu-like symptoms. When an analysis of his immune system was done, the doctors found it to be dangerously deficient, but they still could not determine the problem. Lois was at the school one afternoon to pick up her son's missed work when her eyes fell on the canal adjacent to the building. She remembered hearing rumors of its contamination, and upon checking the town's records, she found that the canal contained lethal amounts of toxic chemicals which likely caused her son's problems. She brought the problem to the school committee, but they would not move the school for the health of one child because it was not "economically beneficial."

It was at this point in the speech that she said one line that will never be erased from my memory. With a burst of emotion, she let out all her anger against the world's populations in one long scream in which she said, "I was a mean mother with a mission. The world is not going to be changed by politicians or businessmen, it will be changed by those who care most that it be changed. Those people, the mean mothers with missions and the children who can't play outside because there is too much pollution, will be the ones to change the world."

Lois succeeded. She made up a petition and got every parent in her son's school to sign it. Though the school committee would not move the school for one child, they had no choice but move it for all the children. Now she is trying to make the world a better place for everyone, not just her family. She has started a gigantic campaign against dioxins, the toxic chemicals in our environment, which are constantly harming all species of animals and plants. It scares her, as it scares us all, that it was predicted by scientists that her son will only have half the sperm of his father because the world is loaded with these chemicals and she decided to take action.

Lois has been a true inspiration to me. Her courage and determination has shown me that no matter how bad things seem, I can always at least help to make things better. In the words of Peter Pan,

"It might be miles beyond the moon

Or right here where you stand

Just keep an open mind

And then suddenly you'll find

Never Never Land."

Because of Lois, I now realize that we can return planet Earth to the Never Never Land that it once was as long as we "keep an open mind" and remember that each individual person has the power to help the world in some way. After all, "If you want to change the world, there's nothing to it." ^


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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