A Drop in the Bucket

Here I am having fun with our Student Driven Solutions family using theater as a way to build confidence — It was a nice day!

When I was in high school I worked at an at-risk youth center in Botswana with a group of classmates. Our teacher told us that our interactions with the youth may seem like just a small drop in the bucket but drops make a difference. I have never forgotten this sentiment. Over the years, my idea of a drop in the bucket has challenged and perplexed me, frustrated and inspired me, caused me sadness and brought me great happiness.

As a Global Health Corps fellow, I am working with the Malawi Ministry of Health (MoH) in the Reproductive Health Department. The conversations concern far more than a mere “drop in the bucket”; rather, the MoH staff discuss the health needs of an entire nation. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the scope of these conversations: Who are we helping? What are their names? How many children do they have? What is their story? The transition away from the individual and into the “big picture” is hard to grasp. Addressing the issues that are apparent from a statistical analysis at the national level is imperative, yet impossible to imagine. While there are families with names and stories who benefit as a result of conversations in conference rooms, the rewards in this work are very different from the achievements we celebrate from hands-on work with individuals.

One year ago, I founded an organization based in Malawi called Student Driven Solutions. We provide financial literacy and business skills education to girls in secondary school and school dropouts in Malawi. I regularly worry about whether or not we’re doing enough for our girls. I worry that serving 75 students is not enough. I worry that we aren’t growing fast enough to reach the girls who would greatly benefit from mentorship and practical business education. At Student Driven Solutions, I need to hold faith in the drop in the bucket and believe that our influence on these 75 students has meaning. I know who these girls are and where they come from. I know their dreams and hopes for the future. They are not statistics. In many ways, it makes the work much harder; yet, the rewards are much more touching.

A drop in the bucket. That’s all it takes to change someone’s life. Yet only when we create effective programs that are managed appropriately and funded adequately can the drops lead to a deluge. At Student Driven Solutions, I don’t want rain; I want a storm. I strive for the day when we are changing the lives of thousands of girls.

In the meantime, I’m learning. I’m learning how to be comfortable with the path we are on each day. I’m learning how to appreciate the small wins. I’m learning how to believe in our future and stay the course. One day, the proverbial bucket will be a bit more full because of programs like Student Driven Solutions.

And one day, we too will be talking in figures and statistics just like the conversations taking place at the Ministry of Health. And when that day comes, I will need to remember that all these statistics represent a village. And in the village are many families. And these families’ lives will hopefully be improved because of the conversations in the conference rooms. It is important never to forget the individuals whose lives will be different because of the decisions made in these rooms. The conversations and commitments made are crucial to the individuals who make up the great nation of Malawi.

I am wholeheartedly dedicated to continuing to pursue a career in the service of others and I am grateful for exposure to this pursuit on both the large and small scale. Ultimately, I do not know the path my career will take, but for now, I am happy to continue to learn about changes on a grand scale at the Ministry of Health and get to know the people at the heart of the numbers at Student Driven Solutions.


Rebecca Gross is a 2015–2016 Global Health Corps fellow at the Ministry of Health in Lilongwe, Malawi. All GHC fellows, partners and supporters are united in a common belief: health is a human right. There is a role for everyone in the movement for health equity. Join the movement today.