By KELLY DANIELS
Mississippi State athletic veteran Chris “Hope” Bushby thought she would spend her professional life coaching softball.
It wasn’t until four years ago when the she visited the Philippines and saw her fellow man suffering from poverty that her career took a sharp turn.
“I was so struck by the contrast — how we live here and how most of the rest of the world lives,” Bushby recalled.
Her first instinct was simply to do something... anything.
Since then, she has lived and worked in Third World nations with a mission to stabilize the lives of young prostitutes and their children by getting them into school and vocational programs.
In Rwanda, there’s no such thing as a typical day for Bushby, who makes regular house visits in the community of Giporoso, where most girls between 14 and 24 years old have no more than a third grade education.
Rwanda’s 1994 genocide left many children orphaned with no adequate means of continuing education or making money.
Bushby’s work strategy is connecting with them in their own environment.
“Listening to their stories, hearing their needs, desires, what they want in life - so few people ever ask them that,” Bushby said.
But Bushby does more than talk.
One of her most memorable triumphs in the community was getting a young prostitute into hairdressing school. The woman, who lost her parents in the genocide, had virtually no education and fled to the city of Kigali looking for work without success.
“A year later she’s graduated and looking for a job,” Bushby said, remembering how the girl’s entire countenance has transformed.
When Bushby first met the woman’s son, Blaze, he was “beyond shy,” she said.
“He looked like a shell of a kid.”
But Blaze’s world changed radically after he was able to get into school and stay there.
“He has a light in his eyes that is contagious,” his helper remembers.
Another young woman about to graduate from a training program told Bushby that she hoped to help other women do the same - a ripple effect Bushby never expected.
“Who knows where it’s gonna go,” she said.
While creating her new organization, Do Something., Bushby hopes to start micro-financing to help Rwandans establish small businesses.
The idea came to her last year when a 38-year-old woman who’d lost two children and a husband during the genocide asked Bushby for help selling charcoal - a dirty job no one wants even in Rwanda.
“This really touched me, because I could see her humility,” she said.
It cost Bushby’s organization $80 to help the woman jump-start her business.
“She’s set,” Bushby said. “She’s sustainable for life. That was nothing for us.”
On days when Bushby sees slower progress, she tries to remember her bottom line: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2nd Corinthians 5:14-15)
And, according to the verse, Bushby lives to the fullest.
With daily exposure to desperate fights for survival, she says there’s a danger of getting either overwhelmed or indifferent.
To stay somewhere in the middle, she focuses the people in front of her - their lives, thoughts, hopes.
“Once you start to see them as people and not an issue, it changes the way you look at stuff... When you look an orphan in the eye, it’s a whole different game.”
Their strength also keeps her going.
“They are much more resilient than I would be in that situation,” she said. “They’re clinging to this hope - I’m not entirely sure where they get it from. They’re so beaten down by their circumstances, but they don’t give up. To me, that’s amazing.”
Bushby is in Starkville until the end of February raising funds for Do Something.
On Saturday, Jan. 15, she will be speaking at a free breakfast for local students about trust at 9 a.m. at the Sportsplex.
Produced by First Baptist Church with a $5 suggested donation at the door, the breakfast is open to Starkville youth and families and organized monthly by Step Up! Starkville, an offspring of the O’Nan Project for Change created to empower students (http://www.onanproject.com ).
Bushby hopes that by drumming up awareness at organizations and churches in town she can help bridge the gap between “our little corner of the world” and the world of poverty.
“When you hear some woman’s stories, her life and her dreams, it’s like talking to a friend,” she said. “And if that happens here in front of you, you don’t just say ‘OK... Wish I could do something.’”
Bushby believes there’s something everybody can do for others.
“It may not be to go over there or donate large sums of money, but you can always advocate for people,” she said. “There are always things you can do that make a lasting impact.”
And, at 32-years-old, Bushby’s service to the poor is not just a do-good phase.
“I have a long term commitment to Rwanda,” she said, explaining the seriousness of a generation of youth born into sex trade. “It took a generation to create this mess, and it’s going to take at least that to make some real change here.”
For more information, send Chris an email at firstname.lastname@example.org  or visit: http://letsdosomethingnow.com .