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Many fear they cannot really make a difference helping others across the world. But, the A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World exhibit, at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, hopes to show how individuals and organizations are developing workable solutions to make a difference in lives in distant lands. Timed for the “giving season,” the exhibition seeks to give people answers beyond financial contributions when they think ‘What can I do to make a difference?’” according to Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director.
Inspired by the bestselling book A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World, that was written by Pulitzer Prize winning writers Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas D. Kristof, the exhibit shows how grassroots actions and simple efforts can have an impact. The title for the book, and ultimately the Skirball exhibit, comes from Chinese essayist Lu Xun’s theory that “hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally there is nothing, but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.”
WuDunn and Kristof had worked with the Skirball on a successful exhibit tied to their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide as a community engagement project. For this effort, they sought to develop a more comprehensive project addressing the challenge and landscape of human welfare. “With A Path Appears, working in collaboration with some of today’s most innovative and influential storytellers, the Skirball is creating a laboratory for social change—a place to learn, share, and take steps that can make a real difference in the lives of others,” noted Kirschner.
WuDunn noted, “We tell a story people relate to emotionally.” She added that the book and the exhibit share success stories because “people want to have hope that they can be part of the change. We all can play a role.”
Upon entering, visitors encounter four sections constructed using different recycled materials (bubble-wrap clouds a theater made of used tires with cardboard seats, a listening station made out of 5,000 used CDs.) The four sections represent the essential elements for a productive life: health, education, employment and empowerment.
To contents of the pavilions vary based on the topic. The Health pavilion includes several inexpensive innovations people have created that show how simple ideas make differences. The area features a Solar Suitcase that contains solar-powered equipment for medical personal in off-grid, remote areas to provide emergency care, monitor fetal development, and assist in childbirth; simple solar lights to safely light homes without the health hazards of things like kerosene lamps in areas without electricity; a Hippo Water Roller jug that rolls over rough terrain and carries far more clean drinking water than women can typically hold in the traditional conveyances balanced on their heads; Thready teddy bears for refugee children, many of whom has mental health issues having been taken from the comfort of home to an unsettled, uncertain existence; Alive & Kicking soccer balls distributed in Africa that have messages about combating infectious diseases; solar powered lights for homes with no electricity; and several other items.
A fifth section largely accessible online anywhere is ActionLab, a web platform to help people create change, connect and ultimately get involved right at the Skirball if they want. In the Action Lab, people can use the computers there to click on a story that inspired them and find out what they can do.
“Nick and I wrote the book, but credit belongs to those who made efforts to bring about a change,” WuDunn said. Working on it taught them that “everything we do is a drop in the bucket and those drops add up to water. For one person, those drops can be transformational.” She and the Skirball hope that visitors realize they can make a difference.
The Skirball expects its exhibit to eventually visit other cities. The Half the Sky exhibit is currently in Chicago. But, in the interim, visitors to L.A. can visit A Path Appears at the Skirball to learn more about how to make a difference.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Skirball: A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World
Jewish Journal: New Skirball exhibition channels the power of you
Photo of Solar Suitcase by Dyanne Weiss
Photo of A1 Solar Light, by d.Light and IDEO. Designed in San Francisco, delivered globally. Courtesy of d.Light