A train winds through a Sri Lankan jungle.

Passengers, mostly Westerners, sit on benches and rest their heads against windows. The rhythm of the track lulls the weary to sleep. Later, a man stirs the passengers and hands out lunches. A station approaches.

The train slows, exhales steam, and inches to a stop.

It is instantly surrounded—by children. The passengers are stunned. The children, clambering over one another, are reaching up, pleading for food.

matale_track

The passengers quickly collect their lunches and hand them through the windows to the children below. Relief sweeps through the train. A good deed has been done. A crisis has been averted.

Until it becomes clear. There are not enough lunches for all of the children.

Like clockwork, the train departs for the next station. And the children are left to fight among themselves for what scant food remains. Relief turns to grief. A good deed unravels. Another kind of crisis is created.

These are the recollections of The Matale Line’s founder, who, as a 13-year-old boy, watched the scene unfold. A scene not unlike those that unfold countless times around the world each day. Another example of the quick fix. Hearts in the right place. Solutions that create more problems than they solve.

The Matale Line is a small stretch of track in Sri Lanka. To us, it forever will serve as a metaphor about the difference between the simplistic notion of “charity” and what is really required to effect change in the world.