Butterfly Story

The following story was told by Mr. Ajania to the Pencils for Africa (PFA) in the early days of PFA.


The Cocoon and the Butterfly


A young girl in a remote African village was taking a stroll through the woods near her village when she saw a cocoon upon a tree branch.

The budding butterfly trapped inside the silken and transparent cocoon was struggling vigorously to free itself from the cocoon and take flight.

Feeling sympathy for the budding butterfly, the African girl took a blade, and freed the budding butterfly from the cocoon to relieve it of its struggle.

However, now the budding butterfly simply went limp and could not take flight.


What the young African girl had failed to understand was that relieving the budding butterfly of its vigorous struggle was not helping it but harming it.

There is a necessary struggle that is required for a budding butterfly to strengthen its new found wings before it can emerge as a confident butterfly.

Relieving this struggle by cutting open the cocoon denies the budding butterfly the opportunity to strengthen its wings before finally taking flight.

Relieving this struggle also denies the budding butterfly the independence and the dignity of overcoming the struggle without anyone else’s help.


Similarly, knowing how to help someone, knowing when to step in and help, knowing how much to help, is an art and a skill that requires thoughtfulness.

In the nonprofit world, we want to find ways to help people to help themselves, and to intervene when necessary, but never to intrude upon their dignity.

Above all, we want to honor their independence and uniqueness, and to never create a situation where they are so dependent that they lose their identity.

Giving a hand out, perpetuates a dependency and a loss of individual initiative. Giving a hand up, nurtures a more confident independence and enterprise.