Here is a copy of the speech I wrote for the Global Citizen Year reception and “fellow send-off” in the Bay area, last Tuesday, September 29th. Despite some rather chilly weather and a power outage, spirits ran high and I felt so honored to have to chance to share some of my writing and some of my thoughts with such an audience!
You know that feeling that’s like a kind of simmering, bubbling, fluttering inside? You think its your stomach and then you realize that it’s a bit higher in your chest and you would say its your heart but that in truth you really don’t know where its coming from.
I’ve felt the sensation in various moments over the past week. Its as if something connects or realigns with greater clarity and its almost like you can feel your future expanding inside you.
The “training” that I have undergone in the past week has I think both broadened and focused the way I see the world, the international development system and the role that I may play during this coming year. Zooming in and zooming out.
IN on the stories and insights of social innovators and travelers, young and old, who often times have happened to be sitting right across from me, or standing just a few feet away. And OUT on the sheer scale, complexity and depth of the problems to be faced, the work to be done, opposing systems to be reconciled and of course, adventures to be had.
One fifth of the world’s population consumes over 75 percent of the world’s resources, professor Abernethy taught us, during our first session on development, along with the important insight that not all cultures value upward change and mobility. Joel Segre introduced us to the idea of sustainable projects which balance social impact with profitability, and the next day we were inspired by the incredible impact of existing NGO’s such as Kiva and Room to Read. On Saturday evening we skipped the usual delicious buffet for an exercise inspired by Oxfam International to assimilate global inequality around the dinner table. By simply drawing slips of paper at random labeled upper, middle or lower income, 10 of us dined on small bowls of rice, five on rice and beans and two on the usual multicourse wholesome meal that we enjoy three times a day. 25, 000 children die from hunger everyday we were reminded. Coming to the realization that in that moment I was perfectly content to be eating just a bowl of rice for a change, I felt frustration at the inadequacy of my understanding of hunger and the fact that numbers can inspire only partial awareness.
But the question we all really want to answer is what exactly can we as 17, 18 and 19 year old American students, the Founding Fellows of Global Citizen Tear, achieve in all of this? Probably not all of what we might have each envisioned months ago when we submitted our applications and started to dream big. It made perfect sense when Tori said it for the first time during one of our conference calls in August: how can we, or any foreigner for that matter, walk into our host communities and presume that we have the right or the ability to change lives?
My understanding of what a foreign volunteer should be in the developing world has certainly taken on new forms in the past week, stepping off the podium of responsibility, moral obligation and power, and down to earth, being reflected in the countless individuals who have sat across the table from us and told their stories. The man who started a foundation or designed a better lens to improve cataract surgery; the woman who traveled the world filming and critiquing international aid, and not to forget the cook working in the kitchen back at IONS who happens to have spent many years filming genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan. The humility of these inspirational individuals never failed to strike me.
The past ten days have certainly prepared us to enter our host communities as ambassadors and learners, or, to borrow Michael’s teabag metaphor, ready to absorb as much knowledge as we can. Unexpected flavors, sights, smells, ideas. New notions of etiquette, prosperity, possession, happiness and family. Absorb it all and then learn how to share, with blogs, photographs and videos, and then phone calls, speeches and conversations when we return. For I think we’ve all come to realize, that this is where our true impact will be, at least for now, and its no small or impossible part to play, to inspire other Americans to hear the word Africa and think of more than safari, or to look to South America for more than bananas and El Dorado. It’s a small world after all we always say. But rarely do we remind each other that in reality, well, its actually pretty big. And the opportunities endless.