- January 30, 2013
- Posted by: Kate Otto
- Category: Discussion
At this beginning of another year – and for students, another semester – I think now is the perfect time for a pep talk…and who better to deliver it than the most delightful new YouTube star, “Kid President”?
Like millions of other viewers, our EA team was instantly charmed by Kid President’s adorable delivery – and more than that, we find some deep wisdom in his words as well. Although this mini-Commander in Chief has probably never heard of EA, his messages resonate with the public service principles EA aims to feature and support. We liked him so much, that today we are featuring Kid President’s heartwarming pep-talk, along with a breakdown of his five key points that highlight some our favorite everyday ambassadors.
1. “I’m on your team, you’re on my team!”
Being on each other’s team is easy to agree on but often hard to implement! Really joining forces means having a strong sense of empathy: deeply understanding what someone is going through, when it’s an environment completely new to you. What does that mean in practice?
Sydni of Global Citizen Year in Ecuador taught us that it means treating the people we help with respect, not pity.“The most important thing I have learned about poverty is that the people who I am trying to help do not need my pity…If they need anything from me (and I stress the word ¨if¨), it is my time, my care and my equal treatment.”
Ben, of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, creatively builds empathy everyday by giving volunteering opportunities for young Americans across the Muslim world so that they can “dispel stereotypes of Americans [in the Muslim world], and bring their experiences home [to America] to help build mutual understanding in their communities.”
And Akhila in Afghanistan taught us that we can be the best ‘teammate possible if we act, “not a savior, but a partner…a key role we can play as young, privileged Westerners is … help incredible activists get into the spotlight – the spotlight they are so often denied because of our media focus on our efforts as foreigners instead.”
2. “…and I took the road less traveled. AND IT HURT MAN! Really bad!…Not cool, Robert Frost!”
Kid Pres has a really poetic point here: we’ve got to go the extra mile(s), on the hardest roads, to really make a difference, but that type of patience and perseverance can seem impossible to cultivate some days.
We take inspiration from people like Toni of MPrep in Kenya, who points out – with the authority of having lived in rural Kenya for years before starting her company there – that “most short-term, one-time service trips do not create the deep connections with a community that can truly have impact.” But she also reminds us that the challenges of a ‘road less traveled’ are not always about staying in one place longer, but rather, being committed to a relationship for the long run: “It’s not necessarily how much time you spend somewhere that matters. It’s about connecting with other human beings and committing to staying connected.”
Emmanuel, managing the Arusha Children’s Center in Tanzania, is a even more literal example of committing both time and human energy into service work. He was born on the street by a homeless mother who abandoned him – no food, no bed, and no spirit or love, “without any sense that I mattered to the world”. And yet he persevered not only to care for himself but for 100 children – all of the street children in Arusha – and inspiringly, he’s not out to micro-manage his kids, but to help them “to make informed decisions about the direction of their lives.”
Beyond time and relationship investment, sometimes perseverance on that rare path means investing emotions and accepting uncertainty, as beautifully articulated by Alli who is teaching English in rural India with ThinkingBeyond Borders. She notes how at times our “privileged community has succeeded in cutting ourselves off from the horrors of the world and creating an alternate reality for ourselves,” and as a result, she is struggling now on that less-traveled path to understand the environment “and what my place in it is…I’m grappling with my inability to give directly to my students. Only a few of them have notebooks, and one boy doesn’t have pants.” Though Alli has no easy answers, her thoughtful questions are surely going to lead her to achieve her “Space Jam”!
3. “It’s like that dude journey said, ‘don’t stop believing….unless your dream is stupid, and then you should get a better dream.’ “
Kid President is so on point! No matter how well-intentioned our goals and dreams, we can all sometimes have a wrong approach, a silly plan, a dream bound to fail. And that’s OK! It requires a heavy dose of humility to be willing to constantly reassess our efforts and make changes as we go and grow.
EA loved hearing from Daniela, of PEPY Tours, in Cambodia, who has humbly and publicly reshaped her entire organization over the past several years to match the lessons she’s learned. Namely, she saw that traditional “service learning” meant giving things away and acting on raw ambition without really knowing what a community needed. She now takes a “learning service” approach: to learn from the community first, then serve (more fittingly) later.
We heard a similar tale from Hannah in South Africa, who redesigned an entire HIV education program when she realized it’s one-way direction was making it ineffective. “In the same way that I had knowledge to share, so too did each member of the group,” and she saw her program benefit after “meeting people where they’re at, listening to needs, and enabling all parties to bring their thoughts, knowledge, and ideas to the table in order to work towards a common solution.”
(Our friend Willy, who runs volunteer organization Omprakash, tackles this issue with an interesting approach of offering only free volunteer programs. His logic? If you pay exorbitant fees to do ‘public service’ abroad, “Where is your incentive to ‘earn’ your position by being humble, flexible, and hard-working?” and might you instead feel entitled to, or deserving of, a certain experience if you’ve paid a lot for it.)
4. “I’m just a kid, but I do know this: It’s everybody’s duty to give the world a reason to DANCE.”
As Kid President says, when bad things happen, we can cry about it, or we can dance about it. What is the attitude we take to our public service efforts? EA believes that finding common ground with strangers sets down the dance floor on which we can get the service party started.
Our very own Zoe recently volunteered in Namibia and learned that “perhaps friendship is the ultimate test of whether your service has impact” – not a fancy or high-funded project, but simply by taking an approach of human connection. When we make an effort to forge super-strong relationships, we find that joy can be multiplied, and challenges tackled more effectively.
Another EA staffer Hannah volunteered in Ugana and found that “By opening doors I opened myself to relationships which not only shaped my summer experience, but still fundamentally influence the way I experience the world.” Taking the positive, friendly approach means creating a true 2-way street of benefits.
And our friend Rebecca, who is saving historic musical archives in Tanzania, hits home the key EA message, “It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that people from foreign cultures are different than you, and therefore somehow less deserving of kindness or empathy or attention.” Her reason to dance? Reflecting on how her project saved her life, she lays down that real service is all “about being willing to make mistakes, honoring relationships and individuals, and always, always being grateful for the opportunities we are given to learn from others.”
Last but not least, which needs no further explanation, Kid President’s final message is one we hope defines 2013 for you and for everyone in the EA community: