Hi...remember me? Lately, my well has been a little dry and my world (our world) has been a little disjointed. Usually this means I need a little perspective and a little reminder that service means sacrifice, and seasons have a beginning and an end.
So this month (with her permission), I am sharing a blog post written in 2017 by my amazing niece Emily, who was a college student at Elon College in NC at the time, and who often dedicates her school breaks to service. That's just who she is. I believe her perspective is not only timely, but timeless.
May it be salve for your soul, as it is to mine.
Presenting June's Guest Blogger, Emily Crocker
Some of the greatest wisdom I’ve learned was in high school from one of the wisest men I’ve had the honor of knowing. My softball coach, Tony Wolfe, often sat us all down before or after practice to “preach” as some people may say.
One particular afternoon, Coach Wolfe was talking about a verse from John about the importance of being in the world and not of the world. It is so easy to forget this because it is human nature to conform to the world. We must also understand that being in the world, but not of it, is necessary if we are to be a light to those who are in darkness. You’re called to be a light to the people around you and that’s only possible if you’re taking time to interact with people and cultivate relationships.
While I believed it, I didn’t fully grasp this concept until a month ago.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Malawi. Malawi is a small country in southeastern African landlocked by Zambia and Mozambique. According to the World Atlas, Malawi is the poorest country in the world as of 2016. 60% of Malawians live in abject poverty (living on about $2 a day). However, Malawi is nicknamed the “Warm Heart of Africa” for the nature of its welcoming and kind people. Despite their problems they generally always have a smile on their face. They seek happiness in what they do have and are quite content with that.
Many countries and organizations provide foreign aid to Malawi and its neighboring countries. Over 200 organizations have given aid to Malawi for 2017 already. However, I experienced first hand how foreign aid is not helping Malawi as much as it could. While giving money can feed the hungry, and help the sick -- it does not free people from the institutions that make them hungry and sick in the first place. It doesn’t free them from the system, which saps their opportunities and incentives.
At the school I worked at, Namasimba Primary School, one foreign aid organization offered to provide clean drinking water through sinks on the outside of each classroom for the schools in the area. While the intention was great, they sent the sinks but with no way of getting the water from the ground or filtering it. This is just one example of the numerous ways that aid is not helpful to the communities they are sent to, and an example of why it is important to be in the world. It is important as someone who is going to provide aid or support to be immersed in community, learn the needs and wants from the people there, advocate for those needs, and allocate your time and energy toward truly impacting that community in ways that will benefit them for many years.
As a group of 18 white, American kids, you get stared at walking along the streets of Malawi. You get pointed at and hear screams of “azungu, azungu” (white people in Chichewa). One day at the grocery store, as soon as we pulled up in the parking lot, our bus was surrounded. As we tried to exit the bus, phrases such as “come buy my paintings, “come see my market stand”, “please give me money”, “I am hungry”, etc. swarmed us coming from adults and children alike. Initially, we all were overwhelmed and heartbroken. But, for myself, it was in that moment that I had to take a step back mentally and recognize my privilege.
Having privilege does not mean that an individual is immune to life’s hardships, but it does mean having an unearned benefit or advantage one receives in society by nature of their identity. However, having privilege comes with a responsibility to use it wisely and better those who do not have the same privilege as you. Choosing to not use your privilege to speak out for those who can’t is problematic.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
You can’t assume that someone else will come along and do the right thing when you’ve been given the platform to do so. It’s not easy, but it’s so important because our silence isn’t helping anyone.
Everywhere I go, I'm always struck by the reality that we have so much more in common throughout the world, regardless of where we're born, our race, or our religious beliefs. We're all striving for the best for our communities and for our families. This is why traveling or studying abroad is so important in my opinion. The more people get the opportunity to travel the world, live in other cultures and learn new languages, the more they will begin to understand our shared ideals and the shared opportunities to keep moving this world forward.
You realize that much of what you believed to be unique in your home country is often universal, and that much of what you thought was universal is often specific to your home country. You realize that humans are by and large the same, with the same needs, the same desires. You realize that no matter how much you see or how much you learn about the world, there’s always more-- that with every new destination discovered, you become aware of a dozen others, and with every new piece of knowledge obtained, you only become more aware of how much you really don’t know. You realize how thankful you are to live in a place that can offer you so much and how blessed you are to have clothes on your body and food on your plate. You realize the endless possibilities to which you can make a difference in someone else’s life and how much your life is changed in the process.
(Guess who's a proud aunt???) :)