Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reaching the Summit

Three years ago, I climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. But yesterday, I reached a far more rewarding summit. After a nine week climb creating a summit - the Global Student Summit program for Kijana - I reached the top. The picture to the right is what it looked like.

It was a room at Es'saba Secondary School, containing thirty students - ten each from Es'saba, Ebusiloli, and Mwituha Secondary Schools - who have been selected to participate in the program's pilot campaign, "Water Sustainability: Finding Solutions to Fresh Water Scarcity," starting in September and running through May 2011.

The meeting in the picture above was their Student Orientation, where they familiarized themselves with each other and received training to prepare them for the journey they are about to begin. While my nine-week climb to develop the program has just ended, their nine-month climb as participants in the program has just begun. Along with fifteen students from my high school, The Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, these students will become experts on the global water crisis and work together to promote some serious solutions within their communities, nations, and world. But their summit will reach a much higher peak than mine; they are taking their ideas to the top of the world - to two Presidents, a Prime Minister, two Members of Parliament, two Senators, one Congressman, and to the Secretary General of the United Nations. Together, these 45 students on opposite sides of the world will shine a very bright light on one of the most pressing - and most ignored - problems facing our global village in the 21st century.

During the orientation, each of the students received their own Participant Guide for the Water Sustainability campaign - beautifully printed in full color and spiral-bound - containing readings, reflection questions, and quotations to provoke their imaginations and inspire them to action.


One of those quotations I put in the guide is a favorite of mine from Robert F. Kennedy:

"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
- Robert F. Kennedy

Kijana President and Founder (and my high school teacher) Jim Cummings was also present at the orientation and he made sure to point that quotation out to the students. He asked one of the girls to stand up and read it out loud, and as I listened to her read those words for the first time - with her unique Kenyan pronunciations and occasional reading struggles filling the silent room - I got goosebumps. To hear a young person encounter the words that I have cherished as a sort of Bible verse for public servants was like hearing it again for the first time myself. And somewhere, I know that RFK - the ultimate advocate and believer in the power of young people and the idea of "youth" - was smiling. 

Jim and I helped them understand what RFK meant, explaining to them that they are each sending forth their own tiny ripples of hope into the universe. Ripples of hope that would inspire others and one day, after crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, create a powerful tidal wave of hope. Amusingly, Jim even went so far as to point out to the participants that I am a student at the Clinton School of Public Service - a place named after a U.S. President who was born in a place called Hope. I picked up on it and explained that I was inspired by the ripple of hope that President Clinton has sent forth in the world, and now I was passing it on to them, who I hope will then pass it on to others. At this point, the students were beginning to understand the ripple concept, so Jim drove it home by having the students say out loud: "I am a ripple of hope!," louder and louder until they couldn't help but burst out laughing. It was an incredible moment that I will never forget.

And although I used President Clinton in my ripple of hope example, the truth is that Jim is the greatest source of inspiration responsible for any ripples of hope that I have sent forth into the universe. I have known him for ten years now, and I can still remember the first time I met him at Cross Country practice a few days before I started ninth grade. I might not have been able to articulate it, but I knew from that first moment and from the way that he treated me as a young person that there was something different about him that other teachers and adults didn't possess. He has a true gift for teaching and a truly large heart for empowering youth and inspiring them to let their own light shine outward. I was reminded of that again yesterday as I watched him speak to the students at the Orientation, and seeing the smiles that spread across each of their faces. In particular, I have to share the picture above. Jim is pointing to his hat, and while apologizing for wearing it indoors, he explained that he chose to wear it to the Orientation for a good reason. The hat has a simple, but powerfully true message: "There is no Planet B." His point was clear; it's the responsibility of you young people to protect Planet A, our most beautiful, wonderful home, Earth. It's been ten years, and I'm still learning from Jim. And still catching his ripples. 

I was extremely pleased with how the Orientation went, and with how my entire project has gone, for that matter. After the session, I had the students go outside for some pictures. Each of them took an individual picture holding their name (see Everlyn's photo to the right), and then as a group. It was incredibly rewarding for me to see the camaraderie that was displayed as the students waited to take their pictures. Students from different schools who hadn't met each other until just two hours before were laughing and smiling and enjoying each others' presence. I'm hoping that a similar level of respect and friendship can be built between the Kenyan and American students when the videoconferences start in September. Although I won't be able to be there myself over the next nine months, I'll be following the students' progress with great interest and pride as they work on their own summit climb together. 

3 comments:

Vitalyi Alexandrovich said...
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Maxim Dibrov said...

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