Today began the first official day for my USF Honors Major Works, Major Issues class titled: “Social Media, Social Change – One Pencil Can Help Bring Peace.” Exactly two weeks ago, members of the Honors College, of all different ages, gathered to select which section of Major Works, Major Issues they would sign up for. I was unsure of which I would select, but this class was not my top pick. The title on the course, “One Pencil Can Help Bring Peace,” threw me off, as I’m not typically a writer. All I could think of was that I didn’t want to learn how to write better, nor did I want to spend a semester writing endless amounts of papers.
After hearing the description for this class, however, my hand shot up into the air. This class wasn’t about writing; it was about making a difference. It wasn’t about bettering my writing skills, or writing numerous research papers, it was about writing for change, writing to make a difference, writing to bring peace. It wasn’t about writing research papers, but utilizing readily available social media to spread word about a cause. When asked today why I chose this class, the answer was simple. It offered the most opportunity to make a difference.
This class is unique, in the sense that it is all hands-on. Although today was only our first official day of class, and we had assignments to go over, we were able to package up over 30 boxes worth of supplies for children in Afghanistan. By doing this, we were able to start
the semester off by directly working for the cause we are writing about. It is designed so that we each will partner with an on or off campus entity, in an effort to raise awareness at USF and the community at large, and to get members of the community involved. USF students are very service-inclined, and I’ve already had friends of mine, as well as people in my classes whom I’ve told about the project, express interest and offer their help.
I was young when September 11 occurred, and I never really understood the effects of it. I quickly absorbed the stereotypical beliefs of my peers, and allowed the idea that all Afghan and Pakistani men and women were the enemies to triumph over the desire to understand them. Instead of researching and learning more about their culture and heritage, I disregarded their beliefs and deemed them the enemy. It wasn’t until I read SMSgt Rex Temple’s deployment blog, along with our assigned reading in “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson, that I began to realize that many of these people, like us Americans, are victims of the Taliban and their terrorism efforts. Our 9/11 experiences of mass death and destructions have instilled feelings of fear and vulnerability in many Americans; those living in Afghanistan have lived in fear every day for decades. They aren’t reminded of fear only when they go through security lines at the airport, but they are reminded of it every morning when they wake up.
As students, it is seldom that we have the opportunity to hear from an active duty member of the U.S. military who is sharing about his experiences. Today in class, SMSgt Temple, the husband of our professor, Liisa Temple, and the brains behind this cause, shared his story with us. SMSgt. Temple is a very inspiring individual, and meeting him made the cause real for the class. It was no longer just an innovative idea, but it was reality.
He told us a story about a little boy who changed his life. This boy was the epitome of poverty, expressing how he didn’t have the means to go to school, and lived in fear of the Taliban. This little boy’s circumstances stood out to SMSgt. Temple, as his interactions with this little boy propelled him to make a difference. Likewise, this little boy will be the image compelling me to make a difference through our USF campus and its many stakeholders and partners. Throughout his presentation, while he showed us a plethora of pictures, and shared many stories, it was obvious that SMSgt Temple had left a piece of his heart in Afghanistan, and it will remain there until every child has the means to attend school.
As a student, it is easy to believe that I can’t make a difference. The little boy in the story, however, proves this belief, false. The little boy wasn’t even a student; he just wanted to be one, yet he made the greatest difference in the world. He didn’t only affect himself, or his village, but he had impact on a country, forever changing its culture and education system because he inspired a grassroots school supplies drive that bridges the US and Afghanistan.
As Honors College students, our class can be this little boy for the USF and Tampa community, inspiring others to find it within themselves to make a difference. Through all of USF’s campus organizations and entities, many students can get involved and give the gift of education to their young friends across seas.