Making a Difference With The USF Honors College

First Official Day of Class

First Official Day of Class - Pencils for Peace

How many students attend college to get a higher education, and never once take a class in which they have felt they have a made a positive difference in the world?  Unfortunately, many students go through college without getting such an experience.  I have been taking classes at the University of South Florida (USF) for 3 years now without ever having such an experience.  But this semester I am taking a class titled “Social Media, Social Change: One Pencil Can Help Bring Peace” with the University of South Florida Honors College.  I took this class because of all the classes I could take with the Honors College this semester, this seemed like the only class where I could actually make a real difference we can see in the world.  Our class is being taught by Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, who runs the charity School Supplies for Afghan Children.  Her husband is Rex Temple, who started the charity after serving in Afghanistan and seeing how eager the children were to learn, despite the difficulties.  So for our class we will be using social media to promote and help with the charity.   At the first official meeting of the class, we were already helping to pack boxes and prepare them for shipping.

Even though the class has only met a couple times, I already feel like it has broadened my perspectives and world views.  Part of our first assignment for the class was to read the first 12 chapters of a book called “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  It is an incredible story about Greg Mortenson, who, after failing to climb K2 in Pakistan, the second highest mountain peak on Earth, found a new purpose in life helping the children of the remote northern regions of Pakistan by helping build schools for them.  It really inspires me to want to make a difference in the world, no matter how little I have to offer.  Greg Mortenson started off with nothing, literally.  Actually, he started off with even less than I have!  And yet, despite all difficulties, he was able to actually raise the money, and build a school and bridge for the village that once showed him the generosity and caring that inspired a new purpose in his life.

I have always liked helping people, and as part of the process to earn my Florida Bright Futures Academic Scholarship, I did a lot of community service hours.  I volunteered for a lot of things in high school and early college, like helping patients get around the hospital at the Moffit Cancer Center, doing tech support for my local high school, running the reserves desk at my local library, and doing Habitat for Humanity.  But this is the first time I have gotten to help people in an actual class.  But more than that, it’s the first time I have gotten to help people on such a big scale and with such an important need.

School Supplies for children in Afghanistan

School Supplies for children in Afghanistan

For this class, we will have assigned groups that will be responsible for actually getting 30 boxes of school supplies donated and shipped.  And I know it is easy for people to say “Why should I donate to your charity for needy people over there when there are needy people right here?”  And while it is true that every country has their own poverty problem, our own being no exception, the difference in scale and level is a little hard for most people from the United States to imagine.  That little boy from a village in Afghanistan who first asked Rex Temple for a pen really puts into perspective though.  They don’t even have writing utensils to go to school with. And the worst part is, they want to learn.  In my family, school has always been important, and my Mom made sure I always worked hard.  But here in the United States, so many students don’t even care about school.  Some students find any excuse to not go to class, and couldn’t care less about their grades or whether or not they graduate.  But over there, they have the opposite problem.  People want to go to schools, but sometimes, there are not enough schools or teachers, and students can’t even afford the most basic school supplies to attend class with, to the extreme that they don’t even have pencils.  On Walmart.com, they list a 72 pack of pencils for $7.88.  That is roughly 11 cents per pencil, or a dime.  Here in the United States, you could find that much on a sidewalk, or under the sofa cushions.  It is truly eye opening.

37 boxes of school supplies waiting to be shipped to Afghanistan from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Sure, you can make the argument that there are poor people everywhere.  But the poverty here, or in any other modern country, can’t even begin to compare with the poverty and the need in Afghanistan.  And it is so much more than just helping people who are in need.  If we could find a way to make education available to every single child in Afghanistan, from the Elementary school level, up to the University level, Afghanistan would not have nearly as many problems as they do now.  People could begin to improve their lives, they would not have to continue always living in fear of the Taliban, they could begin to stabilize their country.  All it would take is for the education to be made available to them, and in a generation, they would be able to start turning things around on their own.

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