Doing Something

Students study at an open air school near Jalabad (Photo by David Sullivan, 2004).

As I start working to get school supplies to people who need them halfway around the globe, I think that it’s important to know why it is that I’m doing this. It’s part of a course that I’m taking this semester, but it’s something that takes more time and more work than it would if I only took the easiest class that would get me my degree, or even the class with the most interesting topic. There were more interesting classes—as a philosophy major, a course called “The Mind and the Brain” certainly sounded like it would play into my interests. But instead, this semester, I had the chance to do something different, so I did.

Now, it just so happens that in doing so it looks like I’ll get the chance to help out some people who are in desperate need of it, but that was not my intention when I first signed up for this.  That is, I didn’t sign up for this to help other people, I did it for myself. I am an academic. After going through twelve years of school, I decided to pay someone so that I could endure four more years. And after the first of those four years, I thought that what I wanted to do after that was more school–and after that teach at a school.  As you can imagine, studying history, and now philosophy, with a thought towards some kind of professorship involves mostly reading and writing. That’s really been the bread and butter of my life for the last few years, and hopefully for the next few.

The thing is that in studying (particularly philosophy), I’ve found that the most important things are not what you think or what you say, but what you do. Now, this actually sounds like common sense, and maybe that’s just it. But, how do you know what to do? By thinking things out, or planning your actions? Things like, “if this happens, I’ll…”   Maybe, but the first thing you need is some experience to go on. You have to do things, just so that you have things to think about, things to talk about, things to teach other people. So, this semester I decided that instead of working in a classroom—working in ides—I’d go to work in the world and work in actions.

To me, that’s what this project is about—doing things. Every day that I’m at a university is a testament to the importance that I give to education. And I can only assume that the thousands of other here at the university also have some similar hope that education will create a better future. However, not every day do I actually act on those beliefs.  Occasionally I get a chance to teach someone something or give someone a bit of knowledge that is actually going to help them, but this project is a real opportunity.

As I was telling SMSgt Temple when I met him this past Monday, this is a chance to actually do something that has a physical impact on the world. Instead of writing papers for professors, I’ll be collecting the tools that other people need, and moving them to where they’re needed. And not just ‘other people’. I’m going to help people that I feel are at least in some small sense like me. They are students. They are going to school not because they have to, but because they want to. They want to learn, and like myself, the see their own education as the key to improving their own lives. In fact these children in Afghanistan live in a place where there is a marked distinction between the educated and the uneducated. And unlike myself, they don’t have the tools that they need so readily at hand. They don’t have paper or pen. They don’t have pencils or chalk. In some cases they don’t even have schools. So, as the next few weeks unfold, I’ll get a chance to make a difference in the live of some kids that need an education, and in my own life, which needs some action.

One of the first girls schools built in Afghanistan after the war in 2002. Photo by Daniel Sullivan.

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