Think of a long journey you had to take. When you started out, were you scared? Excited? Perhaps a little bit of both? And maybe the road that you were traveling on was bumpy and rough at points. There were most likely stumbling blocks, things that got in the way and required you to take an alternate route. The journey seemed long, tiring, but ultimately, amazing. You would do it all over again. You learned something about yourself, about others, and about the world you live in.
I have recently begun one such journey. This semester, my honors class at the University of South Florida decided to tackle something a little bit different. We are not sitting behind desks copying notes from a blackboard as a professor drones on and on about one topic or another that months from now will probably slip from our memory. Instead, we students are participating in a much larger project. We decided to take on the world…one pencil at a time.
In 2009, while deployed in Afghanistan, our professor’s husband began a service porject to collect school supplies for the Afghan children. Our honors class is continuing what he started. With the mentoring of our wonderful teacher Mrs. Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, it is our responsibility to spend the semester putting together this service project to help the poor children over in Afghanistan by supplying them with notebooks, pencils, pens, markers, erasers, chalk, crayons, construction paper, among other simple items. We are setting out on a journey to make a difference in these children’s lives.
Just like us, they want to be able to obtain an education. These children have next to nothing. The attend school in the dirt and dust, with no air conditioning and no desks to sit at. The teachers use special green spray paint on concrete because there are no chalkboards. The children want to learn how to read and write, and we are helping make that possible by collecting supplies that, to use might not seem like much, but to them means the world.
This past Monday, our small group didn’t sit behind desks. We jumped right into the action. Professor Temple had some boxes she needed packed and labeled for immediate shipment. We got right to work. One group sat and wrote address labels. One group stuffed boxes full of the supplies we had. And when we found out that we needed more loose-leaf paper, the hunt began. Only finding computer paper, we used our problem-solving skills and hunted down as many hole punchers as we could and diligently worked at punching holes in what we had, stuffing it into the three ring binders. There was nothing that would stop us from helping these children.
18 boxes. That represents accomplishment in our eyes. That is the number of boxes we sent out that day. It might not seem like a lot, but to us, starting out, it was 18 boxes more than these children had before.
And so my journey has begun. I have to admit I am a bit scared. Of course I am more excited than anything, but there is that fear of failure lurking in the back of my mind. I have a determination and drive to help these children, though, and nothing will stop me. Is it going to be hard at points? Is the road going to be bumpy and throw obstacle in my path? Absolutely. There are going to be people who refuse to support the military or us. There are going to be students who refuse to donate supplies because they are living on the dollar already. But these obstacles will only push me further and motivate me even more. This is not just a school assignment anymore. This is a chance to make a difference not only in the lives of these soldiers and the lives of these Afghanistan children, but in my life and my neighbor’s life as well.
The soldiers in Afghanistan risk their lives every day to fight for freedom, to fight for us, so that we may live the life we are leading this very moment. Every day they are undertaking a journey, never knowing if the road ahead of them will mean they live to see tomorrow. I ask that, in honor of them, in honor of what they are doing, take a journey with me. While ours will not be a dangerous one, it nevertheless will be rewarding. Come with me. Help us make a difference. Walk with me, laugh with me, cry with me, struggle with me. This only represents the beginning of a magical ride ahead.