A little girl in a faded green dress ambles into the room and sheepishly looks around. The thirty or so other kids around her are hunched over the table furiously coloring and, for now, are relatively quiet. She finds a chair and awkwardly climbs into it. I watch the little girl from across the room as she looks around, unsure of what to do next. I grab a few crayons, gently rip a page from a coloring book, and walk over to her. When I crouch down to speak to her she bashfully turns her head and tries to hide her face from me. I put the paper in front of her, show her how to grip the crayon, and then gently guide her hand back and forth over the page.
She stares intently at the lines we made on her paper, turns to look at me, and then examines the crayon, before finally looking back down again at the paper. She grips the crayon tightly, draws lines in a jagged mess all over the paper, and then looks back at me. I smile and tell her in Setswana, “Go Gontle!” (It’s nice). Her eyes light up and a toothy smile spreads across her face. She grabs another crayon, and her clumsy scribbles zigzag across the page, quickly obscuring the original outline of the picture.
After a few minutes, I get up to leave but she grabs me with her tiny hand. I sit back down and she pushes over some paper and a crayon. Her shyness has passed and we sit and color for the next twenty minutes. When the program ends, she grabs her paper and shuffles off to the door. Before she leaves, she turns and waves goodbye to me. I will never forget seeing the pleasure of coloring with a crayon for the first time and the way that little girl smiled.
One of the projects I work on as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana is an after school art program at a local community center. This community center is in one of the poorest areas of the city I live in and many of the children who come to the programs have lost one or both parents to AIDS. I love working with the kids because they teach me just as much, if not more, than I teach them. Many of the children are malnourished. They wear tattered clothing and most do not have shoes, but theyare quick to smile and laugh. They quickly remind me that I am not so important after all. The kids don’t know what I have, my accomplishments, or what is on my resume. They just want someone to care. My needs and wants do not always take precedence and that has been an invaluable lesson.
I will confess that I have not always enjoyed community service. For a long time, I saw it as a means to an end. It was something I did to strengthen my college applications, or because it was expected of all chapters by the campus administration, or because my chapter brothers and I thought it would make our chapter look good to GHQ. I joined the Peace Corps for the adventure and a chance to live abroad, but I have stayed because of the projects I am involved in, the people I have met and work with, and for the impact it has had on my life.
I wish I had some magic formula to share with you to make all your community service events impactful, enjoyable, and well attended – but I don’t. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer doesn’t make me an expert in service, but I can tell you with certainty that my experience here will have a lasting impact on my life.
In the Phikeia Oath, we promise to transmit the Fraternity “…not only, not less, but greater than it was transmitted…” to each of us. This is invaluable advice for each member and alumnus, but I also firmly believe that we all also have an obligation to leave our communities and our world better off than the way we found it. This does not require colossal organizations, fantastic amounts of money, or even large charity events. The requirements are simply willingness and a passion to make things better. My challenge to you today is to find an issue you are passionate about and get involved.
Daniel was a Leadership Consultant from 2007-2009 and is now a Peace Corps Volunteer in the southern African nation of Botswana, working in HIV prevention and NGO development. He is originally from South Carolina and graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in Marketing in 2007. Daniel enjoys traveling, reading, sports of all kinds, and misses college football very much. He currently lives in Francistown, Botswana. You can read more on his blog: fromwanderingsabroad.blogspot.com