I don’t know why the Peace Corps sent me to South Africa or the village I’m living in, but I do think everything happens for a reason. It may take a while, but we usually figure out what that reason is. We find our purpose.
Finding one’s purpose can be a different path for every Peace Corps Volunteer. It can take days, months, years, or that moment may never come. As someone who is so interested in the individual – a person’s history, strengths and weaknesses — it usually just takes that one kid to show me why I’m here and doing what I’m doing. That one kid is that kid who gives you hope. That one kid who amazingly made it through a dysfunctional school system. That one kid who keeps trying and will fight against all odds to learn. That one kid that shows you that not all of your students will be engulfed in a repetitive cycle of poverty. That one kid you know you are going to have an impact on.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a surprise visit from a grade 7 learner at my school. Usually when older learners knock on my door, they want me to help them with homework (and do it for them). This time it was different. A tall boy stood at my doorstep and handed me a notebook. We had never formally met.
“Here, these are my English stories. I want you to read them,” he told me.
“Oh wow!” I exclaimed. “Thanks, I will definitely read them. I’ll give them back to you at school.”
I asked him for his name and off he went. I sat down and read Sebetsang’s stories. All 10 of them. I couldn’t believe what I was reading –a book full of creative stories with dialogues, characters and drama. His stories are almost as if they are a mini-South African soap opera with love, lust and revenge.
As I’ve said before, critical thinking isn’t taught here. Creativity is rarely heard of. The fact that a grade 7 boy is able to write his own creative stories is astonishing.
In my journaling efforts with grade 7, I asked them to describe what their homes looked like. Sebetsang wrote a lot, but also discussed the poverty around him and where he lives. It was the first time I had heard an answer from my whole school that was realistic because he clearly observed and inferred from his own experiences.
When I responded to his response, I told him that when I was his age, I loved to write. I would write short stories like he did. I even wrote a book like he has done. With time, I got better at writing. And even though I graduated from university, I still love to write a lot because it calms me down and makes me happy.
One of the reasons why I serve is to help students I work with find their passions (idealistically). I don’t know if I’ve really completed that goal yet, but at least I’ve been able to share my passion with kids. Now that I’ve met this boy, I know we can share a passion together and I can encourage him to hold fast to his dreams like my tattoo says. I realize that if I wasn’t here, he wouldn’t have had anyone to share his stories with or anyone that would take such interest in them.
Now it’s time to figure out how exactly I can work with him. I don’t want to waste his talent. He just came by today with a new batch of stories for me to read. Any suggestions on working with this young writer? Send them on over!
PCVs, never underestimate the impact you are going to have on at least that one kid in your village. It took just that one kid to show me why I’m in my village. I can assure you there is that one kid that will reaffirm why you are here. We may not be able to change the whole system, or influence every kid we come into contact with – but that one kid like Sebetsang is good enough in my books.
Yours in service,