[Nikki is a sophomore Morehead Cain Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She interned with Destiny Academy June-July 2013. We loved having Nikki as part of our community!]
“What does volunteering mean?”
“Helping others for free,” the students chant in unison.
I asked this question and heard this response from my students so many times in my 8 weeks at Destiny Academy. I had taught them this definition in the hopes that, as they learned to recite it by heart, they would understand its true meaning. Part of the reason that this was a major theme in class was that we were planning a service excursion so that the kids could go out and serve their community. I have to admit, I was skeptical about how effective the trip would be, since the kids had decided on the vague idea of “let’s give people food and clothing”. I was caught up in the details, worried that we weren’t being specific or deliberate enough, that we needed a plan. Besides, where would we get all the food and clothing?
To my surprise, over 40 enthusiastic middle schoolers showed up on the chosen Saturday morning, ready to go out into the community and volunteer, even though the excursion was completely optional. Most of the students at Destiny come from lower-middle class families, and some don’t have enough food to eat or clothes to wear on a daily basis. Nevertheless, they brought in whatever spare money they could find, and any clothing they had outgrown, and collected a significant amount of both. Our first stop was the bakery, where we used all the money that the students had brought in to buy bread. Then, we just walked around the Gofa community (the area around Destiny—a relatively low-income part of Addis), handing out bread and clothing to those who needed it. I loved watching those people’s reactions as 12 and 13-year olds handed them a pair of shoes and a small loaf of bread. But my favorite part of the trip was seeing how much closer the students became as they worked together to serve their community. By the end of the trip, most of the students were holding hands as they walked back to Destiny to clean up around the lower school compound. It was amazing to watch how a common goal brought them together, and it gave me a lot of hope that they would continue to serve their community as they grew up. Hopefully, this small taste of community service will encourage and inspire these students to continue volunteering, and eventually help to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy that has plagued Gofa for so long.