It’s no secret I love learning, but if you press me to share the most memorable moments that made learning come alive, each of them would share a common theme: a teacher who inspired me. My favorite Hebrew school teachers were understanding and compassionate, sharing stories of living in Israel and talking to us in Hebrew. My favorite math teachers humanized abstract concepts and spoke to us as equals, helping us not only to learn, but to love. My political science teachers have made dull topics exciting by impersonating polar bears flopping around on the ice or breaking the tension with a sarcastic comment that leads the class into laughter; writing teachers have given encouragement, honest feedback, and shown an intimate interest in helping me to grow.
It is no small task, the work and effort I’ve put into my education at every level–from my earliest memories of being homeschooled through today–but if not for the passion my teachers showed me, all of this would have meant nothing.
So wouldn’t it be amazing, if only for a few days, I could inspire others as much as my teachers have inspired me?
The exciting part is, in one month, I will have the opportunity to do just this.
Long-time readers may recall this time last year when I spoke about an Alternative Service spring Break trip to Belize to work with cacao growers there–it was an amazing experience and you can read more about it here if you’re interested.
But that was last year, and today I’m more excited to talk another opportunity I’ve been given: Instead of Belize, I’ll be joining other N.C. State students on a trip to Hoonah, Alaska, to work with the underserved students in an Alaskan Native community. We’ll be working with kids of all ages, sharing lunch with them, getting to know them, tutoring them and providing educational assistance–for a few days, we’ll be able to make a difference in their lives like teachers have a made a difference in ours.
When I think back to all the teachers I’ve had, I can’t help but also remember the incredible guests who made an amazing classroom unforgettable: the Holocaust survivors, the presenters from local colleges and student groups, well-known writers invited to share their insights on campus. They added definition and refinement to my education, fleshing out what I was learning inside the classroom and helping me to grow. Through being attentive to our needs, through sharing a part of themselves for sometimes only a few short hours, they had an impact on my life and the direction I took.
I want to share that same inspiration with the kids in Hoonah.
I have bite my tongue sometimes because I feel like my words start to sound egotistical and self-serving, but if I strip aside the confines of limited language, the emotion that remains is anything but self-centered. It’s easy to speak of my own experiences and my desire to pass those positive memories onto others, but I can speak from my experience tutoring that when I’m given the chance to do this–or at least attempt to do this–my focus is entirely upon the students I’m working with.
The smile on a boy’s face when he’s able to read a line of Hebrew without making any mistakes, the tears running down a girl’s cheeks while she tells me about the bullying she’s had to face, the spark of light in a student’s eyes when suddenly limits and derivatives come alive– It’s a selfless, humbling moment when I realize how vulnerable I am when I step back from myself and do for others what they need me to do. Whether they need encouragement, listening, instruction–when I can provide it, more than anything else I feel thankful they gave me the chance to share something so special with them.
Unfortunately passion alone cannot pay for plane tickets, food and lodging, and other costs required to do all of this. Altogether, this trip is about $1500–but for me it’s worth it, and I’ll pay every penny from my own pockets if that’s what it takes. I’m willing to make that sacrifice, but it will bring upon hardships I’d happily avoid if given the chance, and to do this I’ve started a fundraiser on YouCaring to raise $500 toward my trip expenses.
Except I’m not just fundraising.
Inspired by the creative endeavors of artists like Amanda Palmer and others, I’ve decided to model my fundraiser after Kickstarter–offering gifts of gratitude for those who donate. There’s a beautiful bond, perhaps too brief to be felt, when someone asks and another answers. I want to celebrate this and open my experience in Alaska to all the people who help me get there–through pictures, poetry, and personal reflections, everyone who donates will receive at least a glimpse of life in Hoonah for the children who live there.