H.O.P.E. began as an idea and a prayer; in five years we have created memories. It’s hard to choose a few, but below are some of my favorite moments.
I attempted to listen as my friend Antonio, a neighbor in the community where I lived and worked, explained my symptoms to the doctor in Spanish. He needed to get this right. I hardly had the energy to look at the doctor and explain my condition to him. With doctors and nurses hovering over me, the saline began to relieve my dehydration. Fatigue and medication combined to put me to sleep.
Hours later the doctor revealed I had Dengue, a life-threatening disease I contracted from a mosquito. This was my second stay at a Salvadoran hospital in less than a year since the beginning of my service.
Upon my return to my home community from the hospital, Antonio’s six–year-old daughter, Maiza, asked me if I was too sick to stay in El Salvador and would return to the United States. I was sick and uncomfortable. I decided to be honest with Maiza, I told her I had considered leaving, but explained that life sometimes calls one to sacrifice his or her own wellbeing for the wellbeing of others. I further explained that my visit to the hospital only strengthened my resolve to stay and continue to contribute and give back to a community that gave me such a strong sense of purpose.
This community cared about me. Maiza cared about me. Every day I didn’t see Maiza in the neighborhood she would come and find me and ask the usual question: “Estas bien?” (“Are you OK?”) I would tell her yes and she would interrogate me on why I had not come outside that day to visit her.
Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer was at times very difficult. As a volunteer I developed budgets, drafted proposals, planned and executed a census, created blueprints for a dam, taught high school students English and sex education, and worked to increase self-esteem through leadership workshops for women. It was the unexpected and often times tragic occurrences, though, that made my Peace Corps experience most relevant.
I lived, worked, and befriended many individuals facing great challenges, such as six-year-old children not able to attend school because they had to work in the fields from five in the morning until eight in the evening; women being abused by their husbands and scared to report it to the police or seek help due to believing the abuse was their fault; and young girls being raped and then impregnated by their own fathers or uncles.
There were great times where the love my Salvadoran community had for me proved true and unwavering. Maiza and all of the members of my community in El Salvador helped me to learn Spanish, cooked for me when I couldn’t figure out how to work the wood oven, prayed over me when I was sick, and even taught me how to wash clothes with my hands (which proved to be more difficult than one would think). Most importantly, my Salvadoran community taught me to appreciate cultures different from mine.
Now living back in the United States, I yearn for what I felt in El Salvador. I miss the sense of community and how the people there gave so much to me, even though they possessed so little. To this day I have Maiza’s ribbon. It hangs on the frame that holds my Peace Corps certificate. Frequently I look at that certificate and then at that ribbon and remember a little girl who loved me regardless of my nationality, skin color or, at the time, broken Spanish. She loved me because I loved her. That ribbon and my experience in El Salvador will always remain in my heart along with my love for Maiza and the people of El Salvador.
Give HOPE. Live HOPE.
About the Author
Originally from Charleston, SC, China Dickerson aspires to be an advocate for the marginalized and underserved. As an undergraduate at Howard University, Ms. Dickerson worked at the U.S. Department of Justice where she assisted attorneys in advocating for the human right to a clean living environment. Upon graduating from Howard, Ms. Dickerson served in the U.S. Peace Corps in El Salvador where for two years she assisted community members by organizing and facilitating leadership and women’s rights workshops, teaching English as a second language at the local high school and fundraising to institute women’s sewing and cosmetology classes. Currently, Ms. Dickerson is a law student at Howard University School of Law and law clerk at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This post is a part of our “Life After Graduation” series, check back all week for new posts on the variety of paths available for life after graduation.
activism, college, college students, HBCU, help, higher education, historically black colleges, historically black colleges and universities, humanitarian, humanitarianism, hurricane katrina, lower ninth ward
A recent trip to New Orleans demonstrated the real needs of people in underserved communities, particularly those of African descent. The sight of dilapidated homes, empty lots, shuttered businesses, the paucity of job opportunities, and the burden of these displaced people quickly began to get the better of me.
The trip taught me that status and clout coupled with education and compassion can make a huge impact.
In New Orleans I met Jo’Shawn, he was 19 years old and a survivor of Hurricane Katrina. He and his cousin were trapped inside their house, being forced to use a pistol to fire through the roof to escape the rising waters. One night I asked him, “After all that has happened, how do you remain so happy?” It was almost as if his joy annoyed me because I was so frustrated at the system that failed New Orleans so badly by a clear misappropriation of funds and I wanted him to be also.
He said: “I just put it all in the Lord’s hands.” That statement, that thought process, makes me feel both hope and shame. He made trusting in the Lord seem so simple, in the way that I did not, though deep down I desire to. I find hope in meeting someone who is ok with not being in control. It’s a beautiful thing.
Never did I believe that the people in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans would encourage me so much. I know that extreme loss can bring a greater sense of gratitude for life and possessions but I hadn’t anticipated being changed in this way.
What I learned from my visit to New Orleans is that we must understand the needs of disadvantaged communities so that we can address them properly. I learned that those with status and fame have a platform to highlight issues and organize solutions and that same power, on a smaller scale, is in all of us.
I encourage those pursuing change, especially those who are considered to be the “minority”, to educate themselves in order for them to get to the position to invoke change. Hope is not a destination, it’s a paradigm.
I pray and hope that we do not have to lose everything around us to appreciate what’s within us.
Give HOPE. Live HOPE.
About the Author
Originally from Jamaica, N.Y, Kwamé McIntosh is a 22-year-old master’s candidate at Howard University currently studying social work , administration, and policy focusing on displaced populations. He was recently been published in a multi-authored poetry book titled, “The Journey” due to be released May 2012. Kwamé is a young humanitarian whose sole desire is to dramatically change systems entrapping the lives of underserved populations globally.
I am going to go to where poverty and violence and misfortune run rampant and do my best to teach.
The plan is to keep going back and back and back, until someone’s life is changed.
It is here, in the trenches, where liquor stores and beauty supply stores outnumber grocery stores and coffee shops, that I want to sow my biggest seeds of HOPE.
Daily I come face-to-face with a generation of young people who have little value for their lives — and even less for their education. I truly believe that it is the responsibility of us, the educated few, to empower the uneducated masses, particularly young black and Latino youth.
But before we begin teaching our kids chemistry and calculus, we have to show them that education is worth their time and investment. They have to know that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and to carelessly throw away your future is a tragedy.
I’m not exactly sure when being smart became a bad move. I don’t know why the black or Latino kids who speak proper English get ridiculed. I don’t know why we, as a society, continue to celebrate the athlete who can’t read and ignore the student who can.
But I do know why the basketball court is more popular than the library in the inner-city. Kids know what they can achieve if they succeed at being a baller, but few understand what they can accomplish by becoming a scholar. We have to show them.
Somehow we have to teach our kids that education is gangsta and that college is cool — not corny. They must know that knowledge is a daring and a resistance mechanism designed to thwart anything set to destroy them.
To educate a young person is to empower a family, uplift a community, sustain a people and improve a generation. I pray that I won’t be the only one in the hood with a chair and chalkboard teaching lessons in H.O.P.E.
Until next time,
Live H.O.P.E. Give H.O.P.E.
The H.O.P.E. Scholarship