Monday, November 15, 2010

Reaching Out to Help Others

Tonight, I attended the presentation of the Nigerian charity drive “A Book for a Buck,” which revealed numerous aspects of the town of Yola, Nigeria, and its unfortunate state. However, before the primary guest speaker presented her findings, a senior from Loyola spoke about one of her classes that allowed her to reach out and help Baltimore residents in a similar charitable manner. Through this perspective, we learn that there is a plethora of ways of giving back to the community – whether it be donating a book for a needy child in Nigeria or helping through service learning in Baltimore. In any case, it is imperative that one helps out people who are less fortunate than oneself. If everyone reached out to someone in this way, then it would greatly help to make the world a much better place.

The Loyola student first talked about her experience with “Baltimore Reads,” an organization that helps Baltimore residents and other individuals interested in learning to read, write, and better their education. Her class, Civic Literacy, allowed her to become active in Baltimore Reads through its service learning requirement. Through this requirement, the students fostered a connection with the members of Baltimore Reads, allowing both parties to benefit. For example, the student speaker said that she was able to work with a man in his thirties (who had the reading level of a fifth grader) to prepare for his GED test. The class also spends a great amount of time interviewing Reads students. Eventually, they plan to create a booklet with the many success stories from Reads to be used for awareness and grant requests. In addition, the student speaker re-defined literacy, stating that literacy “is not just the ability to read, but the ability to get a job and prepare oneself for life.” By molding literacy in this form, the push to eliminate illiteracy becomes more universal. Illiteracy doesn’t necessarily mean the inability to read or write, rather, it signifies the lack of resources available to the people who need them the most.

The primary speaker, a representative from “Book for a Buck,” gave the audience a view of life in Yola, Nigeria. Unfortunately, like many other areas in West Africa, she noted that Yola is severely lacking in monetary aid, good health services, and global connections. The speaker also pointed out more dismal statistics: that seven out of ten Nigerians live on less than one dollar a day, the life expectancy of an adult male is 45, and sixty to seventy percent of the population is illiterate (which also means that the community lacks classrooms, teaching aids, and supplies). To combat the seemingly increasing illiteracy rates in Yola, Book for a Buck hopes to create community centers, give students a proper education in an environment in which they can properly learn, and train future teachers in order to expand the program. First, Book for a Buck is currently initiating after-school reading sessions to re-engage children in reading and learning (currently, many children are faced with little to no schooling in terrible conditions, and thus often resort to playing in the streets). The second part step, however, has to come from us. To keep the program running, the charity asks for literally a book and a buck – the books will go towards the betterment of learning for the community and promote education, and the buck will help to finish the construction of community centers and fund resources that keep the community centers alive.

The notion of reaching out to others for the greater good is also expressed in Jack Schaefer’s novel Shane. Shane, the protagonist of the book, wanders into an unknown town, only seeking water for himself and his horse. However, when Joe Starrett sees Shane searching for a place to stay, he willingly offers his hospitality. After Joe and his family foster a relationship with Shane, Joe wants Shane to stay with him as his farmhand, to which Shane agrees. From this point in the novel, Shane starts to give back to the Starrett family. For example, when Fletcher – a rancher who wants to take over all of the farmers’ land – moves in and threatens Joe Starrett, Shane acts as his guardian. Shane continues to act in this persona throughout the remainder of the novel, evidently wanting to repay the Starretts for their kindness. Shane embodies the need to give back to others in need: through his actions, he affirms justice, establishes order, and rids the town of any problems that may cause it harm. In the end, by giving back to the family, Shane learns that he has greatly improved the quality of life for the Starrett family and the community and moves on to continue helping others in the Wild West.

It is important that we as privileged students and Americans assist others who struggle for an education that we often take for granted. Many children in Nigeria are forced to go without a proper education, and because of this, they never successfully establish themselves as functioning members of society. Moreover, because we have the skills to help, it becomes necessary for us to reach out and pass on our knowledge. As stated by one of the co-founders of Book and a Buck, Harvey Pine, “we must apply our skills so that it may improve by their standards.” If we all abide by this philosophy and take part in this great cause, we can help eliminate illiteracy forever.

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