Thursday, November 10, 2011

Writing Clip: The Ithacan

Making a promise to create profit for those in need
By: Michelle Diemer
A little boy named Masan is roaming the streets of Jambanjelly village in Gambia, West Africa. He’s only 4 years old but leads a group of older boys through the streets of his village. Later tonight, he’ll decide between kicking a tattered ball around the schoolyard with his bare feet, or opt to terrorize the shopkeeper, Lamin, until he gives in and hands out chewing gum to Masan and all of his gang.

Right now, he is oblivious to the cares of the day, but his mother feels them acutely. She looks at Masan’s crazy antics with the reserved smile of a preoccupied woman. Her mind is considering a million things, but the most pressing of her worries is how life will treat her son. She worries about how she will pay to send him to the village school and how he will be engaged in a classroom that does not even have access to a map of the world. He could be a doctor, an engineer or a teacher, but the odds are he will end up like many of the men in his village — sitting underneath a mango tree, day in and day out, full of regrets.

Sitting here in Ithaca, N.Y., I can remember the last time I saw Masan’s mother. It was time to say goodbye after spending the summer working on a community library project through Operation Crossroads Africa and the Reggie Simmons Memorial Award. I went to Masan’s house where his mother presented me with a hand-sewn gift — a purple cloth, hand-embroidered with the phrase “Michelle Diema, we love you forever and ever”. With tears streaming down her face, she said, “Don’t forget me. Please don’t forget my family.”

I came back to Ithaca, eager to fulfill my promise to Masan’s mother, and to give her family and others in the village a voice. Dianne Lynch, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications, and Disney CEO Bob Iger listened to the stories I told on my blog throughout my time in Gambia and encouraged me in my quest to get books donated to the library once I returned to the states. A group of committed individuals and I organized a fundraiser called Books for Gambia, and last Thursday we raised awareness about the cause.

The event went off without a hitch, raising about $250 and resulting in a very gracious promise made by Lynch and the Park school to help pay the remaining costs for the shipment of 25,000 books to the Jambanjelly community library through the nonprofit organization, Books for Africa. Through the organization’s partnerships with publishing houses and private donors, the culturally sensitive books will arrive via sea barge next July, just in time for the next group of Operation Crossroads Africa counterparts to distribute them throughout Jambanjelly and other Gambian community libraries with the help of African volunteers.

My heart is still with the people of Jambanjelly, and not a day goes by that I do not think of them and the promise I made. There are countless stories like Masan’s, whether they are occurring here in Ithaca or around the world. There are millions of us, privileged college students who have the ability to make real, lasting changes to provide happier endings to their stories.

I hope my story can show how one normal college student can make a difference through persistence, hard work and gathering awareness. I kept my promise, and because of it, Masan will have access to thousands of books and a quiet place where he can study and his mother can rest a little bit easier at night. Helping others does not mean you have to fly across the world to Africa. All it takes is a promise — and just imagine what this world could be like if we all made a promise to someone and kept it.

Click here to read this article on The Ithacan's domain. 

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