Coming back to school was a difficult decision for me but by far the best decision I have made in a long while. As a mature student with 7 years of work experience under my belt, I believe I am more aware of the importance of listening to the other side of the story than I was as a young 20 year old undergaduate student. Also life has taught me that in the end everything will be fine and so I don’t worry as much as I feel my peers do. I appreciate where they are in their journey of life but if I could give them one piece of advice it would be to not neglect our social responsibility while pursuing our academics. What is a Deans merit list if you cannot smile at your fellow mankind and assist where need be? So as a mature student I felt that the onus was on me to not forget what the real world is like, where its not just the jobs and roles we take up to earn a living but also the compassion and consideration that we have for others. And opportunities to serve are in abundance!
I took a Global Citizen course this semester, something I would encourage all students to do. So often we restrict ourselves to exist in many microcosms that we treat as if they MUST exist in isolation. Which in hindsight is so ridiculous. The world we live in is overlapping in so many ways! I first heard about the Global Citizen course from Assistant Dean Tessa Minter at the beginning of the year. During a commerce representatives meeting she highlighted that being a university student is not merely about academic achievement but attaining good grades whilst progressing socially amidst our peers and in the community at large.
I decided to participate in the course and I have no regrets that I embarked on this journey. I believe that being a global citizen is an ongoing journey with no ultimate destination and we will all continue to learn as life goes on. However, it is not often that one is privileged with the opportunity to learn about the ways in which, and in which not to, serve others, in an academic environment. Initially I was a bit sceptical about this form of learning simply because I felt that service is best learned from experienced. It was very interesting to ‘unlearn’ this behaviour, and pleasant to realise that I was not the only one who had preconceptions of how service should be conducted. The practical application of our learnings at Mother’s Unite, a centre for underprivileged children in Lavendar Hill was crucial in cementing what we were learning, and thoroughly enjoyable to spend time recycling and playing with the children, listening to their cries for help, developing plans on how to improve their establishment, feeding them, and learning from children.
Thanks to the GC course, now when I think of paradigms of service, I am cemented in my initial hunch that indeed we should give of ourselves whenever possible. I think that I would work for the Gender Justice in future. I think there is something important in service which is organizational and structured as opposed to service which is merely random acts of kindness. I say this because when I look at the Sonke Gender Justice website I saw tweeted pictures of their birthday celebrations in what appears to be a makeshift boardroom. The fact that they have offices from where to operate signifies that this is a full time job to some people and that the organization does not cease to exist because some/all members didn’t feel like giving of themselves on a particular day.
Admittedly, I prefer to serve as and when I see the need. I feel that if it was mandatory I may easily develop some inhibitions to my work. I say this from a place of experience, especially my Rotary group in Lusaka. We meet every Thursday at lunch and initially I was very keen to sit on several committees but as time went on, not to say I didn’t think we were doing good work / making a difference but the excitement to be a part of the change dwindled as I started to feel like the compulsory nature of the service took away from the authenticity of it. However, since I have been in Cape Town I realize that I would rather be serving fellow humans with a slight grudge than not serving at all. The opportunity cost of not giving of myself is far outweighed by the joy I experience when I do give. I believe we have an obligation to all humanity to serve one another by giving of our time, lending our ears to listen, giving of our physical strength, giving monetarily or giving of whichever gift we are most abundantly blessed with. I BELIEVE IN GIVING. Not only do I give because the recipient will be blessed but also for the selfish reason that it feels good and good deeds are returned by more good deeds.
Vis-à-vis identity and privilege I believe my identity and sense of privilege adjust depending on what kind of space I am in: Closed, Invited or Created/Claimed. Just like my accent changes when I am talking to an American on the telephone I feel that when it comes to the privilege I feel or lack thereof, this is influenced by the space in which I am found. So if I am partaking in a GC course where almost everyone has done voluntary work, any service I may have done is rendered normal and required. However if I found myself in a rural area alone, I imagine my sense of identity would be mellowed to accommodate that of the people I am serving. I do however feel that I should have one attitude regarding identity and privilege and it should be true and grounded and only adaptable so as not to offend people.
During my GC2 course I looked at contexts of inequality and at poverty and privilege, at paradigms of service and the ‘danger of a single story’. In our group, we discussed some of the complexities in working for organizations that try to mediate and intervene in situations where they can help. We explored the complexities inherent in development and looked at ourselves and constantly asking the question ‘What makes a good citizen?’ Through all of this we learnt what knowledge, skills and values are needed to make a positive contribution to the lives of the people around us. I have been reminded that we all have different paths and we need not be directors of NGOs or work in the public sector in order to make a difference. I feel that this lesson has been cemented in my spirit by GC theory and practical lessons but I will set a reminder in my phone to prompt me once a day that says ‘Be weary of a single story’, and endeavour to be the best I can be not just for myself but for all mankind.