As a professor of sustainable development, I have been very lucky to have the opportunity to travel with my students to several countries. When I was planning our first trip to Ghana, I was advised that pens were a good gift to bring to the schools we would be visiting. When we arrived at our first rural school, which was closed for a holiday, we found that over a hundred children had lined up in the hopes of getting a pen. Turns out, there weren’t any pens or pencils at their school. There also wasn’t any paper, water, chalk, electricity, books, or toilets. A few days later, we visited a small women’s program. And, kids from a nearby school, seeing our bus, came over and once again stood in line. After we distributed the last of our pens, I was waiting outside when a little girl came running up. She was about 8 and she didn’t have a school uniform or shoes. She stopped and looked shyly up at me. When I smiled, she came closer and I saw that she was carrying a very rusty pencil box with a faded cover of Minnie Mouse on it. She opened it up to show me her treasures – a Ghanaian penny, a broken pencil, and a button. I found a pen in my bag and gave it to her. She took it, smiled this huge smile, carefully put it in her treasure box and started running as fast as she could towards home.
At that moment, as I put on my sunglasses to hide my tears, I knew that I had to do more. That same trip, we met a wonderful community leader working in a group of nearby villages, who had a long-term plan for his communities’ development. I believe that sustainable development is best achieved by local people managing their own projects to achieve their goals. During our next two trips, my students and I began to support the communities’ efforts and two years later, with a lot of help, I started Engage Globally.
For me, this is an exciting opportunity to make a difference, to learn new skills, to challenge myself, and to work with other people who are active and passionate. It is also tough, partially because there are parts of this I’m not very good at, but mostly because it is just not enough. Sometimes I'll be looking for something in my purse and I will see the five or six pens I’ve left at the bottom, and I think of that little girl and all the children like her, with beautiful smiles and endless potential, but without a pen…