This past Sunday in the late summer afternoon with a thunder and lightning storm at two, then blue sky and sun by four, we held a small family barbecue to welcome home from Africa the daughter of a good friend and to send off that night to Africa our future daughter-in-law. Both young women are graduate students in International Relations. The first was working in a refugee camp in Ghana with families soon to return to Liberia. The other, a PhD student, is researching the role of education in post conflict Uganda and earlier in the summer was in Malawi, where she and other graduate students had started a nonprofit to raise money for girls’ scholarships to high school (Advancement of Girls Education—AGE).
Our friend’s daughter had brought back a bundle of glass bead jewelry—blue and brown beads, black, red and white beads, etched beads, green and yellow beads, and red, white and blue beads all strung together in an array of bracelets and necklaces–as well as brightly colored children’s clothing, all of which she spread out on the table. She is selling these and will send the proceeds back to the refugees and the surrounding community; she’s also raising funds for at least one high school scholarship for a young man who helped her during her stay at the refugee camp.
There are thousands of stories like these of young people out in the world looking to learn and to give back. I have the privilege of knowing many in the U.S. and abroad whose commitment beyond their national borders suggests a generation that won’t retreat but will connect with the globe. They stay in touch with each other via the internet—even in villages or refugee camps, there is often a way to find an internet connection or at least a cell phone texting connection. These young people don’t hold political office; they don’t have a political agenda—at least not a partisan agenda–they are simply starting to take a share of the world onto their shoulders, one experience, one friendship, one lesson at a time.
The challenges of poverty, education, health, security won’t be easier for the next generation. And a summer abroad isn’t sufficient education for a lifetime, but it is the beginning of a journey, a journey matched by the young men and women who have gone abroad with the military and confront issues of security and war and peace.
In 1961 the U.S. launched the Peace Corps as an agency set out to assist underdeveloped countries meet their needs for trained man/woman power. I was recently told by a young military officer that today we need an additional Peace Corps on Steroids because while the military can provide security, it can’t accomplish the necessary reconstruction in the countries. Instead there needs to be a civilian corps committed to work in dangerous areas and assist in rebuilding, along with those in the societies.
Today the globe is connected as few could have imagined even a decade ago, but this shrinking of the world has not yet shrunk the problems though it has opened up possibilities and a global dialogue.
What is the responsibility of the current generation in this eventual hand off? A rather weighty question for a blog, I admit, but if anyone wants to offer a thought, I’d love to hear.