“I would love to do something like that!”
“I wish I could spend my summer volunteering.”
“I’ve always wanted to visit Kenya.”
THEN DO IT!
All summer long, I have heard some iteration of those phrases—people wishing for the opportunity to immerse themselves in a culture or volunteer somewhere. “Then do it,” I say!
I recognize my immense privilege as a single, childless, educator who can enjoy the summer off with reduced responsibilities. I know that few jobs, especially in the US, provide adequate vacation time. And even fewer jobs offer a living wage that affords you the luxury of international travel.
It is true that trips such as these are not without cost. Vaccinations, airfare, visas, and housing, are just a few things that add to a laundry list of reasons to avoid the risk. It is also true that experiences such as these pay dividends that transform your life.
By the time I leave, I will have spent just over two months in Kenya. My time here has fundamentally altered my view of the world, (re)invigorated my faith, and deeply inspired my already strong belief in and knowledge of Xaverian education and spirituality. While visiting Kenya for two months is not possible for everyone, I know that shorter visits can be just as rewarding. A friend of mine, Brian (who attended a rival school to St. X, but we don’t entirely fault him for that), just returned to the states with new knowledge of Xaverian spirituality, deep friendships, and countless transformative experiences. (Brian is a gifted writer, and wrote about his experience here.)
Personally, what has been most inspiring about my time in Kenya is witnessing the work, life, and zeal of the Xaverian Brothers. Unfortunately, in the US, the Xaverian Brother population is limited, their involvement in the schools is waining, and their time in active ministries has mostly come to an end. Here in Kenya, the Xaverian Brothers are thriving, and their mission is alive! As a beneficiary of Xaverian education, witnessing this work has deepened my love for Xaverian spirituality.
I am confident that if students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, or friends of Xaverian Brothers Sponsored Schools wanted to volunteer their time in Kenya, they would be warmly welcomed.
However, you don’t have to travel to volunteer or have a similar to this summer. To quote Mother Theresa, “Stay where you are. Find your own
Calcutta Bungoma. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta Bungoma all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.”
Countless social service agencies in every city would kill for the opportunity to have people volunteer their time and support their mission. I can think of several summers where I volunteered in Louisville and felt invigorated by having a deeper connection to my hometown and having made friends with people experiencing homelessness, refugees, and countless incredible men, women, and children of every walk of life.
So often, we assume that we must travel the world or start a nonprofit, but you don’t need to spend an entire summer volunteering or invent some incredible machine. A few hours a week is enough to have a transformative experience. You can volunteer or eat at an open-hand kitchen and make a friend while eating macaroni and cheese. You can play games at a local community center and laugh with kids while you struggle to beat them in basketball. You can tutor at a refugee center and welcome people from around the world to your hometown.
The truth is you are never going to change the world. Your small actions, regardless of how grand, will only ever be a drop in the bucket. But that shouldn’t stop you! It should comfort you knowing that you cannot do everything and inspire you to try to do something nonetheless. You cannot save the entire world. However, you can change the world for yourself and, if you are lucky, a few people as well.
We make countless excuses:
- I don’t have the time.
- It won’t matter.
- It’ll never be enough.
- I can’t afford the travel.
- I have too many other responsibilities.
If you wanted to do it, then you would. The excuses are just roadblocks preventing you from fulfilling your potential.
These roadblocks are all our own doing. It might not be volunteering. It could be deciding to marry someone, to start a new job, to change careers, to break up with someone, to follow our dreams. We fear the change. We fear the risk. We fear failure.
The truth is, not taking the risk, not taking the opportunity, and coming up with a million more excuses, condemns us to our own failure. By not taking the chance, we tell ourselves, “No,” before anyone else could even try.
The only world you are ever going to change is your own. If you want to save the world, you must start with saving yourself.
The constant struggle of being a teacher is that you work tirelessly, knowing that the impact will not be noticed for another decade. As I reflect on my summer, I recognize that “the difference” I am making at St. X is small and insignificant. I do, however, recognize that the difference it is making in me is anything but small and insignificant.
Being here in Bungoma, Kenya, has fundamentally altered my life. Spending a summer without smartboards, projectors, iPads, YouTube, and other fancy gadgets has taught me an entirely different way of teaching. Each student here at Saint Xavier Bungoma has altered my pedagogy and transformed my understanding of education. “The difference” I make in their lives, I will likely never know and suspect will be minor. However, “the difference” they have made in my life is immeasurable.
Living with the Xaverian Brothers has inspired me to understand the Church differently. I love the Church, and often it feels more like that uncle who says problematic things during a dinner party. You love him, but usually, you’re left cleaning up the mess when he leaves. That, I believe, is the work of the Brothers, to serve the world, clean up the mess of the Church, and walk with the fellow laity who are part of and in the Church but not as wedded to it as a Priest. The Xaverian Brothers genuinely live out the Gospel mission, standing as Christ for a world in need. My time with them was insignificant, I merely assisted them in their mission, but their time with me has been an absolute blessing.
In two months, I will leave Kenya the same way I found it, but I will leave Kenya an entirely different person.
Again, the only world you will ever change is your own. What parts of your world need changing? What part of your life needs saving? What risks are you unwilling to take? Who are you failing to speak the truth to? Who are you neglecting? What’s stopping you from reaching your full potential?
My summer in Kenya can be easily replicated. Find your Kenya. Take a risk. Change your life. Change your world.
To laugh is to risk
appearing a fool
To weep is to risk
being called sentimental
To reach out to another is to risk involvement
To expose feelings is to
risk exposing your true self
To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is
to risk their loss
To love is to risk
not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken
Because the greatest hazard in me is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But they cannot learn, feel, change, grow or really live.
Chained by their servitude
they are slaves who have forfeited all freedom
Only a person who risks
is truly free.
Consider donating to the missions of the Xaverian Brothers: