Let me be real with you: Liberia is hotter than south Georgia in July. Progress is slow and hard to measure. The challenges are complex; but, the potential is great! Change comes in small moments. Here are a few we were blessed to celebrate during our time in Liberia.
Changed Agriculture. Farmers are fighting a battle from the ground up; the soil is sandy and dry. In class, we began to talk about how to conserve moisture, prevent weed growth, and cool soil temperature by applying mulch. Each student began mulching their own row of corn, and they mulched a six-inch radius around each plant; they weren’t getting it. Then I went over to talk with Levin about what a difference could be made if the entire row was mulched. He got it. As soon as other students saw his row, they began to follow. In one class period, half the garden was completely mulched. The knowledge of a better way began with Levin, and his example multiplied that knowledge to his classmates. This is how knowledge will create change in farming techniques, through a change reaction!
Changed Minds. Monday, 4:30 PM. The 4-H chapter officers gathered to rehearse opening ceremonies for the community celebration on Saturday. The vice-president called the roll of officers and finally came to the secretary. He hadn’t memorized his part. He couldn’t read it. He could barely read. We ended practice and challenged all the officers to have the parts completely ready to go from memory on Thursday, wondering in the back of our minds if this was even a reasonable expectation. As the week went on, the secretary stopped by the porch to get help. When it was time to go to the garden, he was the last to leave class because he was practicing his part to himself. He worked hard. On Thursday, he gave his part…without looking at his book. As he finished, a tear rolled down his face. I didn’t know if it was a tear of nervousness, pride, or relief. When I went to check on him after practice, he said it was the first time he had ever spoken in front of a group. I also imagine it was probably the farthest out of his comfort zone he has ever pushed himself. The ability to take ownership of an opening ceremonies speaking part – to challenge oneself in one area of growth – has the potential to multiply those abilities in all areas of life. This is how leadership development will create responsible citizens and stronger thinkers, through a change reaction!
Changed Communities. During our first night in the village, we were welcomed by a choir of young children who came out to sing some of their favorite songs from church and the radio. It quickly became nightly tradition. Someone would come light a candle on our porch, an inviting face would peer in the screen door, and we would go outside to join in the sing along. Soon, the children began requesting to sing the 4-H pledge song their older siblings learned at school and apparently had been singing at home too. Then it was “Singing in the Rain” and “Boom Chicka Boom” that the 4-H club officers had learned at officer training. Our students began to come. Their parents began to come. On the last night, I counted 40 smiling faces gathered around the porch. It took more than two weeks to build our community porch choir, but it was built because of a few curious youngsters. It will certainly take more than two weeks to build trusting relationships, teamwork, and community, but it will be built because of a few students who can bring people together over common values. This is how shared goals will create change in community cooperation, through a change reaction!
It’s these small sparks of understanding, responsibility, and initiative that will create a chain reaction, a change reaction. AgriCorps is positioned to help combine these elements together to empower the young people of Liberia to create their own change.
Kalie Hall was the 2012-13 National Secretary for the National FFA Organization. She spent 28 days in Liberia as an AgriCorps volunteer. She currently attends the University of Georgia where she studies Agricultural Education.