It seems that no matter the job I am interviewing for or application I am submitting, the question of, “Why are you here?” always seems to be asked. The simplest questions can sometimes be the toughest to answer. After much thought, I believed I had finally come up with the greatest and most sincere answer based on my favorite Winston Churchill quote: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” This was whittled down to this a two-word purpose statement, a clear answer to the always stumping question of “Why?” — “Live generously.” To live generously, to give freely of time, talents, and resources—as a gung-ho college student ready and willing to change the world, this is why I frequently over-programmed myself, couldn’t say no to anyone or anything, and eventually why I signed up for this trek to Liberia through AgriCorps.
When traveling to Liberia, it seemed that forms of aid could be found everywhere. People, churches, organizations, and governments, like I did, came to the second poorest country in the world trying to make a difference and “Live Generously.” These people and groups brought with them all kinds of stuff including vehicles, technology, food, building supplies, and good intentions. Like I did, these people brought with them the idea of “Live Generously” as a motto or a theoretical answer to a problem but didn’t REALLY understand it. Who could understand such a concept in its deepest, purest form? I would soon find that none other than the Liberian people, particularly the residents of Yarpah Town, realized this concept in their daily lives. They realized that the “stuff” wasn’t what mattered.
In Yarpah Town, I learned “living generously” means giving one’s time. I saw mothers sit for hours on Sunday afternoons and perfectly plait their daughter’s hair so that they could attend school for the coming week. I learned how to live generously when I met with farmers who spent hours every day carrying buckets of water from the nearby river so that they could water their pepper plants, hope it would yield a substantial crop, and in turn provide for their entire family. I learned how to live generously when I watched students walk 45 minutes to school both ways, simply so that they could learn, but even more so when their understanding teachers would wait for them to arrive before beginning class.
Every day, I learned “living generously” means giving of one’s personal talents. I learned how to live generously when watching the local principal and pastor, Mr. Morrisson, as he passionately invested in the community as he taught students, managed teachers, welcomed us into his home, led a congregation, fundraised for his church, called on families, provided for his grandchildren, and worked to inspire an entire village. I learned how to live generously when sitting with new friends who would patiently teach me the native Gbassa language by attempting to have conversation or following along in a Gbassa translation of the Bible, the only printed Gbassa book available.
In every interaction, I learned what living generously by giving of resources meant as I worked with and lived with the people of Yarpah Town. I learned how to live generously by watching as people who have very little, share everything they have, selflessly. When traveling to Liberia, I thought I came to teach, to help, to bring new ideas. Instead, I was the one who learned. I learned to live generously in a way that I could never have imagined. I learned something that could never be replaced.
Joenelle Futrell was the 2012-13 Eastern Region Vice President for the National FFA Organization. She spent 28 days in Liberia as an AgriCorps volunteer. She currently attends the University of Florida where she studies Agricultural Education.