The Three Week Fund Concludes
April 5, 2014
I appreciate the contributions, the kind words, the efforts friends, family, alumni and those in anonymity have made, so that I can return to the States, mid-way through service, to accept the In the Spirit of Carleton Award. The $1,770 (?!) raised is more than enough to fly me from Lusaka to Minneapolis to Durham and back again. When Leah informed me that she was nominating me for this alumni award and had recruited Katie to recommend me, I didn't devote much time thinking that anything would come to pass. After all, I have not started a lasting foundation, nor have I quantifiably improved a vast number of lives. Living on stipends and budgeting before bed really only sacrifices expensive indulgences, growing retirement accounts and a couple winks of restful sleep. In fact, opting for positions that focus on education, environmental conservation and food security have felt selfish"”though lacking in financial boons, this strange path had afforded me the chance to engage, on an intimate level, communities and friends across the nation and, currently, globe.
When the alumni awarded me this honor and Carolyn began embarking on this mission to raise the funds to cover the travel expenses to attend the reunion ceremony, I had just returned to my site from a six-week stint in Chipembi, helping to settle the new intake of food security volunteers into the Zambian landscape. There I received updates from my family and close friends about the fundraising efforts, the encouraging words submitted, and the gifts received, since my phone can only load the websites ubiquitous enough to have very well-designed mobile access features. The news never failed to astonish me, nor did the number of anonymous donors (whose identities Carolyn is respectfully protecting), the number of people with whom I have not spoken in recent years or even know, the number of family and new friends who pledged their support"“all of this was gratifying, stimulating, and yet, unsettling. Here I am, five years from graduation, doing what I believe myself capable to do, though many times wondering whether I'll ever truly be testing my limits or grit. Having constructed a path that I believe anyone could have just as easily navigated, I'm left contemplating the ways in which accepting this praise and funding makes me a fraud.
Thousands of people serve in Peace Corps every year. Thousands of people serve in AmeriCorps every year. You might do what's physically challenging at times, what's emotionally taxing, and what feels by all accounts to be downright futile. Among the many things I'm learning throughout these experiences is how little technical skill you need to serve well. When you are never fully a community member, stateside or otherwise, the best, most sustainable activities you can do are to find people who are invested in their local surroundings, encourage their momentum, provide tools they can adapt to empower others, and ultimately, take the back seat to their leadership. For the person who wants to quantify achievement, this method can look like the lazy man's vision of service well done. It's slow, full of impediments, and highly at-risk to fail in the fledgling days. And though you may have an inkling as to a project's actual success once you leave (because you, the transient, are usually only lucky enough to see the establishment of a idea, not its continued existence), you understand that none of what's happened is anything upon which you can lay personal claim, unless you have managed to create something entirely new and sustainable, and even then, it's only sustainable when it is not yours alone.
Maybe what makes the discussion on service more problematic as that embedded within the concept of service is distinct and voluntary hardship, that the person who is serving is doing something others cannot. If that logic is to resonate, then the people who deserve awards that honor exceptional service are the ones who dedicate themselves to a single sector, for example, one who has served long hours in medical school to become that doctor or researcher who can empower patients to prevent illness, to fight through treatment, or to pass away with grace. Or one who has devoted her personal money, afternoons and weekends to students who needed that extra support and love. Or one who has listened and validated day-after-day the abuse of others, striving to help them heal. I do not do these "hard" things, so then it is they who are truly serving.
Please know that I am much more honored (though conflicted) that you have believed in me enough to support me in the many ways that you have through Carleton and through family and friend networks, than I am even to have received the reunion award. I accept your kindness, but only so long as you understand that if our roles had been swapped, you would have been able to do the same things I did, likely better and more innovatively than I have, and that the award itself is one that other people, alumni and otherwise, deserve far more than me. Likely, one of those deserving people is you.
So thank you for your faith, and I will do my best to justify it.
Ryeon Corsi was recently nominated and awarded the "Spirit of Carleton" award by her classmates from her alma mater. This award will be presented to Ryeon in a ceremony at reunion at the end of June.
Please join us in helping Ryeon get to Northfield, MN to accept her award later this summer!
A little about Ryeon:
Since graduating from Carleton College in 2009, Ryeon has dedicated her life to service. As a full-time AmeriCorps volunteer, Ryeon assisted in creating a community garden in Cape Cod, MA, worked at a national park in Arizona, and specialized in after-school programming for at-risk youth in California. Almost one year ago, Ryeon joined the Peace Corps and has lived in a small village in Zambia collaborating with community members to improve access to sustainable ways of living. Unforuntately, as a peace Corps volunteer Ryeon earns less than $4,000 per year, so making the trip to her alma mater to accept her award is impossible.
Ryeon's loving friends
ps- To learn more abour Ryeon's recent projects, visit her blog!
- Melia Garza
- Bob Geyer
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