Tonight I dig. Dig into my heart, into my mind—and into my emails. It’s ironic I boarded the ship for Semester at Sea two years ago in January, practically the same date I boarded the plane for Colorado this year…
I wrote this email to my friends and family January 19, 2011—just a few days after we set sail to circumnavigate and explore the world and its people. Each time I reread this, I feel the same emotions resurfacing as when I wrote it. Who am I? What should I be doing with my life? And how can I help others?
And the greatest realization I have when I reread it tonight? It’s that I’m running on the same emotional treadmill called life as I was two years ago. The feelings of uncertainty, the not-knowing, taking chances, learning, exploring, reaching and digging deep—and being vulnerable. What a blessing these experiences and feelings are to me. I can only hope my efforts are making a difference in at least a few people’s lives—because I know they are certainly influencing me…
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Chloe Nicole at Semester at sea <email@example.com>
Date: Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 7:54 PM
I just came back from a run to clear my head. I learned right away that while at sea, the challenge is not in the distance ran or that sprint in the end. It’s the entire process. There’s no straight line from beginning to end, even though the treadmill seems that way. You’re literally thrown left and right with every stride you take. That’s kind of how I feel about life right now too.
What am I doing here? Why am I fortunate enough to be sitting in this cabin writing this—on a bed that has been made each day by a smiling crew member named Don, who also carefully folded my bunched up clothes and placed them at the foot of my bed. What is this life I am living right now, how is it real? How is it right? A cruise ship converted into a floating school—where we are able to go to class, eat endless food, sleep, and hang out with friends luxuriously as we travel around the world…past places where people are struggling just to put food on the table, find clean drinking water or to get the minimum education everyone should have. While I’m waking up in the morning trying to decide what dining hall to eat at, other people are deciding whether or not the water they are about to drink will kill them, or if they will make it another day without food.
We had a speaker in Global Studies this morning, my Stress Management Professor Jefrey Kottler. He talked to us about something that hit me so hard in the gut and in my heart; something that I think about from time to time, but have never been fully committed to: “How easy it is to make a difference in the world.” And as I sit here crying and writing this I wonder why I am so lucky to be in school—to have an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to be the person I choose to be…because, as Jeffrey said, not everyone has this opportunity.
I got ready this morning with every intention to go lay out in the sun after class but I came back to my room to write because this has hit me hard.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. Each year, an estimated 12,000 girls disappear. 12,000. Gone from their families, from their friends, from their lives back home. About 10 years ago, Jeffrey visited a school in Nepal, but at first, no one would tell him where the girls were disappearing to. The teacher pointed to one student, a 12-year-old girl named Inu and said she will disappear next. Jeffrey asked why and the teacher said because her family cannot afford to keep her in school. He then asked her, “Well, how much does it cost to keep her in school, I want her to stay here.” and the teacher replied, 2500 rupees. 2500 rupees for books, two uniforms, and one meal a day for an entire year. That’s it. But many families cannot afford this and the children disappear. They disappear to Mumbai, where they are sold into brothels and raped up to 15 times each day. Raped by men with HIV/AIDS who believe that they must sleep with a virgin, a young girl, in order to rid themselves of their disease.
These girls remain in the brothels until they are too sick to be there anymore—away from their families, their friends, their lives back home. Their childhood is stripped away from them—all because they could not afford the 2500 rupees to stay in school. (2500 rupees is 50 US dollars. A year. That’s it.)
Jeffrey pulled out 2500 rupees and handed it to the teacher. This is to keep Inu in school, he said. He described to our class how happy and proud he felt to be able to help this child remain in school, to have a life she deserves. But the only way to be sure she remained in school was if he kept going back each year to check on her. And he did. One small act started something huge. Over the past 10 years, Jeffrey’s Empower Nepali Girls organization has grown to distribute scholarships to needy girls from remote areas who would otherwise not be able to remain in school.
Jeffrey’s speech touched my heart so much today, I wish I could put to words how empowering it was. I sit here wondering why I don’t just drop out of school now and go do something for these children, dedicate my life to helping others. That’s what I want to do and what good is a journalism degree with that? But I’ve realized quitting school is not the best choice right now. School is important and I am very privileged to be here on Semester at Sea—to learn about the world—so that when I am done with school I can set out and make a difference in the world. School is not a waste of time, but it is a time to prepare. And if for nothing else I want to complete my education so that when I am out trying to help others get an education they deserve, they need, they will be able to see just how valuable it can be.
So, right now I can only hope I am on the right path. The path might have some twists and turns in it, but I believe that is all part of the challenge.
Photo highlights from Semester at Sea Spring 2011: