I remember the moment vividly. The moment that I knew my purpose as an educator went beyond teaching curriculum and improving test scores. That my purpose would go so much deeper.
I had come to teach, but instead, I ended up being the one being taught.
I was sitting on a rock, at night, under the most glorious view of our galaxy, in the middle of a small village in Rwanda. Next to me was a new found friend, one of the local teachers. He and I were talking about life.
His in a remote village lacking essentials such as electricity and running/clean water.
Mine, full of almost any extravagance he could ever imagine and most I take for granted.
His classroom crammed with 60 children, many who could only come infrequently because of the distance and needs of their families. No electricity. No technology. No supplies.
Meanwhile, my classroom easily held 20 children with room to spare. My students had access to supplies, tools, technology, and anything else to help “improve” their learning.
I remember making the statement, “It must be hard teaching and living in a place like this.”
His response shocked me to my core. It set me on a new trajectory I had never imagined.
“It’s not that hard really. We have everything we need, each other.”
You see, this village has used the simplicity of their everyday lives to forge deep, meaningful relationships with each other. They serve each other, support each other, help each other, and live life with each other. They have a purpose, one closely interconnected with each other.
There was a profound joy among these people that is unlike anything I have ever seen.
Joy not derived from anything, but joy derived from everyone.
We are constantly trying to find that joy, generally by filling the void through material possessions and surface-level accomplishments. Yet, these things are fleeting. We have deep voids where human connections have been replaced by self-interest. Where empathy has been replaced by apathy. Where interdependence has been replaced by independence. We desperately try to find meaning to life in facades, and when that doesn’t work, we become resolute in believing that life has no meaning.
There is a reason our heart is in the center of our body. Our heart is at the core of everything we do. It’s central to who we are, like a compass, helping us navigate through the chaotic world. There is a beauty when we tap into our hearts that can’t be replicated.
And I firmly believe that our hearts are meant to be engaged equally as much as our minds and both are at their most powerful when working in concert with each other.
That is why I created and run an empathy-driven makerspace. A place where all students, regardless of age, can begin to understand the power of their heart. The power of using emotion and intelligence to make an impact locally or globally. Service and impact don’t have an age requirement. From first-graders going out and interviewing residents in a nearby neighborhood about their needs, to sixth-graders working hand in hand with non-profits to solve critical issues these organizations are facing, my students get opportunities to engage their minds and their hearts, while tapping into their creativity, wonder, and experiences.
It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. It’s real.
It’s planting the seed that will empower this generation to create a we first world instead of a me first one.
A generation that cares as much about EQ as it does IQ.
A generation that asks, “how might we?” instead of “how might I?”
A generation that doesn’t sit on the sidelines hoping somebody else will take it on.
A generation that realizes joy doesn’t come from anything we can purchase, but comes from the people we connect with, the people we support, the people we care for.
When I think about my friend in Rwanda, his words, so simple yet so profound, were truly a roadmap to a joyful and purposeful life.
“Everything we need, we can find in each other.”